High school all-star football games, summer matchups of graduated seniors, once were a summer tradition across America. Now the games are dinosaurs.

Except in San Diego, that is.

The 17th annual Alex Spanos High School All-Star Football Classic returns this week as California’s longest running all-star game. The Spanos game — featuring San Diego State-bound quarterback Ryan Lindley of El Capitan High — is at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Mesa College.

If you’re an Aztecs fan, or just a football fan, and you didn’t to see Lindley in high school, now is your chance for a preview of his college career.

Other Division I recruits playing are El Capitan center Tommie Draheim, San Diego State; Hoover wide receiver Todd Doxey, Oregon; El Capitan wide receiver Ben Noy, Hawaii; Point Loma running back Lester Arnold, Colorado State; and Rancho Buena Vista running back Ivery Herd, San Jose State.

The NFL Network is interviewing Lindley and Escondido’s Darryl Williams (Cal Poly), the son of former Oakland Raiders’ receiver Dokie Williams from El Camino High, for a piece on all-star games.

What killed high school all-star games in the past 20 years was college coaches began to discourage their prized recruits from playing in the game for fear of risking an injury.

Then, TV entered the picture with an U.S. Army All-Star Game in San Antonio. That’s the only game the All-Americans want to play in, and the irony is none of them would consider playing for a military academy.

Without the marquee players, the all-star games lost their luster. The 2007 Shrine All-Star Classic in Los Angeles was canceled. The original Shrine format matched Northern California vs. Southern California and drew 86,000 fans to the Coliseum in 1957.

Shrine organizers say they’ll bring it back next year, but don’t bet on it. The game has been on its last legs for several years while changing formats and sponsors.

The San Diego all-star game is put on by the High School Sports Association, and HSSA board member John Shacklett says their game might be history, too, if it wasn’t for the Chargers.

The HSSA took over the game 19 years ago to prevent promoters from trying to fill their pockets with profits at the expense of high school athletes. But Shacklett, the retired Morse High coach, says the HSSA couldn’t have supported the game more than a couple of years without the Chargers stepping in with sponsorship dollars.

“Our gate has been good, but we couldn’t continue to do this without the support of the Spanos family and the Chargers,” Shacklett said. “We’re able to present scholarships because of the success of the game.”

The Spanos game draws 4,000 to 5,000 fans, and the HSSA has used money raised to present scholarships to four high school seniors at its annual Spring Awards Breakfast.

In addition to the financial support, the Chargers make players available as honorary captains on game day and the players wear Chargers pants. Outside linebacker Shaun Phillips spoke to the players when the all-star teams met at Chargers Park.

“We want this to be a positive experience for the kids,” Shacklett said. “We’re able to do that with the Chargers’ support.”

— TOM SHANAHAN

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