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When Alex Henery was 8 or 9 years old, he competed in a soccer tournament in the Cornhusker State Games.

Henery went on become a punter and kicker for the University of Nebraska football team and then a Philadelphia Eagles draft pick. But he remembers his time at the State Games, he said.

On Friday, he lit the cauldron at the opening ceremonies at Seacrest Field, marking the beginning of the State Games.

The lighting of the torch capped the ceremonies, which included the traditional Parade of Athletes, a motocross show and a tribute to the 2011 University of Nebraska at Omaha wrestling team.

Henery, an Omaha native, earned all-Big 12 and All-American honors his senior season in 2010, averaging 43.2 yards on punts and making 18 of 19 field goal attempts. His signature moment was in 2008, when he kicked the game-winning, 57-yard field goal against Colorado.

The State Games were a nice way to be acknowledged by his fellow Nebraskans, Henery said.

"It's cool to be recognized at this big event," Henery said.

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The ceremony started with the Parade of Athletes, representing the more than 11,000 athletes from 86 counties who will compete in the games. On Saturday, the busiest day of competition, 7,000 athletes will compete in more than 40 sports in Lincoln, Omaha and surrounding areas.

After the competitors' parade, skydivers landed in the stadium to the applause of the audience. The 95-degree heat didn't seem to deter the attendants, with the stadium about three-fourths full. Officials provided water bottles to athletes, who fanned themselves with flags as they walked onto the field.

Former UNO wrestling coach Mike Denney and a group of UNO wrestlers administered the oath of athletes. Denney was named the InterMat Coach of the Year earlier this year after his team claimed the 2011 Division II national championship.

The evening ceremony also included a mascot obstacle course, a motorcyclist show and a live performance of the Lincoln band D*Funk.

For Henery, the games reminded him of when he competed, he said. Before his identity as the torch lighter was unveiled, he gave advice to State Games competitors:

"Find something you love to do, and push yourself. You'll get better at it."

Reach Paige Cornwell at 402-473-7126 or pcornwell@journalstar.com.

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