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Polson's Sampson to play in Badlands Bowl

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RONAN - For only the second time in school history, a Polson High School football player has been selected to play for Montana in the 20th annual Badlands Bowl against North Dakota. 

Riley Sampson, a three-sport athlete in Polson, will represent his hometown and home state during the game.

“It's a huge honor,” Sampson said. “It's pretty cool and I'm really excited. It's definitely a cool opportunity.”

Sampson and the rest of Montana's team represent the best of the best of Montana high school football players. The series began in 1994 with a 28-14 loss to North Dakota. Since then, Montanan teams have won 14 bowl games while North Dakota has won only five. Montana is on a two-year winning streak with crushing defeats dealt to North Dakota in 2011 and 2012. 

Sampson, along with fellow seniors Will Davey and Eric Williamson, was also selected to play in the 67th annual Montana East-West Shrine Game July 20 in Butte. 

One of the oldest high school all-star football games in the country, the event began in 1947 as a fundraiser for Shriner's Hospital for Children in Spokane, Wash.

So far, the game series has raised more than $1 million for the hospital. According to the website, “These players were nominated by their schools and coaches across the state and finally selected as the 'best of the best' to participate in the 67th Montana Shrine Game. They join an elite fraternity of players, many of whom have gone on to distinguished collegiate and professional careers.”

“It's very well deserved,” Polson Athletic Director Scott Wilson said. “All of those guys had a great year in football and a great high school career, and I think the opportunity to play in those all-star games shows how talented of football players they were.”

Wilson added that the opportunity to play in the Badlands Bowl is a high honor, as only the top 30 athletes in the state are selected to play. 

The first player selected to play in the Badlands Bowl from Polson was Craig Bagnell, currently the starting quarterback at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. 

After redshirting his freshman year, Bagnell became the team's starting quarterback in 2010, passing for 1,893 yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also earned four touchdowns on the ground. 

While a good season, his next would be outstanding. 

In 2011, Bagnell passed for 2,407 yards, 19 touchdowns and only five interceptions. 

The 2012 season saw more of the same from Bagnell. He scored 22 touchdowns in the air (his longest being a 77 yard completion) and two more on the ground, finishing the season with more than 2,100 all purpose yards.

So, if past selections are to be any indication of future success, Sampson has quite a future ahead of him. 

“It's always nice to have those kids represent our program at the state level,” Wilson said. “I think anytime we can get one of our student athletes in those games gives them credit for what they've done for the football program.”

Sampson recently signed with the Bobcats and will continue his athletic career, albeit in a different sport - shot put. Having been a three-sport athlete for most of his career at Polson, he also said only participating in one sport would be “weird, but it will be nice to have the extra time to focus ... I'm really excited about the next level of competition.”

Will Davey will also participate in college athletics, having recently signed with Montana Tech for football. Senior Shay Duford will play softball for Spokane Community College. 

Wilson said he knows of several other male and female athletes at Polson High School who have the opportunity to play college sports, but does not believe any of them have made yet made a decision. 

Speaking directly to his former coaches, teachers and athletic directors, Sampson had a simple message, “Thank you for getting me where I am today.”


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