No matter the outcome of Saturday’s state championship football game in Emporia, one thing is for certain. A group of eight Salina South seniors who share a special bond will have played their last game together.
A core group of seniors have played together on the same team since they were in grade school, with great success.
Richard Walters, Justin Stonebraker, Aaron Mar, Garrett Mortimer, Andrew Haines, John McNabb, and Cole Smith have all played on the same team together since they were in the 5th grade. The group all played Salvation Army football for the Salina Redskins in the 5th, 6th, and 7th grade. Dalton Harmon joined the team in the 7th grade, when his family moved to Salina.
The Redskins lost two games that first season. After that, they went undefeated in their 6th and 7th grade seasons. The team was coached by Justin’s father Ken Stonebraker, who at the time was also the head football coach of the Salina South Cougars. Stonebraker is currently the athletic director at South.
Their success then continued into middle and high school. They were part of a Salina South Middle School team that went undefeated, and they then continued the string in their freshman year of high school, where they again went undefeated. By the time they were sophomores, some of them were suiting up and getting varsity playing time.
The eight seniors gathered earlier this week and talked about their time together.
Justin Stonebraker says that he knew there was something special with this group. “I knew that we had the potential to be very good if we worked hard” he says.
Richard Walters agrees that it seemed evident early on that this group was different. “It’s been fun playing with these guys” he says. “I’ll miss it”.
Andrew Haines says it’s already sunk in that this game will be their last. “It seems like I’ve been playing with these guys forever, their like family” he says.
Garrett Mortimer says it’s hard to believe that it all is going to end. “It’s so surreal, we’ve been playing together for the last 6 or 7 years, it’s just crazy to think about” he says.
John McNabb says it will be an extra-special game Saturday. “I think it is, we’ve been together so long, we have to go out with a bang”.
Aaron Mar says it’s really starting to sink in to him that this is the end. “We’ve been playing together for so long, I’m going to miss playing with each and every one of them”.
Cole Smith says that it has been gratifying to grow up with this group of teammates. Bringing a laugh from the whole group he says “when I was little I was fat and slow.” He goes on to say “it’s crazy, I don’t really think it’s sunk in yet. I’ll miss them all.”
Dalton Harmon says that he was the “new kid on the block” when he arrived, and he was immediately accepted. The group had already been together for a couple of years. “It’s so surreal, that with everything we’ve been through the end is near” he says.
Stonebraker adds “we’ve all been waiting for this, all we ever dreamed about since we started playing together was putting on the uniform for South”.
The eight seniors will put on the uniform for South one final time Saturday, and play in the biggest game of their lives. They’ll play for a state championship.
Audio: KSAL interview with the 8 South seniors who will play their final game together.