For 60 prep stars, the 35th Shrine All-Star Football Game will be their last at the high school level.
And for four San Gabriel Valley stars, Saturday's 7 p.m. contest at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena between Northern California and Southern California is their farewell to the Southland.
Quarterback Dan McGwire and wide receiver Travis Watkins of Claremont, running back J. J. Flannigan of Pomona and defensive back John Hardy of Muir will leave the Southland for college in the fall.
McGwire and Watkins will attend Iowa, Flannigan is headed for Colorado and Hardy will go to UC Berkeley.
"I knew I was leaving Southern California before last season--even though I had USC in the back of my head," said Flannigan, a 6-1 and 190-pound speedster. "I took a lot of time to make the decision and think Colorado is the best place for me."
Wanted Passing Team
For McGwire and Watkins, Southland powers UCLA and USC were never really in contention.
"I'm a drop-back quarterback and don't think I would have fit in at either of those schools," the 6-8 McGwire said. "The Big 10 is throwing the ball now and they have very aggressive athletes. I think it's the best place for me and I feel good about going to Iowa."
Added Watkins: "The No. 1 thing in my decision was getting a good education, and I think if I keep that in mind it will be OK. Iowa is just an outstanding football program and they have great people. It's an adjustment going away from home, but it's something that everyone has to do sometime."
Playing in Iowa actually will be a homecoming for Watkins (6-1, 175), who was born in Ottumwa.
If any of the four has regrets about leaving the Southland it might be Hardy, whose first choice was UCLA.
"I did want to go there originally, but as long as I go to a place where I can be happy it's OK," he said. "I wanted to go to UCLA but things just fell through and they never offered me a scholarship."
However, Hardy does not have regrets about signing with Cal. "I'm happy with going to Cal. Besides, it's in the Pac-10 so I'll be back."
The four valley players, who earned CIF All-Southern Section and all-state honors as seniors, agree that playing in the Shrine Game will smooth their transition from high school to college.
"This is a great experience for me," Hardy said. "It gives you a chance to see what you're going to be up against in college. I think it would be harder to adjust if I didn't have this game."
"This is a real test because these are the best players in California and the best at their positions," Watkins said. "I've played against good players in high school but never a team with 11 great athletes on the field.
"I know all of these players still have a lot to learn in terms of playing in college. This will be a good preview of things to come."
Memories of Haden, McKay
McGwire and Watkins may have been the best passing combination in the valley since the Bishop Amat duo of Pat Haden to J. K. McKay in the late 1960s.
McGwire, an All-American who led Claremont to its second straight CIF Eastern Conference title last season, completed 204 of 332 passes for 3,172 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior and posted career totals of 411 completions in 714 attempts for 6,559 yards and 65 touchdowns to rank among the all-time Southern Section passing leaders.
Watkins was on the receiving end 104 times for 1,703 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior and caught 164 passes for 2,698 yards and 31 touchdowns in his prep career.
"I've never had anybody at those positions who have reached the level of achievement that they did," said Claremont Coach Bob Baiz, one of the coaches for the South. "I've coached Haven Moses and he never caught the number of balls that Travis did and nobody (at Claremont) reached the level of achievement that Dan did--especially a player with his kind of size."
Flannigan Outstanding Runner
Flannigan, another prep All-American, rushed for 1,530 yards and 20 touchdowns in 195 carries last season and for 3,267 yards and 39 touchdowns during his prep career.
Hardy, who helped Muir win its first CIF Coastal Conference title last year, led the Mustang defense with 109 tackles--a lot for a defensive back.
"He's probably the best (defensive back) we've ever had," said Muir Coach Jim Brownfield, who also coaches the South. "We built our defense around him. He has got two things going for him--very quick feet and he's very alert. He's also one of those rare guys who can play safety and cornerback just as well."
After Saturday, the four standouts will not be seeing much of the Southland--although Hardy will be back at least once a year to play USC or UCLA in Pac-10 games.
The Shrine game will provide them with one final opportunity to leave a lasting impression.