MASSILLON — Footballers and coaches often equate football with a “brotherhood: dating on the battlefield.
Senior football stars from the Mahoning Valley got their chance to enter the battlefield one last time in their high school careers on Saturday as part of the 77th running of the North-South Classic at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium. in Massillon.
Most schools had a player representing them in the game, but Ursuline, Fitch, and West Branch each had multiple players selected to play, giving each of these groups of teammates one last chance to take the field together.
“The whole atmosphere of the game allows them to break free and the buildup is not like a normal Friday night pressure game,” said Fitch head coach TJ Parker. “It’s just fun and it was special for all of us and I’m so happy to have had this opportunity, especially with all these guys.”
Ursuline had running back DeMarcus McElroy and wide receiver Dean Boyd, Fitch had quarterback Devin Sherwood, linebacker Tyree Mitchell and defensive lineman Aaron Hively, while West Branch had wide receiver Nick Wilson, linebacker Steve Marra and offensive lineman Greg Rockwell.
“It was really special, especially having a room together all week,” said Wilson. “It brought us a lot closer and we were in a group so it was easier for us to hang out and make friends here. It was nice to get along with the other guys.
“(McElroy) is my brother – we grew up together”, Boyd said. “We went through all of this together. We’ve had some good talks over the past few days, and I’m looking forward to seeing where he goes in the future. I know he’s going to Marshall and he’s going to do an amazing job there. We will keep in touch, but it was an honor to play with him.
Ursuline and Fitch also each had a coach on the North team coaching staff. Ireland head coach Dan Reardon was appointed head coach of the North team for the Divisions IV-VII match, while Parker was chosen as assistant coach for the North in the Divisions I-III match.
“It’s a huge opportunity that a lot of coaches don’t get – to get the chance to coach an all-star game at the state level and have some of your own guys, while having a final chance to be around them for an extended period of time,” said Reardon. “I’ve just coached 34-36 youngsters that I’ve never coached before and I’ll be able to keep an eye on them and see what they do at the next level. There’s a lot of relationships that have been built this week and it’s gonna be fun to see what they all do.
Enemies and rivals also became teammates during the game. Fitch and Harding had a close rivalry last season, meeting in the regular season finale, as well as the first round of the playoffs, with the Falcons taking both meetings in tricky business.
In the game, Harding Kincade defensive lineman Tyson played alongside Fitch’s Sherwood, Mitchell and Hively.
“It’s a respectful rivalry” said Tyson. “There is just a little back and forth. We both just want to bring out the best competition in each other. It was great to play with these guys.
In the first game, between players from schools in Divisions I, II and III, the North team was in full control throughout and won a comfortable 39-18 victory over the South.
Mitchell was named Team North MVP thanks to his interception and fumble recovery, while Sherwood was named Game MVP after throwing four touchdown passes in leading the North to victory. Sherwood was also named one of four North team captains before the game.
“It’s a great feeling – it’s all been a great experience meeting new people that you’ve seen on paper and playing for other teams,” said Sherwood. “It was a great experience and I’m very grateful for that.”
Mitchell said he didn’t even know until the last minute if he would be participating in the week’s activities. But he took the opportunity.
“It’s amazing to me how many good kids we have, especially up north, and I think they’re all well represented,” said Parker.
Chaney’s JR Tellington also starred in the match.
The second game, which started about an hour after the first and featured players from Divisions IV, V, VI and VII, was a hard-hitting defensive bare-knuckle fight.
Sloppy offensive play, combined with two fast, ball-peddling defenses, led to 10 combined turnovers between the two teams – the south defense alone finished with six interceptions. But, in the end, managed to score two touchdowns late in the fourth quarter to claim a 14-0 win.
“I didn’t expect (a low-scoring case),” said Reardon. “The defensive backs in particular played very well. There are good receivers in this game and only allowing two touchdowns in a game where it’s mandatory to cover a man on every phone call – it’s an honor for these kids and their high school coaches and the guys. athletes and competitors that they are.
Reardon noted that although teams have a few training days to prepare for during the week, it can be difficult for forwards to get the time needed in a short time with a new system and new teammates.
“You always have to take care of the football and minimize penalties and (the South) have done a better job than us at that,” he added. said Reardon.
Boyd was named Team North’s Offensive MVP in Game 2.
“It’s definitely an honor, but I think it’s more a question of experience in this situation,” Boyd said. “I had a great time getting to know all of these guys, whether it was just messing around in the hotel or having a chat. I’m proud of myself, but I have a lot more ahead of me and I can’t wait to have this chance.
There was no shortage of Valley stars in Game 2 either. Along with Ursuline’s Boyd and McElroy and West Branch’s Wilson, Marra and Rockwell, Garfield’s Anthony Demma, LaBrae’s Aidan Stephens, Springfield’s AJ Stallsmith, Girard’s Nassim Lloyd and Salem’s Damon Wolfe all played in Game 2.