Two Park Gridders End Careers in All-Star Fashion
TAMPA — The Blue-Grey All-American Bowl is a showcase of the nation’s best senior prep football players. The Ohio Valley, specifically Wheeling Park, was represented quite well in the January 6 grid extravaganza.
Patriots’ quarterback Cross Wilkinson and wide receiver Nate Phillips were members of the Blue squad. They were coached by a cast of former NFL veterans.
Played at Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and broadcast live on ESPN 3, the game saw the Blue pull out a 14-13 triumph.
That win was made possible by positive contributions from the Park pair. Wilkinson, in fact, scored the game-tying TD on a 1-yard run as time expired. The ensuing PAT handed the Blue the thrilling victory.
Winning big games is nothing new to the talented tandem. They both played key roles in Wheeling Park winning its first state football championship in 2015.
“It was an honor to spend those three days with such talented players. It gave you the opportunity to see where you stacked up with players from across the country, and a little taste of what college ball is going to be like. This was an excellent opportunity to represent our area and state on a national level and show that our athletes are just as talented,” Wilkinson said. “We hit the ground running at 2 p.m. both days and did not stop until 5 p.m. We were pushed to compete in every drill and team session. Those two days were great stages in showing that you could play and deserved to be out on the field. At the same time, however, the practices were fun and I enjoyed taking in the reality that I was in Florida of all places and that these would be my last high school reps. Nate and I took these practices to again prove that we had the right of being there.”
Wilkinson is bound for the University of Toledo. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder selected the Rockets over a host of Division I offers. The competition and NFL-level coaching proved an ideal segue to the next level.
“I could not have asked for a better setting to my final high school football experience in playing in Raymond James. I believe it is the only game of its kind to offer NFL stadiums as being the venue in which you play,” Wilkinson said.
“It was a close game up until the final seconds. I was very thankful to have the opportunity to play the final drive and score with that QB sneak play. Our team celebrated and I had a flashback to our state championship game my sophomore season when the team flooded the field and celebrated at the buzzer.
“I stayed calm through the entire game and enjoyed myself. Overall, I had a great experience playing the game and made sure I enjoyed every moment. It was a memorable trip that I will never forget. Having Nate alongside me on the field one last time was awesome. There was a sense of comfort for the entire weekend as we have that connection and easiness between us on and off the field. It was definitely memorable to share my last game with a fellow teammate. We represented Wheeling Park and our community to the best of our ability on and off the field.”
Phillips, meanwhile, impressed in practice while also landing a couple of passes in the game. The 5-11, 180-pound first-team all-stater enjoyed the trip.
“It was a good experience. Playing with one of my best friends made it especially nice,” Phillips said. “I wasn’t on the field for Cross’s TD but I ran on the field celebrating like we did when we won the state championship. It was great to be picked to play in the game and even sweeter to win it.
“There was a lot of great talent there. Most of all the players were going on to play in college. It was fun to compete with them. I felt I handled myself well.”
Phillips landed 44 passes this past season for Park, five going for scores. He plans on continuing his football career at the next level with Morehead State, West Liberty and Mercyhurst among his options.
Having two of his players selected for the prestigious all-star game was a proud moment for Wheeling Park head coach Chris Daugherty.
“I was very pleased with how well Cross and Nate represented Wheeling Park football and West Virginia football,” Daugherty said. “They are great players and it will be fun to watch them play in college.”
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