COLUMBIA — The way Sheldon Gerau’s eyes light up when he talks about it says everything that needs to be said about the Hickman-Rock Bridge football rivalry.
Despite the fatigue from a three-hour practice and dirty, sweaty practice clothes, the moment the senior wide receiver begins to evoke his personal memories of the Providence Bowl his eyes open wider and his speech accelerates.
vs. Rock Bridge
Time: 7:07 p.m.
Location: Faurot Field
Radio: 1400 KFRU AM
Tickets: $5 Adults/$3 K-12
Head Coach: Jason Wright (5th season)
2009 Record: 4-6
Offensive Returning Starters: 7
Defensive Returning Starters: 5
Key Returner: Wesley Leftwich, Sr., WR
Leftwich, who has verbally committed to MU, looks to build on a 17-catch, five-touchdown Junior season
Head Coach: A.J. Ofodile (8th season)
2009 Record: 5-5
Offensive Returning Starters: 7
Defensive Returning Starters: 8
Key Returner: Mark Pickerel, Sr., QB
The dual-threat signal caller returns to the spread option offense in which he gained over 1600 total yards and scored 12 touchdowns.
2009: Rock Bridge 26-0
2008: Hickman 41-7
2007: Hickman 23-0
2006: Rock Bridge 48-0
2005: Rock Bridge 21-18
2004: Hickman 35-0
2003: Hickman 30-14
2002: Rock Bridge: 34-7
2001: Hickman: 28-8
2000: Hickman: 55-0
1995: Hickman 17-6
1994: Hickman 43-42 (2OT)
1981: Rock Bridge 7-0
Hickman leads series 8-5
“It’s what made me love football,” he says, recalling the 2005 contest between the squads. Gerau, a seventh-grader at the time, was a ballboy while his older brother, Brandon Gerau, was a standout wide receiver for the unranked Bruins that upset the state's No. 2 team Hickman 21-18.
Now the elder Gerau is playing at Faurot as a junior receiver for MU and the younger Gerau will find himself there Friday for his final clash with the Kewpies when the two Columbia high schools, separated by just less than 4 ½ miles of Providence Road, open their seasons. It will be the 14th meeting between the teams, yet it’s the first time that they have faced off in Week One. With MU at home for four of its first five games, Friday was the only day Memorial Stadium was available that worked for both schools.
Playing on opening weekend provides an impetus for both teams to crank up to mid-season form quickly, something that has the programs excited. With no MU football game, potential crowds upwards of 20,000 are expected by coaches and players Friday night. That would be a large increase over the previous average of 11,000, said Columbia Public Schools Athletic Director Bruce Whitesides.
“Hope springs eternal,” Rock Bridge head coach A.J. Ofodile said. “It’s the first game, everybody’s going to give everybody their best shot and with everybody healthy, it should be a great football game.”
The Rock Bridge players shared Ofodile’s sentiments about opening with the rivalry game.
“When coach told us that we were playing Hickman in the first game all our faces were smiling,” Sheldon Gerau said. “It’s going to be extremely important to me and the seniors to beat Hickman.”
While the rivalry is ingrained in Sheldon Gerau because of his brother, senior quarterback Mark Pickerel will be taking the field against many of the friends he played with at West Junior High.
“It’s not like in a place like, say, Jefferson City, where a lot of kids either grow up as a ‘Jeff City’ kid or a ‘Helias’ kid,” Rock Bridge head coach A.J. Ofodile said. “Like Mark, a lot of the kids in this rivalry grew up playing together and are still friends off the field.”
But while the competition remains relatively friendly, there are certainly consequences for coming up on the losing end of an intracity game.
“I would rather not hear ‘Let’s play football’ at a basketball game,” Pickerel said, referencing a chant the Bruins performed during their basketball contest with Hickman last season after their 23-0 football victory. “If you lose this game, you get trash talked for the rest of the year around town or when you see people at the mall.”
“You want to beat your friends as much as you want to beat your enemies,” Ofodile said. “Sometimes more.”
As if the intracity bragging rights were not enough, Gerau and his fellow Rock Bridge seniors, most of whom are 1-1 in their two matchups with Hickman, are energized to try and break that tie immediately.
“Our senior class is extremely close,” Gerau said. “Two of our goals were to have a winning record and beat Hickman.”
The Hickman seniors feel much the same way about their 1-1 series deadlock with the Bruins.
“This is all we’ve been looking forward to since the beginning of the summer,” Hickman senior running back Ryan Asbury said. “If we win this game, it will definitely be a huge hype for the season.”
The rivalry experience in 2005 has turned Gerau into the kind of football player most coaches love to have around. He sticks around after practice working happily with the special teams with a childlike smile on his face that symbolizes his unabashed love for the game. Ofodile described him as an enthusiastic learner that has worked hard to learn all four receiver positions for the Bruins.
“Brandon seems like he’s been around forever,” Ofodile said. “He’s the football equivalent of a gym rat.”
Gerau has learned from his older brother as well said Ofodile. The eight-year head coach said that everything from Gerau’s work ethic right down to his mannerisms are similar to his older brother.
“I’m not sure if it’s actual genetics or just from watching,” Ofodile said. “The only thing that’s different is that Sheldon’s a little bigger.”