by nathan oster
It’s been a whirlwind of a week so far for recent Greybull High School graduates Brayan Castro and Riley Hill, who are in Casper for the 45th annual Wyoming Shrine Bowl football game, which kicks off at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 9 at Natrona County High School.
Castro and Hill joined their teammates on Saturday and after some quick walk-throughs on Sunday, began their trek to Salt Lake City for the players’ annual visit with the children at the Shriner’s Hospital.
After spending the night in Evanston, they reached Salt Lake City on Monday morning and spent several hours visiting and playing with children at the hospital before beginning their long journey back to Casper. Two-a-day practices resumed on Tuesday.
Castro and Hill called the hospital visit one of the highlights of the week so far.
“It was pretty cool seeing all the kids,” said Castro. “It’s not what people expect.”
Hill added, “To see what those kids are going through, it really makes you realize what you have and not take things for granted. I’ve been having ankle problems, but they made me forget about all that. We played a lot of baseball with them. They seemed happy, just to be living life.”
Both young men also spoke about the bonding that is occurring among the North players.
“We’re making a lot of new friends…kids from Sheridan, Natrona, all over the state,” said Castro.
Hill said he didn’t know what to expect, noting that a couple of kids from the North were bitter rivals. One, in particular, he “didn’t like at all” while at GHS, he said. “But everything’s cool here,” he said. “I like him a lot now and talk to him as much as anyone.”
As has been the case in recent years, the Shrine Week will have very strong connections to Greybull. Marty Wrage, who was head coach of the Buffs last season, is leading the North team and Jeff Hunt, one of his assistants, is also on the North staff, helping with the defense.
Garrett King, a GHS graduate, a Shrine Bowl alum and a former UW football player, is the guest speaker at the Shrine Bowl banquet. He’s now in sales for the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team.
John Cundall, who enjoyed a long and successful tenure as GHS’s head football coach, remains the executive director of the Shrine Bowl.
Castro and Hill starred on both sides of the ball at GHS, but with all the talent on the North roster, neither will be asked to play both ways when the game kicks off on Saturday afternoon.
Castro is one of the team’s top defensive backs. He said he loves scoring touchdowns, something he did with great regularity at GHS. He won’t get the touches he would on offense, but ever the playmaker, he will be looking to break one if gets his hands on the ball on defense or special teams.
Hill wasn’t sure he’d be able to play in the game after undergoing surgery this past spring to remove a bone spur “the size of a quarter” in his ankle. Initially “a little tight,” his ankle has loosened up as the week has progressed, he said.
Riley is one of two quarterbacks on the North roster, with the other being Jesse Harshman of Natrona County. They’re rooming together this week as they prepare to take on the best players from the South.
Jesse’s dad, Steve Harshman, is the offensive coordinator for the North, so the team is going to run Natrona’s offense. Riley said he’s been picking it up quickly and that he and Jesse have been splitting reps in practice.
“It’s been good to start throwing a football again,” he said. “I hadn’t in about three months because of the ankle surgery … and now I’m getting to throw to some of the best receivers in the state.”
Hill said the coaches haven’t told him how they intend to split the reps in Saturday’s game. He’s fine starting or coming off the bench. He just wants to win. “I know I’ll be a little nervous, but I just have to realize and remember that I’ll be playing with some of the best players in the state. I need to rely on them to make plays and the line to protect me. I just need to relax and do my job.”