The Football Gods Are Calling

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Max Foster/Roundup

Quarterback Matt Leinart should be the subject of most fan attention at the upcoming Cardinals Camp in Flagstaff because he is taking over for Kurt Warner, who retired this year.

Rejoice football purists — the gridiron promised land awaits you.

It can be enjoyed Aug. 21 on the campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and is a double dose dream that includes a pair of big-time football clashes — the Fifth Annual Sollenberger Classic, and an open practice of the Arizona Cardinals.

The Cardinals will practice from 9:05 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 21. The Sollenberger Classic, which pits Chandler Hamilton vs. Las Vegas Bishop Gorman, will be played at 7:10 that evening in Walkup Skydome on the NAU campus.

So, in the course of less than a day, fans can get an up-close-and-personal peek at the Cards and enjoy one of the finest high school football games to be played in the country this season.

For those who wish to make a weekend out of it and possibly enjoy Flagstaff’s nightlife, they can travel north a day early because on Aug. 20 the Cardinals practice twice: 9:05 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and 3:05 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Just think — tall, majestic ponderosa pines, clean air, temperatures about 80 degrees and plenty of slobber-knockers.

It just doesn’t get any better.

The classic will pit Hamilton, Arizona Class 5A Division 1 champion of a year ago, against the Gorman Gaels, Nevada’s 2009 Class 4A champion.

Hamilton finished 14-0 last season and Gorman was 13-0. Gorman has won two titles in three years and Hamilton has captured five state crowns in seven years.

The game is played in honor of Barry Sollenberger, a former AIA public information officer, who was the state’s finest high school sports historian. He also published the magazine “Phoenix Metro Football” and expanded it to include “Northern Arizona Football” to give the state’s smaller schools more exposure.

In 1990 he began to take an interest in Payson High School football, attending Longhorn games played in the Valley.

At a PHS vs. Dysart game, he took an interest in Bo Althoff, telling coaches, “he’s as good a safety as there is, including the big schools.”

Sollenberger died of heart failure in 2005 and, since his death, high school football programs around the state and the AIA have come up with ways to honor his memory.

Red Bird practices

Arizona Cardinals practices take place on the outdoor fields east of Walkup Skydome.

Most notable about the practices is the fans can get close to the action where they can hear audibles, pads thumping, defensive calls, grunts, groans and plenty of old-fashioned butt-chewing from the coaching staff.

There’s also the chance to overhear unforgettable conversations between those who understand the sport and those who never will.

At a practice two years ago, a dingy, but drop-dead gorgeous young woman, asked her date what a “checkdown” was.

Obviously disturbed she didn’t know such a simple fact of gridiron jargon, he decided to mock her, answering, “It’s when a guy, in a bar, passes on the best looking girl in the group because she’s well covered. He goes after one of her friends because the chances of completing are much better.”

Wow, that was quick thinking.

Also at the scrimmages, there are chances for fans to get a peak at their favorite player and possibly secure an autograph after practice when the players are returning to the locker rooms.

Cards practices are free of charge, but tickets for the classic are $10, with children 5 years and under admitted free.

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