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Best of the Best: Native Footballers Take the Field at the 13th Native All-Star Football Classic

Red Hawks scored 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win the 13th annual Adidas Native All-Star Football Classic

Derald Isom, Mississippi Choctaw, returned a kickoff 73 yards for a touchdown and the Red Hawks scored 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win the 13th annual Adidas Native All-Star Football Classic 43-30 July 4 at the University of Texas-Arlington.

After going into the intermission tied at 14, the Red Hawks scored 29 second-half points to turn the game into a real Texas shootout. The Blue Eagles took the lead 22-20 late in the third quarter when quarterback Christian Deon, Mississippi Choctaw, scored on a 5-yard run, and then completed the two-point conversion pass to Adam Hill, Creek. But the lead was short lived. Isom, who was named the Red Hawks offensive MVP, took it to the house on the ensuing kickoff to put the Hawks back on top to end the third quarter.

“The kids played hard, and it was a back and forth game,” Red Hawks coach Eric Brock, Laguna/Santa Clara Pueblo, told ICTMN. “I thought it was going to be more of a low-scoring game, honestly. It seems like you get a lot of little mistakes with kids that haven’t played together before. But that wasn’t case tonight and we did well.”

Navajo running back Tony Walker, who was the Blue Eagles offensive player of the game, scored with 6:48 remaining to give the Eagles their final lead of the game, 30-28. “We changed the rules of the game to favor the offense. With the speed we had in this game, I thought it would be pretty high scoring compared to the past few years,” said Blue Eagles coach Cody Wilson, Choctaw of Oklahoma, who finished his ninth game on the coaching staff. “We only had 30 players this year, so it was old-school, iron man football.”

Isom proved to be the deciding factor, scoring the final two touchdowns of the night. One on a 62-yard pass reception and another on a 25-yard reverse to seal the game with 2:15 remaining. Danny Charley, Cheyenne-Arapaho, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was named the game’s most valuable player. Isom was the Red Hawks offensive MVP and Terrence Tocatilla, a Shoni-Bannock from Fort Hall; Idaho was the Hawks defensive standout. Walker, a Dine from Window Rock, Ariz. was the Blue Eagles offensive MVP and Cyle Black Eagle; a Crow from Lodge Grass, Montana was the defensive standout.

Native ReVision

Footballers celebrate at the Native All-Star Classic game on July 4, 2015.

Native Re-Vision, a non-profit organization in Dallas, hosted the event, which began with a seven-day combine, a trip to AT&T Stadium and the Dallas Cowboys facilities, a Texas Rangers game and participation in the Arlington Fourth of July parade. It was not only a showcase of the best Native football talent, but a cultural exchange including representatives from 10 nations from around the country.

Walker scored a touchdown and finished up with 200 yard rushing on 25 carries. But it was the whole experience that left a lasting impression for the running back with plans to play at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo. next fall. “I come from very humble people, so I was able to experience a lot of things I’ve never done before,” he said. “Going to AT&T Stadium was a great experience. I felt like I was an actual player when we got to see the facilities and locker room. The game was the reason we were all here, but the thing I think I’ll remember most is being around people from different nations. It was like one big family.”

Red Hawks linebacker Desmond Hernandez, Choctaw, made the trip from Mississippi. He finished with 12 tackles on defense and scored the first touchdowns of his life as a converted fullback. His lasting memories will be friendships developed along the way. “I met a lot of new friends from different tribes,” he said. “I won’t forget it. They taught us about the different ceremonies from each tribe. What their pow wows are like. We learned new songs. A boy from my tribe led us in prayers before and after practice in the Choctaw language. I won’t forget this for a long, long time.”

Blue Eagles defensive end Cyle Black Eagle flew in from Billings, Mont. “This left a big impact on me. It was a chance to represent our tribe and my heritage. With it being all-Native football, it hit home to me just how awesome of an environment it really was,” said Black Eagle, who is also headed to Fort Lewis in Durango to play next fall. “I didn’t realize it was so much more than football. There were so many people from different tribes sharing different things and learning how to live in the real world and not just the reservation. I’m so glad I was a part of this and to be the most valuable defensive player on the Eagles is something I’ll never forget.”

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Some players are on their way to college careers. Others are hoping to use the game as a recruiting tool for the future. And for some, it was the final organized football game they would ever play, but the experience is something they will never forget. “This game was first organized as a recruiting tool for Haskell University. Now that Haskell has discontinued football, it becomes even more important to get these kids some exposure to colleges,” said organizer Steve Caldwell, Cheyenne-Arapaho of Oklahoma, “Every kid here wants to go on to a college career at a junior college or NAIA school. We’ve gotten Max Preps involved and they’ll post pictures and get information out there. We expect to get calls from college programs and hope to help that process.”