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Ahlers savoring Shrine Bowl experience

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D.H. Conley's Holton Ahlers runs the ball for a touchdown during the Vikings' game against J.H. Rose on Oct. 20, 2017. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, December 16, 2017

When he signs with East Carolina on Wednesday, all eyes will turn to Holton Ahlers’ future as a college football player.

Before that chapter of his career starts, though, the former D.H. Conley quarterback has one more game left to play at the high school level.

Ahlers will be the starting quarterback for the North Carolina team in today’s Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, which will kick off at 2 p.m. at Wofford College’s Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, S.C. This year’s game is the 81st edition of the Shrine Bowl, which pits all-star high school seniors from North Carolina and South Carolina against each other in an event that raises money for the Greenville (S.C.) Unit Shriners Hospital for Children, as well as other Shriners Hospitals across the nation.

Ahlers’ selection makes this the third time in the last four season a Pitt County player was selected to the N.C. team, following former J.H. Rose wide receiver Cornell Powell in 2015 and former Farmville Central linebacker Edward Davis in 2014.

“It’s been life-changing,” Ahlers said in a phone interview Friday afternoon. “I’ve made bonds with some guys down here that will last a lifetime, and it’ll be cool to watch us all go off to college because we’ve got guys who are going all over the country. To see those kids, too, going to the Shriners Hospital and realizing how fortunate we are to impact people’s lives. It’s been really, really cool.”

The teams have had two-a-day practices to prepare for the annual battle on the field, which North Carolina has won the last two years, and Ahlers said it really only took about one day of those to get on the same page with the teammates alongside whom he will play today.

Aside from trying to net another N.C. victory, the players also spent time during the week getting an eye-opening firsthand view of the organization behind what is the nation’s oldest high school football all-star game.

“We just met those kids and got a tour around the hospital, and saw that what we’re playing for is to raise money for them,” Ahlers said. “It kind of puts in perspective how lucky we are to do what we do. We signed autographs and took pictures and stuff, and we’ve kind of done that all week. It seems like around Spartanburg, everything is kind of geared up for the Shrine Bowl. The whole town is really excited for it. It’s been a blast to have this experience.”

Once Ahlers returns from South Carolina, his attention will turn to Wednesday, when he plans to sign a letter of intent with East Carolina during the early signing period. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound QB committed to the Pirates in January.

As a senior, he threw for 3,763 yards and a staggering 61 touchdowns — fourth-most in a single season in NCHSAA history — as he led Conley to an 11-2 record and the second round of the 3-A playoffs.

With his future so close at hand, the Vikings’ four-year starter said having one more opportunity to represent his high school is one he cherishes.

“It’s really special for me and my former teammates and my coaches, and for my family,” Ahlers said. “It’s been a blast to play for D.H. Conley and to represent them. I’m hoping to make them proud in college, but also to represent them one last time in my final high school game.”

Contact Jordan Anders at janders@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 or follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.

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