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Shrine Bowl

Saratoga graduate Sam Schneider stands behind the offensive line during Shrine Bowl practice Tuesday in Casper.

The stereotypical senior football season in the American Dream doesn’t end the way Sam Schneider’s did. Instead of running out to thunderous applause or playing for a state championship, his season ended with a whimper weeks before the opening game.

Due to low participation numbers Saratoga canceled its 2018 football season. As a result, the Panthers were post-season ineligible and players were ineligible for all-state (and all-conference) recognition as the team played a shortened six-man schedule.

Months later, Schneider is able to play one final football game at 11-man — the 2019 Shrine Bowl Game.

“It feels really good, especially after dropping down to six-man and our season didn’t count,” Schneider said. “It really feels good to get some recognition.”

Schneider was coming off a junior season where he was the seventh-leading passer in the state and an all-purpose scoring machine for the Panthers. The team was coming off a three-win season and a playoff appearance as well. He didn’t expect to not play games of consequence his final high school season.

Understandably dejected, Schneider grew to love Saratoga’s lost season.

“It was disappointing at first for sure,” he said, “but after the first few games you realize that you’re playing for more than yourself. You’re playing for the team, the town, the program more than anything else. It made you enjoy the game more because you were just playing to play football.”

That’s the direction Saratoga’s first Shrine Bowl selection since 2010 hopes the program and new head coach Logan Wright have the program headed. Since 2005 the Panthers have tallied just two winning seasons. None of them happened during Schneider’s time, when the Panthers went a combined 8-19. (That doesn’t include last year’s makeshift season in six-man where Saratoga went 4-2 because those weren’t varsity games.)

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Despite the record, and the way his final season played out, the Panthers’ outgoing quarterback has high hopes for the program after he’s gone.

“We definitely started off with a rough program,” he explained, “a lot of dysfunction and lack of interest in the community, but through my high school years we’ve started turning it around and our new coach has helped turn it around. I think it’s in good hands and I feel accomplished.”

As a consolation gift for his contributions to the football program, Schneider has since been enshrined in the Saratoga record books. Schneider broke the school record of 6-foot, 6 inches in the high jump with a leap of 6-08. That mark came on his way to successfully winning three straight state championships.

“I didn’t get Best of the Best, which was what I wanted, but I’ll take the three-peat,” he laughed. “That’s something that doesn’t happen too often.”

Also something that doesn’t happen too often, a kid from Saratoga going to compete in sports at the University of Wyoming. Schneider has accepted a walk-on spot on the Cowboys’ track team. He plans to study civil engineering in Laramie. He’s enjoying the relaxing and fun times of this Shrine Bowl week, and the summer job that follows, before he lets himself get too excited about becoming a Cowboy.

Schneider is the 18th Saratoga graduate to make the Shrine Bowl, but certainly the first under these circumstances. As terms of his senior season being canceled, Schneider wasn’t all-state the same season he made the Shrine Bowl Game. He’s also the only one in this year’s game that was ineligible for the playoffs. And if you count him as a six-man representative, he joins Farson’s Clancy Gines as the only players from six-man schools on the South team.

And he’s fine with all that.

“It definitely feels good to show up for my school,” Schneider said. “This is a good conclusion to a good school career, I feel like.”

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Follow sports reporter Brady Oltmans on Twitter @BradyOltmans

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High School Sports Reporter

Brady Oltmans reports on high school and local sports. He joined the Star-Tribune in July 2016 after covering prep sports and college soccer in Nebraska. He also contributes to University of Wyoming sports coverage. He and his dog live in Casper.

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