All-star game more than just winning

Medal of Honor Bowl player Camren Hudson, of Troy University, takes a tour of the flight deck on the USS Yorktown Friday, Jan. 10, 2014 at Patriots Point. Paul Zoeller/Staff

For 41 years as a coach, Ralph Friedgen lived and died by what happened to his team on Saturdays during football season.

That won't quite be the case at Saturday's inaugural Medal of Honor Bowl at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

"Am I gonna slash my wrist if we lose this game?" said Friedgen, who is coaching the American team against Chan Gailey's National team. "No."

But winning individual matchups will be important to the 98 players who have spent the week trying to impress NFL scouts and coaches during practices at The Citadel.

And the team that wins the most individual matchups is likely to win the game.

"Winning is always at the top of the list," said L.J. McCray, a safety from Catawba who plays for Friedgen's American team. "You always want to win in anything you do. But this game is about winning more on a personal level, at your position. But at the end of the day, we are teammates and we want to win."

The winning coach of the Medal of Honor Bowl will have his name inscribed on the trophy that will reside at the Medal of Honor Museum in Mount Pleasant.

But Gailey, the former Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills coach, said it's important in an all-star format for coaches to put their egos aside and focus on helping the players.

"There's a little bit of pride at stake," said Gailey, who has coached in the Senior Bowl several times. "But coaches have to get out of the way in this game. It's about showcasing the players and what they can do.

"You don't want a guy who doesn't care about winning, and I can't say I don't care if we win or lose. But the players are out there to win their matchup every time the ball is snapped."

Who should fans watch for?

Quarterback Casey Pachall, on the National team, is 6-5 and 230 pounds and had a great sophomore season at Texas Christian before personal problems and injuries got his career off track. He can really help himself with a solid performance.

Tennessee running back Raijon Neal, on the American squad, ran for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Vols last season. At 5-11 and 212 pounds, he earned an invitation this week to the East-West Shrine Game next week in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Cornerback Walt Aikens, who transferred from Illinois to Liberty, is big for a corner at 6-1 and 200 pounds and was just invited to the Senior Bowl, set for Jan. 25 in Mobile, Ala.

Nikita Whitlock of Wake Forest, an all-ACC defensive lineman at 5-11 and 250 pounds, is playing fullback and wide receiver this week in an effort to show his versatility.

Linebacker Johnny Millard (6-2, 230) of Cal Poly and tight end Jordan Najvar (6-6, 260) of Baylor also have earned invites to the East-West Shrine Game.

Want to root for homegrown guys? South Carolina offensive lineman Ronald Patrick is on the National team, Citadel cornerback Brandon McCladdie on the American squad.

And there's plenty of action off the field, too. The Atlanta Falcons cheerleaders, the S.C. State "Marching 101" band, the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute squad and former South Carolina star George Rogers and his Heisman Trophy all are scheduled to be on hand.

For the players, there was more to do this week than practice. After team walk-throughs Friday morning, they visited the Medal of Honor Bowl Museum aboard the aircraft carrier Yorktown at Patriots Point.