When Will Cohen walked off his home field for the final time upon the completion of the 48th Charlie Wedemeyer All-Star Football Game on Feb. 4, he felt a sense of peace and calm knowing he had given everything.
“Proud and content,” the Los Gatos High senior said. “Just really awesome getting to experience that one last game, especially on our home field and with my teammates.”
The center/defensive tackle was joined by Los Gatos teammates Emiliano Mejia, Landon Heard and Nic Ramos in the Wedemeyer Game, which draws most of the top players from schools in the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League and Blossom Valley Athletic League, along with notable private schools Bellarmine, Mitty, St. Francis, Valley Christian, Harker and the King’s Academy.
All of the proceeds from the game go to Coaches Against Cancer and the ALS Golden West Foundation. The contest is named after the former Los Gatos High football coach who was diagnosed with ALS in 1977 and was given just three years to live.
Defying the odds, he ended up living for 33 years until his death in 2010. Along the way, Wedemeyer became an inspiration to millions of people as they learned his life story. Wildcats coach Mark Krail makes sure that every incoming player learns how important Wedemeyer is to the program and his impact that still resonates today.
“Since freshman year, we’ve learned a lot about Charlie’s story, so it was really an honor to be invited to play in that game,” said Cohen, a SCVAL/PAL De Anza Division all-league selection. “I remember watching a film about Charlie’s story and a lot of times in our banquets, [Charlie’s wife] Lucy was always there and talking to us. He [Krail] always likes to bring up Charlie’s commitment to the game.”
During halftime, Mejia was announced as the winner of the coveted “Beyond Extraordinary” award. This past season, Mejia earned the De Anza Division Offensive Player of the Year award, Ramos the Defensive Lineman of the Year and Heard the Defensive Back of the Year.
Wide receiver/defensive back Jaylen Thomas was named league MVP and Ryan Vernale the Offensive Lineman of the Year. Luchi Casale (tight end), Wil Brennan (receiver), Sam Pearman (kicker), Henry Wong (linebacker) and Ryan Bernat (defensive back) also earned all-league honors.
Played under inclement weather conditions, the South team won, 9-0, as both teams struggled mightily to move the ball. The final score was secondary, of course, to the honoring of Wedemeyer and the competitiveness and camaraderie the players displayed in practices and in the game.
“From a game-management standpoint, I would just like to commend the players for their tough, physical play, but more importantly for their sportsmanship during a hard fought game,” Krail said in a text message to the Los Gatan. “Charlie Wedemeyer would be proud. Coach [Mark] Kaanapu and coach [Tim] Pierleoni did a great job with their teams, and the game was everything that we were hoping for considering the awful weather.”
Cohen, who played every single snap on offense for the North, didn’t start playing organized football until his freshman year. He was immediately slotted at the center position and became a picture of consistency.
“I instantly fell in love with it,” he said. “The strengths as a center is you need to be a leader of the O line and have to be smart enough to know the calls for each play.”
Cohen is 6-feet-1 but with a playing weight under 200 pounds, he definitely was undersized for a lineman. However, Cohen was effective because of superior technique and a competitive drive that is needed to constantly battle in the trenches.
Cohen carries a 4.0 GPA, but he said “there are plenty of other guys on the team who have higher GPAs than me,” a testament to some of the high academic achievers in the program. Heard’s twin brother, Weston, carries a 4.5 GPA, Cohen said.
“I would consider myself a smart person, relatively, but Weston is probably the smartest person I know,” Cohen said.
The players selected for the Wedemeyer Game were in for a treat at the banquet event three days prior to the game. Former 49ers great and NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott along with former Los Gatos High great and NFL player Kiko Alonso gave inspirational speeches to the players.
“Lott is such a larger than life person and it was awesome to meet someone who is kind of a hero to a lot of guys around the Bay Area,” Cohen said. “It kind of got my juices going for the game and got me pumped up.”