It didn’t take long for some of the best players from the state of Missouri to feel like a team – an all-star team.

“The first day,” Blue Springs defensive back Stephen Benson said when asked when he felt like he was part of a team, as he and his teammates began practicing for tonight’s Papa John’s Missouri vs. Kansas All-Star Football Game 7 p.m. today at Larry Stewart Memorial Stadium on the campus of Blue Springs South High School.

“We started practicing and getting after it, and I felt like I was a part of something special, a really great team – a team that goings to do some great things.”

Grain Valley linebacker Kole Wagener agreed.

“You have a lot of elite athletes who are playing for their state, and that brings you together quickly,” Wagener said. “I felt like I was a part of a team right away. There are no individuals – just great players who are working hard to help Missouri win.”

The man in charge of this elite group is Center football coach Bryan DeLong, who led the Yellowjackets to a 12-1 record and West Central Conference championship and district title in 2016.

“Coach DeLong is great,” Blue Springs South offensive lineman Bryce Greenwood said. “He did something that none of my other coaches have ever done. We’re at practice and he puts on a helmet and gets out that starts practicing with us.

“We’re going after it – the head coach of the team! It was so cool. We respect him so much. He is all about team and his players and we’re working hard for him.”

Greenwood’s all-star and Jaguar teammate Collin West is another fan of DeLong.

“He’s a great coach who brought us together as a team on the first day of practice,” West said. “There is a special brand of football in Missouri and Coach DeLong is doing a great job bringing out the best in all of us at practice.”

DeLong turns all the attention to his players when asked about coaching an elite group of metro area standouts.

“The kids are the ones getting it done,” DeLong said. “I’m just humbled to be a part of it. When you think of some of the great coaches who have been associated with this Greater Kansas City Football Coaches Association All-Star Game it’s really humbling.

“And we’re out here working with the best of the best. You tell something once, and they get it, and you move on. That makes for an exciting practice.”

Missouri has won the past six contests against Kansas, and that is a fact DeLong talked about on the first day of practice.

“No pressure, huh?” he jokingly said. “We talked about it, but all the kids knew Missouri was on a long winning streak and we’re going to do everything we can to keep it going Thursday at South.”

Besides Benson, Wagener, Greenwood and West, the game will also feature several other players from Eastern Jackson County, including Fort Osage offensive lineman Brady Orwick, Grain Valley tight end Cody Richardson and Blue Springs defensive lineman Mohammad Alkhateeb.