Mark Weakland, Doug Swoboda and Wade Bonsell are the best of friends.
How strong is the friendship?
“Doug’s at my house every weekend,” Bonsell said. “He sleeps on my couch more than he probably sleeps in his bed.”
“Every couple weekends the three of us will hang out,” Swoboda said. “It doesn’t matter whose house, we’ll play video games, play Madden, have a good time.”
But the time has come to part ways. They picked up their diplomas from State College Area High School last Saturday, and the next stage of their lives is calling.
But for one more week, they not only get to hang out together but also play football and settle into the same line together.
The trio of Little Lions are among 11 Centre County athletes who will take part in the 32nd annual Lezzer Lumber High School Football All-Star Game, which kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday at Altoona’s Mansion Park.
There are a few other Little Lions who will be on the field, such as receiver Kellin Valentine and running back Jordan Misher, but it’s hard to beat the connection that the trio of linemen have.
When the season ended Dec. 4 with a 19-3 loss to eventual state champion Pittsburgh Central Catholic in the PIAA quarterfinals, they all thought that was the end. Sure, college ball beckons for most of them, but they would be taking different paths.
“This will be my last game,” Bonsell said. “I thought our last playoff game would be my last game. That’s the reason I’m doing this. I really wanted to play one more time.”
Bonsell is one of the few without football in his future, heading to Penn State to study security risk analysis. Swoboda is headed to St. Francis, starting classes next month to study finance and prepare for practices in August. Weakland starts even sooner, leaving for Charleston, S.C., on Saturday morning to enter The Citadel. He will study history education, play football and then possibly join the Marines after he’s done with school.
“I’m very ready for that,” Weakland said of the quick turnaround to start school. “I can’t wait for that to start.”
Having the connection on and off the field is important for teammates, and especially on the line — and especially when thrown into an all-star game with less than a week of practices. They are learning a new offense, new calls and schemes, and it helps to know and trust the others on the line.
“It’s a little bit easier knowing the guy next to you,” Weakland said. “And that you’ve played with him for a few years. You know what he can do; they know what you can do. Together you can do so much more.”
Weakland will line up at right tackle, Swoboda at right guard and Bonsell at left guard.
“We already know each other’s tendencies,” Swoboda said. “So we already have that bond. It makes the transition a lot easier.”
It’s especially helpful for Swoboda and Weakland, who are on the same side, while Bonsell is on the other side, trying to form some chemistry with Brockway tackle Joe Varischetti. They are also adjusting to the head coach of the North Team, Brockway’s Frank Zocco, who uses man-to-man blocking schemes on the line. State College uses zone blocking. Bonsell said the linemen have been helping each other understand the concepts, as both schemes will be used Friday.
It’s been a fun experience for the trio, getting to know new teammates and getting to play one more time on the same field together. The experience is even more significant for Weakland, whose older brothers, quarterbacks Josh and John Weakland, also played in the Lezzer Lumber Classic.
“It’s a great feeling to put the pads on again,” Weakland said. “I’m excited to play in this game. It’s a great game, and my family has a long history in this game.”
But most of all, three good friends are reunited one more time.
Said Swoboda: “It’s a great way for the three of us to get on the field one more time together.”