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Mason, Sparks earn spots on U.S. squad for International Bowl IX

November 22, 2017
By PETE SISK ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Two Cape Coral friends and former high school football teammates will once again wear the same uniform in January - our nation's colors of red, white and blue.

Ida Baker junior Shomari Mason and North Fort Myers sophomore Blaise Sparks are heading to Texas to represent the United States against football players from Canada.

International Bowl IX will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys; the site of college football's 2015 national title game, won by Ohio State; this year's Big 12 Championship; and the Texas high school championship games.

Article Photos


Ida Baker junior Shomari Mason (11) in a game against Cape Coral in September. Mason will represent the United States in International Bowl IX, played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Mason will be playing at the under-17 age level Jan. 19 against Team British Columbia.

Sparks and Mason will be playing at the under-17 age level Jan. 19 against Team British Columbia.

The broadcast schedule, yet to be determined, will be announced on the website.

Last year's games were shown via the Internet on ESPN3.

Teams compete at the U-14, U-15, U-16, U-17 and U-19 age levels. USA Football fields squads that face not only Canadian teams, but others from Japan, Mexico and Scandinavia.

Some of the names who have worn the red, white and blue in the International Bowl should be familiar: running back Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams, Tampa Bay Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and Arizona Cardinals defensive back Tyran Mathieu.

"Both boys are really good kids, friends, students and athletes, and will be traveling and rooming together," according to Yvette Sparks, Blaise's mother.

"It's going to be exciting," Shomari's father Alphoso Mason said. "He's very excited about it. It's a blessing."

It's a repeat trip for Sparks, who wore the United States' colors for the U-16 team this past January.

As a returning player, Sparks had an easier time earning a spot. While most players, including Mason, had to go through three rounds of a selection process, Sparks had only two rounds to get past for his place with USA Football.

"He asked me if it was worth it, and I said yes," Sparks said when Mason asked him about the process.

Mason echoed that.

"He told me it was a fun experience, and it was worth it," Mason said.

USA Football will have three U-17 teams in this year's International Bowl. The U-17 Stars squad faces Team Ontario on Jan. 12, the U-17 Stripes take on Team Japan on Jan. 17, and the U-17 National team plays Team British Columbia on Jan. 19.

Both Mason and Sparks were named to the U-17 National team, which features the top players selected by USA Football.

"He got confirmation last month (October)," Alphonso Mason said of his son getting the news he had been selected.

Mason, a junior, played both running back and receiver for Ida Baker this season. He led the team in rushing, averaging 11.3 yards a carry and scoring six touchdowns; and in receiving with 19 receptions and two more scores. Mason also completed a trick-play, 79-yard pass to quarterback Chris Kovacs for a TD.

That all came despite missing one of the Bulldogs' eight games in what was a storm-shortened season.

Mason's biggest night of the season came in Ida Baker's final game of 2017, rushing for 286 yards and five touchdowns in a 49-10 victory for coach Todd Nichols' squad against archrival Island Coast.

He showed himself a true team player, passing up an easy sixth touchdown in that game. Mason dropped to the ground untouched at the Gators' 1-yard-line to allow a senior lineman to score on the next play.

As a sophomore, Mason carried the ball 190 times for Ida Baker, good for 747 yards and six touchdowns, and caught 12 passes playing primarily in the backfield.

"That's something we talked about before this season with coach Nichols," Alphonso Mason said. "His sophomore year they gave it to him a lot. But he was small then, and he took some nice hits. So I wanted him to play a little bit everywhere.

"So they started him in the slot, and when that wasn't working they put him in the backfield."

Sparks, listed at 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds, transferred from Ida Baker to North Fort Myers over the past summer. He stepped right into the Red Knights' starting lineup at left offensive tackle as a sophomore.

North went 10-1, earning a No. 8 state ranking and a the top seed in the region in the Class 6A playoffs.

The two were teammates in 2016, with Sparks blocking for Mason as a freshman offensive lineman at Ida Baker. Sparks stood out as a freshman who wasn't afraid to take on the seniors during practice.

This past season, when Sparks and Mason were on opposite sides in the North Fort Myers-Ida Baker game, "It was crazy," Sparks said.

"It's something I think about," Mason said of not having Sparks blocking for him this past fall.

Come January, "Maybe I will."



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