Four county football products to play Wednesday

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Saturday, at least four Valencia County football players will start football workouts again.

Wednesday, they’ll get to play under the lights — one more time.

News-Bulletin file photo: Four Valencia County football players have been selected to play in Wednesday’s 2012 Class 4A/5A North-South all-star game, set for 7 p.m at Milne Stadium in Albuquerque. Noah Brown rushed for 1,715 yards and scored 24 touchdowns as a senior in Valencia High’s state-semifinal run. Soon after his appearance in the Norrth-South game, he’ll begin his career at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales.

Noah Brown, Isaac Gonzales and Jude Pepke of Valencia High, along with Gabriel Almager of Los Lunas High, are set to suit up for the South in Wednesday’s 2012 Class 4A/5A North-South all-star game at Milne Stadium. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

Players report Saturday for the first of four days of practice at Milne. The game, which has rosters chosen by coaches from each year’s senior class, is in its 69th year, with the South leading the series, 43-21-4. Other just-graduated players are sometimes called in at the last minute, but as of Friday, Brown, Gonzales, Pepke and Almager are the only selections from county schools who are expected to play.

Robert Carrasco of Valencia was also selected, but he is still overcoming injuries and is preparing to play baseball at Lamar Community College in Colorado.

The three Valencia players were all multi-year contributors as the Jaguars improved each season, including last fall’s District 6-4A title, state-semifinal appearance and 11-1 record. Brown will attend Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, where Kelley Lee became the offensive coordinator in December after three seasons as the Valencia coach.

Brown, as a fullback, rushed for 1,715 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior, and led the Jaguars in sacks from his defensive end spot. He said he feels years of hard work culminated with being chosen for the game, which has rosters assembled by a New Mexico High School Coaches Association committee.

“It’s a great feeling to succeed in your family’s, friends’, and your own eyes,” said Brown. “But once you get recognized by a state organization as one of the best, it’s always an honor. I’m hoping to have a lot of fun this week. I’ll get to hang out with the people I’ve been competing with for my high school career, and I will also get to know the people who I will be attending Eastern with. It should be a blast.”

Pepke was not originally named to the team, but was contacted recently. Like Brown, he will play at Eastern on a scholarship.

Last season, Pepke took over as VHS quarterback after three-year starter Orey Feerer graduated. He accounted for more than 2,000 yards of total offense, and destroyed opposing offenses from his linebacker position.

Feerer and Belen High graduate Danny Jaramillo were the only county players in last year’s game, played in Las Cruces.

With several quarterbacks available to the South, Pepke will likely see time at linebacker in Wednesday’s game.

“I’m very excited about it,” said Pepke. “It gives me a chance to play with and against the best players in the state. It should be a great experience for everyone.”

Gonzales could be used in a number of ways on offense, defense or special teams in the North-South game. He was critical to the Jaguars’ 2011 success as their leader in rushing, receiving and kickoff returning.

Almager played on both the offensive and defensive lines for the Los Lunas team that reached the Class 4A quarterfinals. His reaction to being selected for North-South was one of jubilation.

“I was really excited, because it’s an honor to play in North-South,” he said.

The former Tiger is already rooming with fellow LLHS standout Jeremy Tabet in Socorro as the two prepare to attend New Mexico Tech. Having fun at North-South is an important component of the experience, he said.

“I wouldn’t pass it up for anything,” said Almager. “I know that only a select few were picked and it will be my last football game. I want to enjoy the experience of being around and playing the best in the state.”

Tech does not have NCAA teams, but does have a rugby club, the Pygmies. Almager plans to major in mechanical engineering and minor in explosives.

Brown, whose honors include State Farm All-Metro Player of the Year, said that he definitely wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.

“For the most part, the only reasons people decide to opt out of North-South, besides personal health, is because their collegiate athletic associations would not approve of their decision to participate in the game,,” he said. “The game is meant to reward your success, and have fun with others that also have had success. This will official be my last high school game, so I might as well go out with the best.”


-- Email the author at jbrooks@news-bulletin.com.