They've become an endangered species: a Division I college football recruit in the City/County All-Star Classic.
These days, most decline the invitation, fearful of injury or prohibited from playing by their college coach. Some other top-level players who wanted to play had no interest in practicing.
Then there is Central High's Matt Lea.
In a game that's served as a last high school hurrah for future NFL stars such as Henry Ellard, Tim McDonald and Clifton Smith, Lea this year is the lone D-I football recruit in the annual game.
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Before heading to UNLV, Lea will start at safety and return kicks for a County team that trails in the all-time series 27-20-3. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. today at Lamonica Stadium
Linebackers Nate Palomino of Clovis and Josh Lang of Clovis West are expected to anchor the City, which also has won seven of the past 10 games.
"It's been fun going out there and playing with a lot of skilled players at practices," Lea said. "My coaches at UNLV said they were fine with me playing. They wished me luck, want me to have a good game, told me not to do anything stupid."
Lea, however, had to be persuaded to play. He planned to decline the invitation, knowing he had more days of football ahead in Las Vegas.
The City/County Game also wouldn't be the last time Lea got to play at home, since Fresno State is about to join UNLV in the Mountain West.
Bigger-name players have skipped the event, too. So guilt was not a factor.
Houston recruit and all-state receiver Deontay Greenberry of Washington committed to this year's County squad but later backed out.
"It's one of those things that these kids with a full ride have to decide," said County coach Beto Mejia of Mendota. "The game of football is not a guarantee you'll play injury free. There's always that chance. But when you have a Division I guy still come out there, like Matt Lea, it's something that's appreciated."
City coach Justin Garza had high hopes of landing a D-I player, too. But Chris Brown (running back, Oregon State) and David Keller (offensive lineman, Fresno State) of Memorial and Demetrius Warren (running back, Sacramento State) and Ian Taubler (tight end, UCLA) of Bullard declined up front.
"It was a long shot," said Garza, moving from Sunnyside to Central this fall. "You know, I had game-planned against them for so many years, it would've been nice to have them in my own game plan."
Lea was finally coaxed by his Central teammates: "This game gives me one last time to play with my friends. After this, we all go our separate ways. I'm going to miss this."
Today's Fresno City/County All-Star Games
Football: 7:30 p.m., Lamonica Stadium
Boys volleyball: 6 p.m., Fresno State North Gym