As a ball boy, Brandon Whiting watched Leonard Russell of the New England Patriots, Mark Carrier of the Chicago Bears and Charles Miller of the Indianapolis Colts make their way through the Long Beach Poly High football program.
On Saturday night at Citrus College, the 6-foot-2, 265-pound Whiting will follow the footsteps of past Poly standouts when he plays in the 43rd annual Shrine All-Star Game.
"It's been a dream of playing in it all my life, and I've seen it play a big part of a lot of players' careers," said Whiting of the Shrine game, which serves as a fund-raiser for the Shriner's Hospital for Crippled Children and features 64 of the best recently graduated high school players from California.
Whiting, a defensive lineman who will attend Cal, will be joined on the South team by Poly teammate Danjuan Magee, who decided to play despite the murder last week of his 9-month-old nephew, Laron Harris Jr. The UCLA-bound linebacker has dedicated the Shrine game to his nephew and his cousin, Laron Harris Sr.
"It makes me feel angry," said the 6-2, 250-pound Magee. "It's a crazy world and life can be taken anywhere to anybody in your family. It's been a gut check."
Whiting and Magee were the cornerstones of a Poly defense that led the Jackrabbits (10-2) to their second consecutive Moore League title and quarterfinals of the Southern Section Division I playoffs last fall.
The three-year starters were named Moore League co-defensive players of the year and selected to the Southern Section Division I first team.
Magee, who was also chosen to the All-Southern Section team, consisting of players from all 11 divisions, led Poly with 100 tackles. He also had seven deflections and an interception.
Whiting, whose father Thomas is Poly co-coach, had 50 tackles and four sacks despite missing a game because of an ankle injury.
"It didn't matter what position we played," Magee said. "As long as we were on the field together, we got the job done."
Whiting and Magee have been roommates in the weeklong South training camp at Cal Poly Pomona. But the ties between the players run deeper than their four seasons of football at Poly.
The two were also classmates at Mark Twain elementary school. Magee left to attend a private school after the fourth grade, but neither player recalls meeting until the first day of freshman football practice.
"I know certain people he knows and he knows people I know, but we don't remember each other," Magee said. "I definitely remember (Whiting) during the summer before our freshman season. I was about the third-biggest dude, but he was the biggest dude."
Four years later, the focus was on both players as college recruiters came calling.
Magee attracted the attention of Arizona, Cal, Colorado, USC and Washington but opted for the Bruins to stay close to home.
Whiting, who had a 3.8 grade-point average and scored more than 1,200 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, was recruited by more than a dozen universities, including Colorado, Nebraska, UCLA, Washington and Washington State before narrowing his choices to Stanford and Cal.
"At first, it was fun getting all the attention," Whiting said. "But when they called more than once a week, it kind of got in the way of homework and social life."
Fortunately for Whiting, his father, who has coached at Poly since 1981, was acquainted with the recruiting process and helped ease the ordeal.
"I personally knew most of the recruiters, and they had called me about other players in the past," the elder Whiting said. "We would talk for about 30 minutes and then they'd ask, 'By the way, is Brandon home?' I'd say yes and then they would talk to him for another 30 minutes."
Whiting won't be under the watchful eye of his father at Berkeley, but he won't be far from family. His grandmother and several cousins live nearby in Whiting's birthplace of Sonoma.
"If I get homesick, I can always visit," Whiting said. "I wanted to stay on the West Coast; I didn't want to go too far."
But the limits for Whiting, a ball boy turned football player, have yet to be reached.