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Shrine coach: NH ready

Greg Gush, coach of the New Hampshire squad in Saturday’s Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl, has heard all the talk about his team not being a first-choice squad.

He’s heard that the CHaD East-West High School All-Star Football Game has scooped up many of the state’s best players.

He’s having none of it.

“I am 100 percent sure that we brought the right kids up here,” the head coach at Division III champion Campbell of Litchfield said Thursday from Castleton, Vt.

The 62nd edition of the New Hampshire-Vermont all-star game kicks off Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at Castleton State College in southwest Vermont. The game is being played there this year because of renovations to Memorial Field at Dartmouth College, where the game usually is held.

“This is a great group. They bonded extremely well,” Gush said. “We were careful in selecting this team. Everything is coming together on both sides of the ball.”

The Granite State coach says his team will be smaller than its Green Mountain counterparts, but he believes New Hampshire’s strength and speed will be difference makers Saturday.

“I don’t think we’re going to push anybody around,” he said. “We see (Vermont) coming in for meals. They’ve got some big boys. But we have a tremendous amount of team speed. We have a lot of athleticism.”

New Hampshire will play three quarterbacks, all of whom played in passing offenses. Pinkerton’s Jack Hanaway led the Astros to the Division I title last season. Bishop Brady’s Brendan Johnson set the state record for touchdown passes in a season last year, with 31. Add Portsmouth’s Connor DiCesare, who led the Clippers to the playoffs in their return to Division I.

“They are a little different in terms of what their strengths are,” Gush said. But he insisted that all three will play. “This is an all-star team and these kids came up here as football players and we’re going to play everybody.”

Expect New Hampshire to play at a fast pace.

“We have a great group of receivers. And we’re a team that likes to throw it around a bit,” Gush said.

Similarly, Gush said, his team’s defense will match size with speed and strength.

“We have a nose tackle from Timberlane (Brian Lonergan) who’s 5-10, 185 (pounds). I think he benches 305,” he said. “Our defensive ends are physical and this is a team (Vermont) that’s going to run the option. They’re big, fast guys. They’re going to get to know the quarterback pretty well during the course of the game.”

“And I think the camaraderie and the spirit they’ve displayed are going to help them on the football field,” the coach said. “It’s amazing for me that most of these kids met each other six days ago.”

Gush says his team isn’t playing with a chip on its shoulder, despite being aware that Vermont is a consensus pick to end the Green Mountain boys’ 14-game losing streak in this matchup. They know this is an all-star game and a fundraiser, he said.

But they’ve heard the talk, he said.

“I think the kids are well aware of the fact they are viewed as some sort of substandard team , not the best of the best. We’re not dwelling on that by any means ,” he said. “They want to represent their state. They want to represent well.”

“We have a great group,” he said. “I know there’s lot of talent in the CHaD game but I wouldn’t trade any of these kids. We brought the right group here.

“I heard all the talk that the CHaD game was going to be picked first and the talk in the papers here is that we picked a B-team or even a C-team but I don’t see it. I don’t see it at all.“If they play the way they’ve been practicing,” he said, “we’re definitely going to field a competitive team.”

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