Eagle Point senior standout Tyrone Holmes said there's no doubting the No. 1 priority for his South football team as it approaches the 65th playing of the annual Les Schwab Bowl.
Like any all-star event that features elite seniors from across the state, Holmes said there's been plenty of laughs and time spent getting acquainted with peers thus far at Pacific University in Forest Grove.
But without question, Holmes said, his team is focused as it prepares to square off against the North squad at 6 p.m. Saturday at Hillsboro Stadium.
"It's been more serious than I thought," said Holmes, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound defensive end. "I thought we'd be messing around a little more, but we've been going pretty hard. The coaches are really serious about it. They don't want to go home losers, so they're taking it pretty seriously."
The North carries a 31-29 lead in the series, which also includes four ties. It's been a back-and-forth battle since the North won in 2007. The South triumphed in 2008, starting a trend of trading victories. Should it continue, it's the South's turn to prevail after the North rallied for a victory in 2011.
"Everyone on our team is competitive and our coaches are competitive, too, so they've been trying to motivate us by telling us the history of the series," said South Medford senior Matt Retzlaff, a 5-11, 180-pound defensive back. "So hopefully that will turn into a win on Saturday for us. This game means a lot to us."
Also on the South roster are local standouts Jimmy Ditty, who was an all-conference defensive lineman and center for South Medford, and Franklin Lime, who earned all-state acclaim at the Class 5A level as a defensive end and tight end. Ditty is 5-11 and 250 pounds, while Lime is 6-4 and 210.
While some may question such a push to succeed in an all-star showcase, the University of Montana-bound Holmes said he's all for it.
"I like the seriousness," said the Midwestern League defensive player of the year. "I want to win. I don't want to come up and waste my time by not really trying. It's more of the football mentality to play to win. We're looking pretty good so I'm hoping we can win."
One change for Holmes and a handful of South players will be no longer playing on both sides of the ball when the game kicks off on Saturday. Holmes will strictly be on the defensive side for the first time in his playing career, as will Retzlaff.
"It's way different," said Holmes, who averaged 10 tackles and one sack per game last season. "I don't have to play the whole game now so it'll be a nice change."
"I'm still probably going to run in there on offense a couple times because I'm not used to it," he admitted.
For Retzlaff, who was on the 6A all-state team as a defensive back and as a receiver, the Southern Oregon recruit plans on trying to make the most of what likely is his last run on defense.
"I'm going to play straight offense next year at SOU, so I might as well get all my aggression out on 'D' right now," he said with a laugh. "It's kinda that last chance to get that kill shot and not being the one getting hit so it's kinda special for me."
Retzlaff amassed 21 touchdowns overall to go with 56 catches for 1,118 yards for the Panthers last fall. He also hauled in six interceptions, returning two for TDs.
While football has been the main priority, Retzlaff said there's been plenty of time for off-the-field fun, and the players have been treated very well by the Les Schwab Bowl staffers.
"It's been real exciting getting to meet all these great athletes and getting to practice and play with them," he said. "There's just a lot of bonding going on with all these guys from around the state, and I'm just trying to take it all in and try to not waste any time while I'm here."
Besides doubling up on practices each day, the players have had a night of bowling, watched the NBA Finals and will do some community service as the game approaches.
The week of activities and time on the football field has also helped bridge the gap among players who are used to treating each other as foes. Southwest Conference programs Sheldon, Thurston and Roseburg are all represented with South Medford on the South team; Holmes and Lime are joining forces with MWL representatives from Marist, Churchill and Marshfield.
"There's just a great group of guys here and I'm really excited about that," said Retzlaff. "It's different wearing different colored uniforms all those years, but now that we're in the same-colored uniform, we've got to bond together and become a team. I'm just glad I'm getting this opportunity and was chosen to play and have this chance to meet all these great athletes like this."
Beyond the local players, some of the South's leaders include Sheldon's Dillon Miller (quarterback), Mitch Carman (receiver), Kameron Canaday (lineman) and Sean Bellotti (kicker); Mountain View's Joel Skotte (linebacker) and twins Jacob (quarterback) and Cody (receiver) Hollister; and Montana-bound Marist receiver Taylor Walcott.
Head coach of the South team is Mountain View's Steve Turner, and he is assisted by Roseburg's Thurman Bell, among others.
The talent-rich North team is under the direction of Lake Oswego's Steve Coury.
Headlining the North squad are Lake Oswego's Alex Matthews (quarterback), Stevie Coury (receiver) and Steven Long (running back); UNLV-bound defensive end Marcell Frazier from David Douglas; Montana-bound tight end Hayden Craig of Dayton and Central Catholic's Hayward Demison, who has signed to join Retzlaff and Ditty at SOU.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry