Raised on Football, New to Football: Shrine Rivals Have Opposite Backgrounds

  • Hanover High’s Graham Penfield talks to teammates on the sideline during the New Hampshire Shrine team’s Friday morning workout at Castleton University’s Spartan Stadium. Valley News — Greg Fennell

  • Windsor High quarterback Seth Balch, center, takes a snap during an offensive drills during the Vermont Shrine team’s morning workout at Castleton University’s Spartan Stadium on Friday, Aug. 3, 2018. Balch will start at quarterback for Vermont in today’s Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl football game. Valley News — Greg Fennell

  • Vermont Shrine team coach Greg Balch, of Windsor High, left, talks to his team during a break in their morning workout at Castleton University’s Spartan Stadium on Friday, Aug. 3, 2018. Balch and Vermont will be looking to extend a two-game winning streak in the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl football game today. Valley News — Greg Fennell

  • Vermont Shrine team coach Greg Balch, of Windsor High, left, watches his players run a drill during their Friday morning workout at Castleton University’s Spartan Stadium. Balch and Vermont will be seeking to extend a two-game winning streak in today’s Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl football game. Valley News photographs — Greg Fennell

  • Stevens High’s Aidan Cahill, left, snaps the football next to Cardinals teammate Nick Stone during an offensive drill for the New Hampshire Shrine team on Friday.

  • New Hampshire Shrine team coach Patrick Riberdy, of Winnisquam High, talks to his players toward the end of their morning workout at Castleton University’s Spartan Stadium on Friday, Aug. 3, 2018. A first-time Shrine coach, Riberdy will lead his Granite State squad against Vermont in today’s Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl football game. Valley News — Greg Fennell

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 8/4/2018 1:00:13 AM
Modified: 8/4/2018 1:00:10 AM

Castleton, Vt. — Dakota Page grew up with Windsor High football carrying two dueling expectations. Graham Penfield grew up without Hanover High football, and thus had no expectations of a gridiron nature.

That both find themselves in today’s 65th Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl all-star high school football game is a testament to meeting or beating those prospects.

Page is the fourth member of his family to don Shrine Game colors. Penfield never played the game competitively until his senior year at Hanover. They may or may not collide at Castleton University’s Spartan Stadium today, but they’ll equally savor the moment.

“It’s been a blast; I’ve loved it,” Page said on Friday morning as his Vermont teammates wrapped up a practice in preparation for today’s 5:30 p.m. showdown with New Hampshire. “Hanging out with the guys all week, practicing, working our butts off has really been great. We’ve really created a bond that I’ll remember the rest of my life.”

The athletes come from divergent playing backgrounds.

Page is one of four Windsor High grads on the roster, all of whom have known loads of success in multiple sports. On top of that, Page’s father, uncle and cousin — Bill, Jeff and Jacob, in that order — all previously played in the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl.

The newest Shrine Game Page didn’t hear much from his family about having to earn a spot on the Vermont roster, he said. It would be something more likely to come from a Windsor community that avidly supports its Yellowjackets.

“I didn’t really pay much attention to that, because it was never really brought up,” Page said with a grin. “I assumed people around town were kind of saying how there was kind of an expectation for a Page boy.”

Legacy or not, Vermont coach Greg Balch — the bench boss at Windsor — had a cornerback role in mind when he selected Page for Shrine duty.

“I was just a kid when Bill and Jeff Page were playing in Windsor, but I watched them play,” Balch said. “They were a different style of football player; they were both big guys, and Dakota’s not small but he’s not a lineman, he’s not a fullback. But (he has) the same lunchpail attitude that his father and his uncle had — just come to work.

“You won’t hear much out of Dakota at all, but you also don’t see mistakes out of Dakota. We’ve enjoyed that for four years at Windsor.”

Penfield also has defensive back duties reserved for today when he lines up for New Hampshire. He just never had the family or football background as a foundation.

One of the Granite State’s best lacrosse attackmen, Penfield’s friends badgered him for years to join the Hanover football program, and he finally relented as a senior. He’d never played the game at any level, but in head coach Sam Cavallaro, assistant Mike Ivanoski and the Marauder roster, he found plenty of people willing to help him learn.

“From the first day, everybody was super supportive and really patient with me in teaching me what to do,” said Penfield, who will line up at safety today. “I mean, I’ve watched football all my life, so I kind of knew what to do. I wasn’t going in completely with no idea. But it did take me a while to figure out exactly what was going on.

“Everybody was great. All my friends helped me out. Nobody yelled at me or blamed me for anything. … I didn’t take it as criticism. You just have to be coachable, so that was great.”

If he’d have been in Cavallaro’s shoes, New Hampshire Shrine coach Patrick Riberdy would have done everything he could to get Penfield in football cleats sooner, too.

“He was a two-way player when we started, but he actually asked us to concentrate on one side,” said Riberdy, a first-time Shrine coach from Winnisquam High. “His speed and his size, for a kid who hasn’t got a lot of football experience, he’s a heck of an athlete. I don’t know how it went down over there, but I would have been begging him to come play, too.

“He’s an outstanding lacrosse player; I think everybody in the state has seen him on TV at one point, on the highlights. He’s quiet, he does his job and he wants to learn.”

Both could hear their names called on tackles tonight, as both squads have the potential to throw early and often.

Save for one, all of Riberdy’s wideouts are at least 6 feet tall. Hollis Brookline’s Matt Simco tops the group at 6-4, taller by 3 inches than all but one potential Vermont defensive back. New Hampshire hopes to exploit the advantage.

“We have pretty good height and size; speed, we’re fast,” Riberdy said. “If we can find the mismatches and take advantage of it, that’s what you’re going to do.”

Balch went for speed as much as he could for his Vermont roster, as it’s been a key element in Windsor’s back-to-back VPA Division III state championship campaigns.

“I think each team, you kind of go with what you’ve got, and we certainly have a lot more athleticism on a Shrine team than you see in any of the high school teams,” Balch said. “I think you’ve got more speed, you’ve got more options there.”

As for who will meet their expectations … that’s why they play the game.

Audibles: Windsor’s Seth Balch will start at quarterback for Vermont. Page, Windsor teammate Ben Meagher and Hartford’s Tyler Hamilton have starting roles on defense. Greg Balch said Hartford’s Kody Rhodes will see time at running back, and the Jacks’ Jake Tucker — named a captain after leading in Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl fundraising — is set for linebacking duties. … Riberdy said the Stevens High duo of Aidan Cahill and Nick Stone will start side by side in the offensive trenches, Cahill at center and Stone at left guard. “Nick will line up every snap on offense, unless he gets tired,” the Granite State coach said. … Riberdy also has been impressed by Hanover’s Mike Staiger, who will get the call at defensive end tonight for New Hampshire. Newport’s Kyle Rossiter will be in the rotation at wide receiver. … The pregame parade through Castleton begins at 3 p.m., with a 5:30 p.m. game kickoff. Those unable to travel can catch the contest on WTSV 94.3 FM/94.5 FM/1230 AM radio at 5:10 p.m.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.

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