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It’s Game Time for Shrine Bowl Teams

  • Donald Pellerin of Stevens High School reaches to receive a pass during practice with the New Hampshire Shrine team at Dartmouth College's Memorial Field in Hanover, N.H. Friday, August 1, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Donald Pellerin of Stevens High School reaches to receive a pass during practice with the New Hampshire Shrine team at Dartmouth College's Memorial Field in Hanover, N.H. Friday, August 1, 2014.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Pat McGrath of Hartford High School joins in a cheer at the close of the Vermont Shrine team practice at Dartmouth College's Memorial Stadium in Hanover, N.H. Friday, August 1, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Pat McGrath of Hartford High School joins in a cheer at the close of the Vermont Shrine team practice at Dartmouth College's Memorial Stadium in Hanover, N.H. Friday, August 1, 2014.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • From left, Tom Baumann, Oliver Kaija, and Sam Cole, all of Woodstock Union High School leave Dartmouth College's Memorial Stadium after their last practice before the Shrine Bowl in Hanover, N.H. Friday, August 1, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    From left, Tom Baumann, Oliver Kaija, and Sam Cole, all of Woodstock Union High School leave Dartmouth College's Memorial Stadium after their last practice before the Shrine Bowl in Hanover, N.H. Friday, August 1, 2014.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Greg Shinn of Hartford High School, middle, warms up with the Vermont Shrine team at Dartmouth College's Memorial Stadium in Hanover, N.H. Friday, August 1, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Greg Shinn of Hartford High School, middle, warms up with the Vermont Shrine team at Dartmouth College's Memorial Stadium in Hanover, N.H. Friday, August 1, 2014.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Donald Pellerin of Stevens High School reaches to receive a pass during practice with the New Hampshire Shrine team at Dartmouth College's Memorial Field in Hanover, N.H. Friday, August 1, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Pat McGrath of Hartford High School joins in a cheer at the close of the Vermont Shrine team practice at Dartmouth College's Memorial Stadium in Hanover, N.H. Friday, August 1, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • From left, Tom Baumann, Oliver Kaija, and Sam Cole, all of Woodstock Union High School leave Dartmouth College's Memorial Stadium after their last practice before the Shrine Bowl in Hanover, N.H. Friday, August 1, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Greg Shinn of Hartford High School, middle, warms up with the Vermont Shrine team at Dartmouth College's Memorial Stadium in Hanover, N.H. Friday, August 1, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Hanover — This week’s Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl training camp involved three grueling practices per day for both Vermont and New Hampshire in the summer sun at Castleton State College.

The teams also fit in plenty of fun along the way, with bonding exercises such as the Granite Staters’ slam dunk contest — won by Winnacunnet wide receiver Alec Boucher — and Vermont’s karaoke contest in the student lounge Wednesday night.

The players sang in teams of five or six; the lineup showcasing Woodstock running back Tom Baumann and Hartford’s Greg Shinn shouted a stirring version of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell, earning the group the right not to participate in running drills during the next morning’s practice.

“We killed that song,” Baumann said after Vermont’s walk-through practice session Friday afternoon at Dartmouth College’s Memorial Field, its final tuneup before today’s 62nd Shrine game at the same stadium.

Known for his explosive speed, Baumann didn’t mind taking advantage of the opportunity to give his legs a rest. “It was nice not to run for once,” he said.

The karaoke contest was just one aspect of what Oliver Kaija — Baumann’s teammate at Woodstock — called a week full of “a lot of fun, a lot of goofiness.” He was quick to emphasize there was also a lot of hard work, and a businesslike approach will be needed if the Green Mountain State has a shot to halt New Hampshire’s 13-year winning streak. The Granite State has outscored Vermont 476-145 since the 2001 game, and none of the contests have been close since New Hampshire won on a last-minute field goal in 2007.

Shinn, who will play cornerback and return punts for Vermont, thinks maintaining focus will have a lot to do with its chances.

“This team worked really well together all week, right off the bat all the way through (Friday),” Shinn said. “We know what we want to do and now it’s time to go out and execute.

“New Hampshire has great athletes, they always do, so the key for us is going to be not to take any plays off and keep playing our game no matter what happens. If they go up by 14, we can’t get down on ourselves. We’ve got to keep playing Vermont football.”

In previous years, Vermont has run spread offenses in hopes of countering New Hampshire’s size advantage with speed, but today it’s the Granite Staters that are expected to come out wide. Bombs-away QB Trevor Knight, of Nashua South, will be under center with talented wideouts Boucher and Bedford’s Nick Vailis at his disposal.

Hanover’s Shawn Cavallaro will also be in the mix as a starting slotback.

The Green Mountain State will largely employ the option, the preferred method of attack for both Vermont coach Mike Williams, of BFA-Fairfax, and QB James Shufelt, of Lyndon.

“That’s who we are, option-based and a ground-and-pound type team,” said Williams, whose Bullets fell to Woodstock in the Division III title game two years ago. “There are some advantages to being that type of team and we hope to utilize them. There have been some really good (Vermont) coaches who have lost this game running the spread. That’s just not who I am.”

New Hampshire’s size advantage on the line is less pronounced than usual, especially when it comes to New Hampshire’s offensive line against Vermont’s defensive front. The Granite State’s five listed offensive-line starters average 6-foot-1 and 241 pounds; Vermont’s three-man defensive front is an average of 21 pounds heavier and just one inch shorter.

Hartford tackle Patrick McGrath (6-1, 265) earned a start on the right side and will try to help stymie a New Hampshire offense that Shrine Game observers are accustomed to seeing move down the field with relative ease.

“We’re just going to have to stay low and not get out of our lanes,” McGrath said. “New Hampshire is going to have some great athletes, they always do, but we’re going to do our best to run through them.”

New Hampshire coach David Jackson didn’t put much stock in Vermont’s defense outweighing his offense in the trenches.

“Having guys who can move is just as important,” said Jackson, who stepped down as coach of Merrimack Valley and will be an assistant at Nashua South this fall. “We chose guys who are physical, but also athletic. You can have a kid who’s 6-8 and 400 pounds, but he’s still got to be able to get off the ball and get to that second level.”

Stevens’ Kai Kleyensteuber, a 6-foot-3, 200-pounder, is a good example of a lineman who doesn’t need a huge belt size to be effective. He’ll start at left tackle, joining Donald Pellerin (right cornerback) as Cardinals who earned starting positions today.

It’s a dream come true for the determined Pellerin, who’s been watching the Shrine Game since fourth grade.

“The very first time we met the coaching staff at the banquet (in March at the Lebanon Elks Club), they pulled all of us (NHIAA) D-III players aside and told us that they didn’t choose us so we could sit on the sidelines,” he said. “They said, ‘If you work hard, you’ve got just as much of a shot as anyone else.’ ”

Added Kleyensteuber, “Me and Donald went into camp trying to show that we belonged as starters, and that’s what we did.”

New Hampshire defensive backs coach Rip Jackson called Pellerin “probably the hardest working guy on the team,” and hopes he’ll consider trying out for the football team at Plymouth State University, where he’s headed this fall.

While New Hampshire’s 45-13-2 all-time advantage and its 13-game winning streak certainly motivate for Vermont, the lopsidedness of the series also inspires the Granite Staters, Cavallaro noted. The Hanover product is excited to play today in his hometown before departing Sunday for the University of New Hampshire, where he was recruited to play for the Wildcats.

“We haven’t been focused on Vermont or the streak, because we’ve been so busy focused on ourselves,” Cavallaro said. “Of course we know about the streak and, if anything, I’d say it gives us an edge because now nobody wants to be the team that loses. So I think we’ll try even harder to step up.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.