Van Housen relishes first 11-man experience in Shrine Bowl

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■ HPC grad happy to represent 8-man game in all-star event

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  • High Plains grad Keaton Van Housen lines up in the field goal formation during Saturday’s Shrine Bowl game. News-Register/Richard Rhoden
    High Plains grad Keaton Van Housen lines up in the field goal formation during Saturday’s Shrine Bowl game. News-Register/Richard Rhoden
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The 62nd annual Shrine Bowl game was a highlight moment for Keaton Van Housen.

The former High Plains athlete and Nebraska-Kearney football commit continued a family tradition by playing in the noted all-star game while picking up his first taste of the 11-man game.

Van Housen suited up for the South team in the Shrine Bowl as his team won on the scoreboard, 30-6 in what was the first football game in the country since the COVID-19 shutdown began in March.

For a kid like Van Housen who grew up around the game of football, the week of the Shrine Bowl was unlike anything he’d ever done and was some of the most fun he’s had on a football field.

“It was a fun week and it was a lot of football,” Van Housen said. “We practiced two or three times a day and that was fun for me. I love football and it was a great time.”

Van Housen’s selection to the Shrine Bowl was High Plains’ first since the school’s merger in 2000. It also continued a Van Housen family tradition that meant a lot to him.

Keaton’s father, Dale and uncle, Paul, each played in the Shrine Bowl game as graduates of Polk-Hordville in 1988 and ‘90, respectively.

For Van Housen, hearing stories from those two leading up to his own experience was just as intriguing and fun as the week that was for him.

“It was special for sure,” Van Housen pointed out. “My dad was telling me all the memories he had bringing me down here. It was special. Hopefully I can tell my kids the same thing down the road.”

As Van Housen continues to prepare for college football, the opportunity to play in the Shrine Bowl game was great preparation.

Growing up, the only game Van Housen has ever known is the 8-man variety. It wasn’t until showing up for Shrine Bowl practice in Kearney last week that Van Housen ever prepared for an 11-man contest.

It came with several growing pains, Van Housen admitted. Despite that, he added that the game of football doesn’t change much and there’s plenty of reasons why he fell in love with the game. “It was funky.

“It was funky. It’s a lot different than 8-man,” Van Housen said. “In 8-man, you can dance around in the backfield and wait for a hole to open up but I learned this week in 11-man you just have to hit the hole.”

While the status of the Shrine Bowl game was up in the air for much of the spring and early summer, that didn’t stop Van Housen from sticking to his workout routine.

However, it was a tough lesson to learn once arriving for practice last week that he wasn’t quite in the football shape he’d like to be.

“This week really opened my eyes because we strapped up for the first time in months and I realized I wasn’t quite in football shape,” he admitted.

Van Housen’s high school career had a storybook ending, winning the Class D-1 state football championship as part of the Osceola-High Plains Stormdogs.

While in high school, Van Housen rushed for 5,007 yards on 699 carries in a total of 39 games. He averaged a career 7.1 yards per carry and rushed for more than 100 yards in 23 games while compiling 77 rushing touchdowns.

In his senior year alone, Van Housen carried the ball 302 times in 13 games, rushing for 2,283 yards, which was the most rushing yards in the state regardless of classification.

Doing so as an 8-man player is something Van Housen is proud of and he hopes to take that mentality to the college level that those who come from the smaller game can hang with the big boys.

“Eight-man is special to me because it’s the small town kids that play all the positions,” Van Housen said. “We kind of get talked down on a lot from bigger schools and it’s special to me come out and play with the big schools and show them what we got.”

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