When the 29th Lezzer Lumber All-Star Football Classic kicks off Friday night at 7 p.m. at Bald Eagle Area High School's Alumni Stadium, it will mark the last high school football experience for a great majority, if not all of the players, on the field.
It's an experience that all of them will no doubt savor, but Altoona Area High School product Josh Kutz might savor it most of all.
Kutz experienced his share of adversity with injuries during his high school career with the Mountain Lions, but managed to come out on the other side of them.
And as a result, wrapping up that career with an all-star performance in a game that has always meant a lot to him will be extra special.
"It's just an honor to be selected and to be a part of this great tradition,'' said Kutz, who will take the field as a member of the South All-Star Team when it lines up against the North All-Star squad Friday. "I'm just excited to get out there and play this game just like the [older] kids I looked up to did when they were playing this game in high school.''
The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Kutz was a starter at guard and defensive end for Altoona during his senior year last fall, and helped the Mountain Lions achieve a berth in the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs.
He battled through a pair of serious injuries to play a full season last year after missing considerable portions of both his sophomore and junior football seasons.
"I suffered two big injuries,'' Kutz said. "I broke my wrist in summer training camp before my sophomore year, played the first two games, and the break got worse, so I was done for the year.''
Before his junior season, Kutz sustained a major knee injury in preseason camp that cost him the first three games of that season.
"I blew out my left knee on the first day of camp,'' Kutz said. "I tore the MCL [medial collateral ligament], dislocated my kneecap, tore my meniscus, and sprained my ACL [anterior cruciate ligament]. I did quite a number on it.''
Despite that, Kutz came back to play football midway through his junior season, and had the knee surgically repaired after the season.
"I missed the first three or four games, had surgery in the offseason, and they fixed everything that needed to be done,'' said Kutz, who underwent three months of therapeutic rehabilitation after the surgery.
Adversity is sometimes a great teacher, and Kutz learned much from the experience.
"It was difficult at times, because [due to the injuries], I didn't have the [playing] experience that I needed and I had to fight back and work a lot harder so I could get ready for my senior year,'' said Kutz, the son of former Altoona Area High School and Rutgers University standout lineman John Kutz.
John Franco, who is an assistant coach on the South team for Friday's game, returned to Altoona for his second tenure as the Mountain Lions' head coach last fall. Diligent, hard-working players like Josh Kutz made the transition smoother for Franco.
"He's a great kid,'' Franco said of Kutz. "Last season was the first year that he did not have an injury, and you could see that he was [becoming a] better [player] every game. He worked so hard. Not only did he not miss a play in any game, he did not miss a play in any practice.''
Kutz also made the successful adjustment to two new positions on both sides of the football in his senior season. Previously a tight end, he moved to guard on offense. Defensively, he moved from the interior line to the outside at defensive end.
"He was playing a brand new position on both sides of the ball, but he's one of those great kids who is willing to play anywhere the team needs him to play,'' Franco said.
Kutz is an excellent student who will continue his football career this fall at Juniata College, where he will major in physics and engineering.
"He's a good all-around athlete who is physically very strong,'' Franco said. "I think Juniata is getting a steal. I think his best football days are still ahead of him.''