FERNDALE - They may have packed the auxiliary stands at Ferndale High School and nearly filled the grandstand to the see hometown NFL stars Michael Koenen and Jake Locker take on a squad of high school stars in the making, but the loudest cheers on Friday, June 28, were for the smallest guy on the field.
Serving as an honorary ball boy during the Friday Night Lights Touch Football game, Koenen's 4-year-old son, Malachi, ran to the center of the field to retrieve the football from a huddle of NFL players midway through the second half. As he neared the sideline on his way back, his mother, Devin, who was serving as coach of the NFL side, motioned for him to run toward the end zone.
"I ran fast," Malachi said, beaming from ear to ear.
Fast enough, it ended up, to avoid the diving high schoolers, as he ended up scoring a 30-yard touchdown for his father's team.
"I was a really proud papa on that one," Michael Koenen said. "That's a photo I'm going to get blown up and hang on the wall. It certainly put a big smile on my face."
Koenen's was just one of countless smiles during the inaugural Friday night event that kicked off the fifth annual Michael Koenen/Jake Locker NFL All-Star Football Camp.
Malachi was not the only one in the Koenen household to score in the game that resembled the atmosphere of a Harlem Globetrotters' game on turf, as his father caught a 7-yard pass from Locker with 55 seconds remaining to put the NFL ahead for good in its 63-56 victory.
"Locker to Koenen, that was a fitting way to end it," Koenen said.
But it took an interception in the back of the end zone by Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett on the game's final play to secure the victory for the NFL over a high school bunch that didn't seem to realize it was supposed to play the role of the Washington Generals.
"It was pretty neat playing against those guys," Meridian's Letrez Jones said. "They're bigger and faster, but we wanted to make them work for it."
And work for it they certainly did.
The game was actually tied 28-28 at the half, as the high schoolers matched the NFL stars nearly touchdown for touchdown, and never trailed by more than two scores.
"I wasn't expecting it to be this close," Locker said at halftime. "We're going to have to make some plays in the second half."
Locker's first two passes of the night went for 40-yard touchdowns, but the high schoolers were able to come back and tie it up with a little trickery of their own, when Blaine's Cole Muder faked an injury after being tackled by Buccaneers linebacker Adam Hayward.
Muder grabbed his knee, and four of his teammates came out with a stretcher to carry him off the field. After dropping him off the stretcher four or five times along the way for comic effect, the entire group ended up in the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown.
"We didn't practice it at all," Muder said. "We just kind of came up with it on the spot."
It was far from the only hijinks on a night that included Ferndale athletic director Vic Randall getting doused with a bucket of water, made up penalties, passes completed to referees, a referee throwing a pair of yellow underwear instead of a flag, Hayward joining the Ferndale cheer squad, teammate Dekoda Watson showing off his athleticism with a back flip and both teams joining the cheerleaders in a flash mob version of the Cha Cha Slide with 5 minutes left to play.
"We really didn't put on any expectations on the event," Koenen said. "We just wanted to have fun."
Koenen said organizers also didn't put any expectations on how much food and money they wanted to raise for the local food banks, as they asked spectators to bring either two cans of food or make a $3 donation.
They ended up raising 2,510 pounds of food and more than $6,000.
"We just wanted to do something that would give directly back to the community," Locker said. "The food bank does a lot of good for a lot of people here in Whatcom County, and we just wanted to be able to help them out."
Before the game, the NFL stars also hosted the high schoolers, who were selected to participate by their high school coaching staffs, for a leadership dinner.
"I think it really motivated us to be good leaders in our community," Jones said. "I learned some things I'm going to be able to take back to my community and share with my teammates. We've all got to work together so that we can reach our goals."
That likely will be one of the many lessons Koenen, Locker and their group of NFL stars will try to teach on Saturday, June 29, when they host the youth camp portion of the weekend along with the players and coaches of the Ferndale football team.
The morning (9-11:30 a.m.) session for third through sixth graders is already full, but afternoon (1-3:30 p.m.) session for seventh through ninth graders still had spots available for the free camp, according to koenenfoundation.com.
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.