Best of the best

Travis Hughes took the golden ‘S’ sticker and found a spot in his helmet for it, right next to the white ‘M.’

“I might get some trouble at home for this,” Hughes said, laughing.

But at that moment, on the Chabot-McDonough football field at Manchester Memorial High School, and until sometime Saturday night, it would be OK. Hughes is one of four players from the Souhegan Valley – two from Milford and two from Souhegan – playing for the West team, and Milford coach Keith Jones, in the CHaD East-West NH High School All-Star Football Game.

After four years of butting heads on the gridiron, Hughes and Nick Skinner are on the same side as Souhegan’s George LePage and Tyler Howard.

“We always have that fun rivalry,” Hughes said. “I consider it fun. We don’t all literally hate each other. They’re great players and I’m glad they’re here. It’s the best from Souhegan.”

While practice under Jones has been business as usual for Hughes and Skinner, it’s been a bit different for the rest of the all-stars, perhaps none more than the Souhegan duo.

“It’s interesting, hearing that the Milford head coach is going to be your coach for a game,” LePage said. “(Jones) is a great guy. We’ve talked about it, and Coach Jones said it to the whole team, this isn’t about old history or grudges you may have had against someone. It’s been a great time.”

For LePage, practicing with the all-stars, and getting to play Saturday, is a bit of a relief. When the football season ended last fall, the recent graduate discovered he’d severally injured his knee and would end up missing all of basketball and lacrosse season. For a while, LePage wasn’t even sure he’d be able to play in the CHaD game.

“My physical therapist told me around mid-May that my progress had picked up quite a bit,” he said. “Then I had an doctor’s appointment around that same week and they said I’d progressed exponentially and felt I was on track to get back for this. That was great because originally, they didn’t think I would be.”

That was good news for Howard, too, as he was looking forward to having a familiar face with him for practices.

“It’s nice to meet new kids, but it’s also nice to have someone that you know,” Howard said. “We’re good friends outside of football, so we talk when we can.

“It’s pretty cool. You’re used to being the best on your team, but here, you’re one of the best from around the state. You look at everybody, and you know they’re all going to do it well. The learning curve is high because we all know the basics and the advanced stuff. We’re learning to work together as a team rather than just play football.”

Being picked for the team was a big of a surprise for Skinner, who didn’t think he had the best of seasons as a senior. But the Milford grad is happy to get the opportunity.

“I didn’t really think I sparkled throughout the season,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to get picked. It feels pretty good. The first few days of practice, I was intimidated.

“I loved playing for (Jones) for four years, and to come out here for another week and have his structure, it’s been great. We’re running a lot of the same Milford stuff, so I know a lot of the stuff and can help out a lot of the other kids.”

This is the second time Jones has coached the West all-stars, having led the team to a 44-12 win over the East in the inaugural game in 2012. That game was an afternoon kickoff at the University of New Hampshire, while this year’s will be the first prime time game.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Saint Anselm College on Saturday.

“I think it’s exciting for all of us,” Jones said. “Any time you get to play a high school football game under the lights, you don’t get a lot of those opportunities.

“A lot of nice athletes and a lot of obviously well-coached, good football players. I felt like we’ve gotten a lot done and I’m pretty excited. It’s seven days, and it’s really only six because we’re not practicing Friday because of the banquet. It’s a challenge, but guess what? They’re the cream of the group. We might not get as much in, but we’ll get enough.”