Valley football stars get final ride News, Sports, Jobs

Staff photo / Neel Madhavan Ursuline’s DeMarcus McElroy breaks a tackle Saturday afternoon at Massillon’s Paul Brown Tiger Stadium during the North-South Classic All-Star game.

MASSILLON – Football players and coaches often liken the game of football to a “Brotherhood: stepping out onto the battlefield together.”

On Saturday, senior football stars from the Mahoning Valley had the chance to step onto the battlefield one last time in their high school careers as part of the 77th annual North-South Classic at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon.

Most schools had one player representing them in the game, but Ursuline, Fitch and West Branch, each had multiple players selected to play, which gave each of those sets of teammates one last chance to take the field together.

“Just the whole atmosphere of the game allows them to cut loose and the build up 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 that I 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 definitely special, especially getting to room together all week,” Wilson said. “It just brought us a whole lot closer and we were in a group so it made it easier for us to go out and make friends here. It was nice to get along with the other guys. ”

“(McElroy) is my brother – we’ve grown up together,” Boyd said. “We’ve been through it all together. We’ve had some good talks the last few days, and I’m excited to see where he goes in the future. I know he’s going to Marshall and he’s going to do an amazing job there. We’ll stay in touch, but it’s been an honor to play with him. “

Ursuline and Fitch also each had a coach on the North team’s coaching staff, as well. Irish head coach Dan Reardon was named the North team’s head coach for the Divisions IV-VII game, while Parker was chosen as an assistant coach for the North in the Divisions I-III game.

That’s a huge opportunity that a lot of coaches don’t have – to have the chance to coach a state-level all-star game and have some of your own guys in it, while having one last chance to be around them for an extended period of time, ” Reardon said. “I just coached 34-36 kids that I haven’t coached before and I’m going to be able to keep an eye on them and see what they do at the next level. There’s a lot of relationships that were built this week and it’s going to be fun to see what they all go off and do. “

Foes and rivals became teammates as well during the game. Fitch and Harding had a tight rivalry last season, facing off in the regular season finale, as well as the first round of the playoffs, with the Falcons taking both meetings in down-to-the-wire affairs.

In the game, Harding defensive lineman Kincade Tyson played alongside Fitch’s Sherwood, Mitchell and Hively.

“It’s a respectful rivalry,” Tyson said. “There’s just a little back-and-forth. We both just want to bring out the best competition out of each other. It was great to play with those guys. ”

In the first game, between players from schools in Divisions I, II and III, the North team was in full control throughout and went on to a comfortable 39-18 win over the South.

Mitchell was named the North team’s MVP thanks to his interception and fumble recovery, while Sherwood was named the game’s overall MVP after he threw four touchdown passes in leading the North to victory. Sherwood was also named one of the North’s four team captains before the game.

“It’s a great feeling – this whole thing has just been a great experience meeting new people that you’ve seen on paper and playing for other teams,” Sherwood said. “It’s been a great experience and I’m so thankful for it.”

Mitchell said he didn’t even know until the last minute whether he’d be participating in the week’s activities. But, he made the most of the opportunity.

“It’s amazing to me how many good kids we have, especially in the North, and I think they all represented well,” Parker said.

Chaney’s JR Tellington also played in the game.

The second game, which kicked off about an hour after the first, and featured players from Divisions IV, V, VI and VII, was a hard-hitting, bare-knuckled defensive slugfest.

Sloppy offensive play, combined with two fast, ball-hawking defenses, led to a combined 10 turnovers between the two teams – the South defense alone finished with six interceptions. But, in the end, managed to score two late fourth quarter touchdowns to pull out a 14-0 victory.

“I didn’t expect (a low-scoring affair),” Reardon said. “The defensive backs in particular played great. There’s some good receivers in this game and only give up two touchdowns in a game where it’s mandatory man coverage every single snap – that’s a credit to those kids and their high school coaches and the types of athletes and competitors they are. “

Reardon noted that even though the teams had a few days of practice to prepare during the week, it can be hard for the offenses to get the necessary timing down in a short period of time with a new system and new teammates.

“You still have to take care of the football and minimize penalties and (the South) did a better job at that than we did,” Reardon said.

Boyd was named the offensive MVP for the North team in the second game.

“It’s definitely an honor, but I think it’s more about the experience in this situation,” Boyd said. “I had a great time getting to know all these guys, whether it was just messing around the hotel or having a conversation. I’m proud of myself, but I’ve got a lot more ahead of me and I’m just looking forward to that chance. “

There was also no shortage of Valley stars in the second game. 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 the second game.

nmadhavan@tribtoday.com

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