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N.D. SHRINE BOWL: Summer job with the gridiron gang

Michael McAtee's summer job is coaching t-ball. But his employment as a coach of youth baseball players in Rolla has taken a back seat to another sport.

Michael McAtee's summer job is coaching t-ball. But his employment as a coach of youth baseball players in Rolla has taken a back seat to another sport.

This has been the summer of football for McAtee and Tommy Zinke, his fellow 2008 Rolla High School graduate.

"I've probably only been there for t-ball about five times," McAtee said. "I've been concentrating on football. That's been the real job for the summer."

The two will be in the backfield again today in the 4 p.m. 11-man game in the annual North Dakota Shrine Bowl at the Fargodome. Zinke will be alternating at quarterback for the West team and McAtee will be sharing time at running back -- just as they have for the past several high school seasons, first with the Rolla-Rock Lake team and last season with the first-year North Prairie co-op.

And just as they've been at two previous all-star football games this summer.


Both played in the Badlands Bowl, a game between standout seniors from North Dakota and Montana. And both played on the North Dakota team against a Canadian team in the Saskota Bowl.

"It's been football, football, football. That's not a bad job to have," said Zinke, who also is employed by his father painting. "I have been losing a lot of money from my savings account, though."

How hectic has the schedule been?

The two were in six days of practice at Dickinson for the Badlands Bowl, then drove to the game, which was held June 21 in Miles City, Mont. They practiced for five days in Rolla for the Saskota Bowl, made the one-day trip to Foam Lake, Saskatchewan, for the game last Saturday, then returned home. The two got to Rolla at 3 a.m. Sunday; at 8 a.m., they left for Fargo and the Shrine Bowl practices. And much of their free time between football has been spent on weight-lifting.

The two plan to continue as teammates in college, as both have signed to play football at Valley City (N.D.) State University.

"Sometimes you do get tired of all the practicing," Zinke said. "You'd rather be playing the games. That's more fun. But you have to practice, to work on your stuff, to get better."

The two have proven themselves at the high school level. Both were all-state picks last season, when they led Northern Prairie to a 9-2 record and into the playoffs, where the Cougars were eliminated in the state semifinals.

McAtee rushed for 2,046 yards (8.2 per-carry average) and 29 touchdowns. Zinke was 91-of-162 passing (56.2 percent accuracy) for 1,471 yards and 15 touchdowns.


They've steadily progressed at the competition level, playing 9-man at Rolla-Rock Lake, 11-man Class A with North Prairie and now finding themselves in the mix with Class AA and AAA players from larger schools.

"It's different," McAtee said of playing with the big-school athletes. "Our linemen at Rolla were more quick than big. Here, all the guys are bigger. They give you a bigger push up front. But the defensive players are bigger, too.

"You have to be more patient and wait for the holes to develop. And you have to lower your shoulder, take the contact and then make your moves. But I never shied away from contact in high school."

All the football, Zinke said, "has improved my game a lot. Working with the AAA and AA players, it's tougher competition in practices. That makes you better. You see lots of different coverages in the different games, so I think my decision-making has improved."

Now the two are playing for pride against many of their past teammates and opponents.

Having played both 9-man and Class A 11-man football in high school allowed them to get acquainted with many opponents. Playing in the Badlands and Saskota bowls allowed them to meet more football players from across the state.

"You're playing against kids from your own state in the Shrine game," McAtee said. "It's not like you're playing against kids you've never heard of. A lot of us (on the opposing Shrine teams) are friends. You want to do well so you can have bragging rights."

For Zinke and McAtee, this is the conclusion of a summer of long drives and football together. But it's not the conclusion of their time together on a football team.


"We're around each other a lot," McAtee said. "We're good friends. And we're going to be roommates in college, so we better not be getting tired of each other."

DeVillers reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1128; (800) 477-6572, ext. 128; or send e-mail to gdevillers@gfherald.com .

If you go

What: N.D. Shrine Bowl.

When: Today, with the 11-man football game at 4 p.m., followed by the 9-man game at 7 p.m.

Where: Fargodome.

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