MOWEAQUA — The 29th Annual Order of the Eastern Star All-Star football game is both a beginning and the finale for the participants.
For Central A&M coach Brent Weakly, who will coach the East team in Saturday's game, this is the start of the football season.
"This is the beginning for me. We haven’t done any sort of camps so this is my first time out on the practice field," Weakly said of his first all-star game coaching experience.
For Mitchell Leathers, a multi-sport athlete from Warrensburg-Latham who will be attending Illinois State University in the fall, this will probably be his final organized football game.
"I don’t plan on playing. If something changes, I might try to walk on," Leathers said. "So this is possibly my last game. I want to go out with a bang. I’m going to miss it. I hope its not my last game but it looks like it is going to be."
The all-star game, which benefits the Eastern Star's Educational Assistance Fund, brings together some of the top graduating seniors from Central Illinois and Leathers fits the bill.
Last season with the Cardinals, he recorded 661 yards receiving and found the end zone 14 times. Over his four years, Leathers became a dependable answer for Warrensburg quarterbacks who were looking for a tough third-down conversion, and he would frustrate opposing Central Illinois Conference coaches, including Weakly.
"Mitchell is an athletic kid and he was over the top of (Central A&M receiver) Jacob Paradee and they did a pretty good job of shutting him down in the second half (last season). We know he’s a good player and played against us for four years and was a headache for us," Weakly said. "All of these guys are here for a reason — their coaches thought they were one of the best on their team. I’m excited about that and getting to see what they are all about."
Weakly gets to coach three of his own Raiders players one last time -- running back Gus McCoy, linebacker Cord Fenton and lineman Logan Whitney — and each was key to the Raiders advancing to the state quarterfinals last season.
"It’s great to get to coach these guys again. We did something last year that we haven’t done in a long time and it’s a great chance to coach these guys again on the field," Weakly said.
Coaching against Weakly on Saturday will be Argenta-Oreana coach Steve Kirk, whose Bombers ended the Raiders' season in the quarterfinals. Other leading East players include Monticello's Braden Snyder, Tuscola's Luke Sluder and Argenta's Makhi Stanley.
"Coach Kirk and I have a good relationship. It should be a lot of fun and there is a lot of familiarly between us," Weakly said.
Weakly said he'll be flexible with where his squad plays for their last high school game.
"We are going to see what positions they prefer to play and then I’ll put a few in a couple of positions and go from there," Weakly said. "I'm giving them a little bit of freedom. We have some players who are going to play in college at quarterback and they want to play receiver and all that stuff. So we will see where we are at and go from there."
Leathers wants to line up at wide receiver for the West, although throughout his high school career there were rumors he might take over at quarterback.
"Obviously the best guy has to be there, but part of me wished I could have been there at quarterback. It might have been an uncomfortable change but me, myself, I know I could have done it," Leathers said. "But we have had success with what we have done. There are no regrets, but it would have been cool."
Reflecting on his career with his West squad — including Cardinals teammates lineman David Chalmers and linebacker Jathan Thompson — Leather said he's overcome by the journey.
"Overall, its been great. Everyone has made great strides," Leathers said. "Honestly, my biggest change, and it sounds sort of corny, is to believe in myself. I think my ability has always been there but it is believing in yourself and going out there and doing it."
A top football moment easily springs to Leathers' mind.
"That would be sophomore year against Argenta-Oreana in the first round of the playoffs," Leathers said. "We were down 10 with like two minutes left and in the huddle we were freaking out and coach (Scott Godfrey) calmed us down and we put it all together and won (32-30). It was a great moment."