BLOOMINGTON — Few will be toting more motivation at Saturday’s Illinois High School Shrine All-Star Football Game than Normal West’s Genesis Forrest.
Forrest will be returning to the gridiron for the first time since suffering a season-ending knee injury in October.
“I’ve been waiting for this specific day,” Forrest said of the 1 p.m. kickoff at Illinois Wesleyan’s Tucci Stadium.
Yet Forrest’s heart remains heavy. His girlfriend, Normal West softball player Olivia Sonetz, died in a March automobile accident.
“It’s really been a lot,” said Forrest. “I’ve been pushing myself to get past it, but it’s something that will stay with me forever. That’s who I’m playing for.”
Forrest, who will be a defensive back on Saturday, rushed for 1,754 yards and 15 touchdowns as a Wildcat junior. His senior season ended with 544 yards and eight TDs in just five games.
“I feel like it kind of pushed back some college offers,” Forrest said of the injury. “But they knew from some of my previous games how I was.”
Forrest, who remains undecided on a college destination for the upcoming school year, believes he is back to 100 percent health.
“I feel like I’m myself. I feel like I’m there,” he said. “I’m out here ready to play.”
Big 12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year Alec DeVecchi of Normal Community will join Forrest, Central Catholic’s Joe Malinowski and James Morris, Cameron Elam of Tri-Valley, Pontiac’s Tyler Rich and Fisher’s Jaden Jones-Watkins on the East team.
Host Illinois Wesleyan has a recruit who will play on his future field in Nico Rendina of Wheaton St. Francis.
DeVecchi is headed to Division II Truman State, where he will join his older brother A.J. on the Bulldogs’ roster.
“It was a factor,” DeVecchi said of the family connection. “I was looking at other schools. But that one just fit me. Then he also went there. That made it a good choice. It’s a good academic school, and it’s not too far away.”
DeVecchi considers Saturday a tune up for summer workouts at Truman State later this summer.
“It’s nice to get back into it before I go down there and go full speed into football again,” he said.
Elam will play at Division III Coe in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“It’s pretty cool. A lot of guys when they first come into high school hear about the Shrine Game,” said Elam. “Definitely, as I’ve gotten older I thought it would be cool to play in it with all the best players around Illinois. It’s pretty exciting to be here.”
Rich and Jones-Watkins are both bound for Division III North Central.
“This means a lot,” Rich said. “It feels like it’s an elite group here.”
Jones-Watkins, who rushed for 1,328 yards and averaged 17.6 points in basketball, will be part of the North Central basketball team.
“I wasn’t really expecting to play football again,” said Jones-Watkins. “It’s a real honor to play in a game like this with such great talent around me. I feel like it’s going to be a really great experience.”
Area players suiting up for the West are Deer Creek-Mackinaw’s Hunter Mull, Jake Bachman of Eureka and Streator’s John Benckendorf.
Mull is a defensive lineman. Bachman rushed for 1,016 yards and passed for 617. Benckendorf threw for 903 yards.