MERIDEN, N.H. -- It isn't enough that Mount Anthony Union High School linebacker Alex Cross will represent Vermont in the 59th annual Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl on Saturday.
He's following in a family member's footsteps.
Cross' cousin, Jody Loveland, played in the game in 2004, and Cross has been working toward his chance ever since.
"It's been one of my goals, even back when I played MAYAA [youth football]," said Cross after Wednesday's practice at Kimball Union Academy.
"Ever since, I've wanted to be out there and play and now here I am, before college. It doesn't seem possible."
Cross is one of three players from the area suiting in the twin-state all-star clash at Dartmouth College's Memorial Field, which picks up the mantle as the usual spot for the game after a three-year hiatus. Mount Anthony defensive lineman Matt Keir and Burr and Burton Academy wide receiver Jake Oliver will also try to get Vermont its first win since 2000. New Hampshire has won 28 of the last 31 Shrine Bowls and won 45-21 last August.
"It feels good to represent the best players in the state," Cross said. "Being a part of it from MAU feels even better because we haven't had the best seasons, but we still get recognized for the good things that we do."
If one person knows what Cross can do, it's Vermont coach Mike Norman from Rutland. Norman said he has known Cross from lacrosse tournaments since the MAU graduate was in fourth grade.
Wednesday afternoon's practice was the 16th in six days for the 36 players representing 14 high schools in the Green Mountain State.
"It's definitely an experience, but it's been worth it," said Keir, who will stay in Vermont and suit up for Division III Castleton State this fall.
Cross said the atmosphere at camp is laid back but definitely all business on the field.
"It's awesome playing with other guys from other schools, these are the best of the best from Vermont," said Cross, who is attending Division III Hartwick College. "Everyone knows what they're doing, focusing on the one job they need to do."
Keir was a late addition to the game as others were unable to participate. But for Norman, everyone who is there is worthy of their spot.
"We've replaced five or six [after] some said no," said Norman, Rutland's head coach. "Our team is our team and some kids have grasped the opportunity with both hands."
Both Cross and Keir will play defense, something that the pair are happy to do.
"I've always had a feel for defense," said Keir, a second-team all-state selection. "It's just one of those things [where I'm] more comfortable."
"I love running the ball but I was recruited to play outside [line]backer in college," Cross said. "I don't mind it either way as long as I get to hit somebody."
Oliver, who was the leading receiver for the Division II runner-up Bulldogs in 2011 and an All-Banner first-teamer, will most likely be the only starter of the three Bennington County participants. Norman said he'll play wideout but also be punter and kicker.
Norman led Vermont in the Shrine game in 1998 and 2001.
"When the lights go on Saturday at 2:30 p.m., there'll be 11 on the field and 25 on the sideline, all with the same goal," said Norman said. "They're nice kids, they get along well and we expect good things. We've done this twice and it's a lot of fun."
The proceeds from the event are donated to the three nearest Shrine Hospitals in Springfield, Mass., Boston, and Montreal.
Tucker Stone (Hartford), Matt Rafus (Windsor), Kyle Kelly (Rutland), Levi Ellis (Fair Haven), Marshall Hastings (Middlebury), Sam Kelly (Oxbow), Zach Devoid (Bellows Free Academy), Jayson Collette (Milton), Jake Oliver (Burr and Burton), Rob Coloutti (Fair Haven), Dillon Robinson (Middlebury), Owen Newton (Hartford), Soren Pelz-Walsh (Brattleboro), Alec Kozlowski (Colchester),
Mike Schreiner (Bellows Free Academy), Travis Wilson (Hartford), William Thompson (South Burlington), Ryan Flemming (Champlain Valley), Alex Cross (Mount Anthony), Troy Bell (Hartford), Miles Latham (Hartford), Taylor Raftery (Bellows Free Academy), Dylan Raymond (Champlain Valley Union), Robert Murray (Hartford),
Mack Shea (Rutland), Cody Collins (North Country), Steven Ladka (Hartford), Bobby Annis (Hartford), Adam Fortin (North Country), Austin Quesnel (Middlebury), Joseph Johnson (Hartford), Matthew Keir (Mount Anthony), Parker Lamoureux (Fair Haven), Jamie Holbrook (Milton), Ben Thieken (Bellows Free Academy), Ryan Ragosta (Rutland).