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The participants in the 55th annual Montana Shrine Bowl are practicing this week – the East team in Billings and the West in Butte.

The Shrine game will be played Saturday at 7 p.m. at Memorial Stadium in Great Falls. The East leads the series 31-23, including last year’s 8-3 victory.

In Butte, the West team has battled lightning storms and rain showers to fit in their early practices.

“I’ve been really impressed with the attitude and conditioning of these players,” said West coach Terry Thomas of Dillon, after Monday’s practice. “They are all willing to make sacrifices. These guys are giving the best effort. I’ve been to five all-star games and there isn’t always the commitment these players have shown.”

He said the entire linebacking corps stands out after early practices.

“They’re fast, aggressive, shed blocks and get to the football,” Thomas said.

The players are also finding out that former rivals can be friends.

“I’m having a blast,” said linebacker Jaison Carriger of Butte. “We have a rivalry with (Helena) Capital. I didn’t like these guys during the season. On the field (during the season) we’re all talking trash. Now, we’re patting each other on the butt.”

The other linebackers are Bryant Munday of Butte, Zach Lindsay of Kalispell, Doc Farley of Hamilton along with Shane McIntyre and Kyle Noel of Helena Capital.

The West team will be quarterbacked by Chris Pohlemus of Missoula Sentinel and Tyler Thomas of Dillon.

In Billings, East player Jeff Shirley of Centerville lost his spot on the roster to a broken thumb.

“I made a tackle in the backfield and bent my thumb backwards,” Shirley said. “At first I thought it was dislocated, but I broke it. I had surgery Monday morning.”

Shirley was picked to the East team as a defensive end after recording 28 quarterback sacks and 11 pass knockdowns during his junior and senior years at Centerville.

“It’s nice to be here, it’s fun hanging out with the guys, but I was really looking forward to playing,” said Shirley, who likely will redshirt at Carroll College in the fall.

Meanwhile, Landon Danelson of Great Falls Russell got a call Monday morning, asking him if he’d like to join the East squad as a wide receiver. He was in Billings by Monday night.

“It’s an honor to play in all-star games for two different sports,” said Danelson, who played in the Montana-Wyoming basketball all-star series.

If the East team wins Saturday, Chester’s Jeff Graham will be three-for-three in prep all-star games this summer.

Graham helped the Blue defeat the Red 51-46 in the annual Treasure State Class C all-star football game in Butte – throwing for two touchdowns, running for another and kicking three field goals.

The next weekend, Graham scored a total 45 points as Montana swept Wyoming in the annual Montana-Wyoming all-star basketball series.

This weekend, Graham is playing strong safety and will handle the place-kicking duties.

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