GRAND FORKS -- The football field will be a little bigger, and a little more crowded, for Midway-Minto's John Juarez this week.
Juarez is one of approximately 125 athletes scheduled to report to practice Tuesday, July 9, in Mayville for the annual North Dakota Shrine Bowl, to be played Saturday at Grand Forks' Cushman Field.
Juarez is the only one of the 2019 high school graduates playing in the games who comes out of the 6-man ranks to play in the game. The 11-man game is scheduled for 4 p.m. and the 9-man game to follow.
Juarez will play on the 9-man East team. That will be back to his football roots. He played 9-man football on the Midway-Minto high school football team for three seasons. Last fall, however, the Mustangs switched to 6-man due to low participation numbers.
“When I heard about the invitation to play, I was really excited,’’ Juarez said. “I probably didn’t expect to have an opportunity to play in the Shrine Bowl. I didn’t think they’d look at 6-man players.
"Getting the feel for 9-man again will be weird at first. But it should work out fine. I thought 9-man was better than 6-man. They were equally fun. But in 9-man, we were playing teams in our area. The rivalries, playing against guys I knew from different schools in the area, that made 9-man better.''
Juarez, a quarterback for Midway-Minto, has been told he'll probably play running back or wide receiver in the Shrine Bowl. Whatever position he's at, Juarez says he'll have to be more disciplined than in the freelance style of 6-man, which he says resembled a backyard pickup game at times.
"You have to be more disciplined in 9-man,'' Juarez said. "You have to learn the plays, do what you're told and execute correctly. In 6-man, we had plays. But if they didn't work right away, it was more about running around, finding open receivers or areas to run. It's more wide open.''
Juarez will be the first player from a 6-man program to play in the North Dakota Shrine Bowl. The 5-foot-8, 160-pounder initiated the process when he contacted Grand Forks Central High School coach Bill Lorenz -- one of the Shrine Bowl coordinators -- shortly after the 2018 season ended.
"He told me about his background,'' Lorenz said. "That sparked my interest. After meeting with the Shrine committee, we decided to include the 6-man coaches in our nomination forms. After we receive the nominations, the Shrine coaches select the teams.''
Brady Schwab of Thompson is the head coach for the 9-man East Shrine team. His assistants include Sandy Laxdal of Cavalier and Kal Triplett of Larimore. All three of their teams played against Juarez when Midway-Minto was in 9-man.
"I think that played a big factor in picking him, along with the fact that he's a multi-sport athlete,'' Laxdal said. "We're familiar with what he could do. We wanted athletic kids. He's a kid who can run and cover. He was a pretty obvious choice. He’s a good athlete.''
For Juarez, who was an all-region selection as a sophomore and junior, football is coming full circle.
He played 11-man football in junior high, followed by first 9-man, then 6-man in high school. After the Shrine Bowl, he plans to return to the 11-man ranks playing at Mayville State.
"I think 11-man will be tougher (to adjust),'' Juarez said. "I don't have that much experience in 11-man. I played it for two years. I kind of forgot how 11-man works. It's been a long time.''