BRADENTON -- When Myles Braxton-Johnson walked off the field after Southeast lost its playoff game to Lake Wales, the senior quarterback thought he would never play again in his home stadium.
A few weeks later, he learned the PAL Bowl would be played at Southeast. Then, Manatee quarterback Cord Sandberg, the Class 7A Player of the Year, decided not to participate in the game, and Braxton-Johnson became the starter.
It's like a new lease on life for the two-year starter and many of the participants in the 21st annual Brad Price Memorial PAL Bowl, which pits seniors from Manatee County schools against seniors from Sarasota County.
The vast majority of players do not have a scholarship to play in college, and this game is their last chance to state their case.
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"The season ending the way it did took a toll on me and getting to play one more game at home is very special," Braxton-Johnson said. "I am so happy the game is here and that our coach (Paul Maechtle) is the head coach and offensive coordinator. It makes everything easier."
Braxton-Johnson likely will play college football, but this could be his last game as a quarterback. He is luckier than most of his PAL Bowl teammates.
When Maechtle gave his talk to the team after its final practice Thursday it wasn't about winning. It was about playing well and a meeting he and other high school coaches will attend in February shortly after National Signing Day with coaches from NCAA Division II and III schools.
There is an NCAA-instituted dead period now, and college coaches are not allowed to attend any of the PAL Bowl practices. Mana
tee Educational Television (METV) will show four replays of the game starting at 6 p.m. Saturday, and the game will be streamed live at highschoolcube.com.
"You want to win the game because its Manatee against Sarasota County, but college coaches can't even come and watch practices so that initial reason for having this game has been altered," Maechtle said.
The game is special to players like Reynard Simmons, a backup defensive end at Manatee High, who had to play behind two all-staters.
"This is a great opportunity and I've got to take advantage of it. I could've gone to other schools and started, but overall it was a good experience. I learned a lot. In this game I just want to get my name known," Simmons said.
Manatee safety Darrian Mabrey and Lakewood Ranch cornerback KiJana Brown find themselves in similar situations.
"I got a couple of Division II schools looking at me. Some teams up north like New Haven have shown me a lot of interest," Brown said. "I hope this game will give me more good film that I can send off to colleges."
Despite his 5-foot-8, 167-pound frame, Mabrey was a hard hitter who led the Canes in tackles and was strong on coverage skills. He only started one season, which under today's recruiting basically eliminated him from getting an offer from a big school.
"This is another game to play that will pro long my season and I want to win," Mabrey said. "I haven't gotten any offers I think because of my size. I'd like to get a couple of big hits in this game."
Braxton-Johnson also is feeling good about his receivers. They include his teammate Jacob Sannon, Ja Juan Pollock from Manatee and Palmetto's Shaquille Harris and E.J. Burston.
"All of them are great athletes. I couldn't be happier," Braxton-Johnson said. "Shaquille and E.J. have great speed, and Pollock and Jacob have great hands. We put in plays this week to get them the ball, but mostly everything is basic."
Sarasota County head coach Brett Timmons played his football at Southeast under Maechtle. He is disappointed that Manatee won't have a lot of its best players available, though it increases Sarasota's chance of winning.
"It's always a privilege and an honor to line up against one of the great coaches. He is a hall of fame coach and I only hope my career can last as long," Timmons said of Maechtle. "I think at some level you have to be true to your home team. I know there are other all-star games with a little more glitz and glamour, but I think it's something to stay and play for your local all-star team."