Pair of local linemen honored to play with the big boys

EVERETT — Cody Tupen plays on the offensive line, and he’s only 6-foot-2, so the recent Lake Stevens High School graduate has gotten used to being overlooked by both fans and college recruiters on a football field.

Maybe that’s why being asked to participate in this weekend’s East-West All-Star Game, and then being anointed as the starting left tackle on the West squad, was such a huge honor. In a sense, Tupen was finally being asked to play with the big boys.

Then he showed up at the team hotel, only to be reminded of his place.

Roommates Cory English (6-4, 285) and William Jenkins (6-2, 300) are the two biggest players on the West team, so once again the 6-2, 240-pound Tupen was knocked down to size — particularly when the trio showed up at their room to find only two beds.

“They got the two big beds,” Tupen said Tuesday morning. “I was on the little couch over there.”

And yet Tupen, who will play at Division III Pacific Lutheran University in the fall, knows he fits in at this all-star game. He’s one of two Snohomish County products who are running with the five-man starting offensive line this week, along with Jackson High School product Colton Niblack.

“I was kind of surprised,” Tupen said of being the West’s starting left tackle, meaning he will protect the blindside of former Lake Stevens teammate Jake Nelson one last time. “There are guys out here bigger than me. I thought maybe they’d put me somewhere else, maybe d-line. But I think my familiarity with Jake, he knows he can trust me.”

While the PLU-bound Tupen is taking another step toward his career on a college field, Niblack will be playing football for the last time Saturday. The 6-3, 240-pound guard will be at UW-Bothell in the fall and plans on majoring in pre-med before eventually becoming a surgeon.

East-West All-Star Football Game, Saturday, 1 p.m. at Everett Memorial Stadium

So this weekend will be the last time Niblack will be trying to inflict pain rather than relieve it.

“It’s a chapter of my life that has to come to an end for my education to go on,” he said after a Tuesday morning practice that saw him work at starting right guard for the second consecutive day. “I will definitely miss it. It might be emotional (Saturday).”

Niblack started playing football as a way to make friends, and he eventually started to shine on the gridiron. He was named as an alternate for this week’s game and found out in December that he’d been added to the roster because another lineman failed to fill out the paperwork.

“I take a lot of pride in any accolades I receive in sports,” he said. “This is the last time I’ll be playing football, so I take a lot of pride in any recognition I can get.”

And yet Niblack, true to his position, doesn’t exactly bask in the spotlight.

“Glory doesn’t mean that much to me,” he said. “I appreciate it, but I don’t really care too much about it.”

The same can be said for Tupen, who knows that linemen are often overlooked until they miss a key block in open space.

“It’s nice to be noticed if you make a big hit or something,” he said, “but you definitely don’t want to mess up out here.”

Tupen’s biggest motivation this week is showing that he can play with the big boys. He probably won’t get any more chances to face off with players who will compete at the NCAA Division I and Division II levels, so the Lake Stevens grad wants to make a statement Saturday.

“I definitely feel like I’ve got to give it my all out here and try to show them up a little, maybe show them that I can contend a little at that level,” he said.

No matter what happens Saturday, the 6-2, 240-pound “little guy” has proven that he belongs out there with the big boys.

“It means a lot,” Tupen said of being a part of this week’s all-star activities. “It’s kind of humbling to know that you got voted in and that people think you’re one of the best. Everybody’s the best out here.”

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