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Narragansett’s Thomaz Whitford, left, and North Kingstown’s Zach Pezza watch the action during practice Tuesday for the Governor’s Cup game.

PROVIDENCE — Thomaz Whitford won a championship with the Narragansett High School basketball team last winter. Zach Pezza ran to gold medals in indoor and outdoor track.

But there’s something about football.

“For those who love the game of football, any time you get to put a helmet on again, it’s a big deal,” Whitford said.

The return of the Governor’s Cup All-Star Football Game has given Whitford, Pezza and their new teammates the chance to strap up again.

The Rhode Island all-stars will take on Connecticut Saturday in New Britain in a renewal of a rivalry that had been dormant for five years. The Governor’s Cup was contested for 14 years prior to that, but both sides opted to play in-state games in 2013. Rhode Island’s version was staged for four years but numbers dipped last year and no game was held. With Connecticut having the same problem, the rivalry was resumed. Connecticut will host this year’s game and Rhode Island will welcome next year’s contest, at a site still to be determined.

“I think it’s a game that needs to happen. The first year, just getting the wheels going, they need to get greased a little bit,” said head coach Kris McCall of Classical. “Next year, the game’s going to be in Rhode Island so that will help out immensely. We’ll look at different venues for the game, but it should be very exciting. There’s not a lot going on in the sports community this time of year, so to have that game here at the end of June next year should be really exciting.”

Thirty-five players are on the newest Rhode Island squad. As the rivalry picks up steam again, organizers expect the numbers to rise in the next few years. This time, the coaching staff had 50 players lined up but other commitments forced several to withdraw.

“The toughest thing about a game like this is getting all the kids done with their commitments – graduation, work, chasing kids for different paperwork you have to get done. But this group has been pretty solid,” McCall said. “Originally, we tried to keep 50 kids, but some of them had other commitments. A couple of kids were going to play in college so they had other things they had to do. It is what it is at this point. I think it’s really just about getting everybody used to the thought of playing this game again, and then going from there. The 35 kids we have playing, we’re going to be OK.”

It’s a group that has come together quickly.

“We’ve been working really hard,” said Cranston East’s Gary Shaw. “It’s coming together well.”

Pezza and Whitford are the lone local representatives on the team, but they figure to make a big impact. Pezza was a first-team all-state wide receiver for Division II champion North Kingstown, while Whitford was an all-division selection at tight end/wide receiver for Narragansett.

“They’re going to be big weapons for us,” McCall said.

Whitford remains undecided on his plans for the fall, with interest from several schools in both football and basketball. Pezza will join the Division I FCS ranks next season at Bryant University, and the all-star game provides a chance to tune up.

“Just wanted to represent my state. I love the game of football, and I definitely wanted to get some extra practice to get ready for next season,” Pezza said. “We want to go out and get the win.”

Pezza and Whitford will be catching passes from Barrington’s Liam McManus and Cranston West’s Nick Dionizio. McCall expects them to be big parts of the game plan.

“Zach can really run. I’m really looking forward to seeing him play offense and defense. He’s a kid that I think is going to catch the Connecticut kids off guard because he can run,” McCall said. “Thomaz is a big, big kid. Great basketball background. He’s going to be a monster. We’re trying to get him some mismatches at tight end because you can’t get around the kid when he’s catching a ball.”

Their teammates hail from schools around the state, but they’re unified in their goal of playing good football on Saturday.

“We’re definitely taking this game seriously,” said Mt. Pleasant’s James Sackie, who will play at Lackawanna College next season. “Practices have been competitive. We’re going at each other every day. We’re trying to go up there and beat Connecticut, for sure.”

“Practices have been pretty intense and everybody’s been working hard,” said Moses Brown’s Jacob Romano. “We want to put on a good show on Saturday. We want to represent Rhode Island well.”

Many of the players jumped at the chance to join the team when it was announced that the game would be returning this year.

“As a kid, I heard about this game, so I always wanted to play in it,” Dionizio said. “It sounded like fun.”

Some, like Romano, won’t be playing at the next level, so they wanted an opportunity to get back on the field one last time. Others, like Pezza, are getting ready for the next step.

“I’m playing next year, so it’s some good practice,” said Mc- Manus, who will play at Rochester. “And I just love football, so being out here is just fun for me.”

A rivalry win would make it even better. The Rhode Island squad will be an underdog – Connecticut had won 10 straight games before the series was suspended – but the team is eager to make an impression.

“We have all the talent in this state that we need,” Whitford said.

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