Mountain House High football coach Jason McCloskey is taking his first turn as the head coach of an all-star football team, and he’s impressed with how quickly a collection of former rivals can become teammates.

“It’s like a whirlwind,” McCloskey said Tuesday morning during a practice session at Stagg High in Stockton for the Lions All Star Football North team.

He knew they would be the best football players in the northern San Joaquin Valley and foothills, but he was still impressed by the years of football knowledge the players, all recent high school graduates, possessed.

“They’re all-stars not just because they’re great athletes and football players. They’re also all-stars because they’re very smart. We’ve been able to pick things up on the fly,” he said. “We’re getting into stuff that I wouldn’t get into with my high school team until probably six to eight weeks into the season.”

He said most high school programs run similar offensive and defensive strategies, so the first couple of days are spent learning a common language for the plays that everyone knows but that go by different names from team to team. By Tuesday morning, the third practice for the North team, they were all running on the same playbook.

“It’s been a pleasant surprise and these guys have been awesome. It’s been hot and no one’s complaining about the heat. They’re just here enjoying the process and having a good time.”

McCloskey and his coaching staff have a team of about 30 players, with roster changes likely to continue until game day on Saturday at Lincoln High in Stockton. It’s a new venue for the game, which has been played at Tracy High’s Wayne Schneider Stadium for the past six years.

The North team includes three Mountain House High players. Running back Vladik Sutherland and defensive back Elias Escobar are on the team. Lineman Keenami Maggard was on the original roster but will not play, and defensive lineman Taeshaun Hodge-Maroney was added last week.

“I was pretty excited once my coach texted me and told me. After I got here, seeing all of the different people from all of the different schools coming together was kind of cool, especially how fast everyone is picking up all of the plays. The team chemistry is pretty good,” said Hodge-Maroney, who will play for Modesto Junior College in the fall. “All of the players and their skills, that definitely met my expectations. I knew a lot of them would be really good. They don’t call them all-stars for nothing.”

Tracy High graduate Angelo Ortega, also bound for Modesto Junior College in the fall, said that playing in the Lions All Star Game was a longtime dream of his.

“Coming into high school, freshman year, that’s the only thing I was thinking about, my senior year ending up at the Lions game,” he said.

And the North team has met his expectations.

“It’s a really good atmosphere out here. Everyone’s having a good time, laughing, joking. When we get on the field, it’s serious time,” he said, adding that he looked forward to some quality football on Saturday. “I obviously want to win, but I hope it’s a really good game. I hope we both come out scoring and the best will win.”

Sutherland is headed to MJC in the fall as well. As a running back and slot receiver, he looks to be a key part of the North offense.

“It’s great to see all of the different athleticism and what everyone can do. I’m super excited with what we can bring to the table on Saturday,” he said.

“I’m loving the line,” he added. “The line is doing great work, the coaches are doing great work. We have very great skill position sets and it’s just competition every single day and that’s what I love to see.”

McCloskey also expects wide receiver and defensive back Trevion Shadrick-Harris to be a big contributor on offense. The Tracy High grad was not at Tuesday’s practice, but he has attended the late afternoon and evening sessions after taking classes at Sierra College in Rocklin, where he will play football in the fall.

Contact Sports Editor Bob Brownne at brownne@tracypress.com, or call 209-830-4227.

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