WHEELING - The practices are complete and the trash-talking is ongoing.
It's time to play some football.
After a week of camp, practices and build-up, the stars of Ohio and West Virginia are ready to get down to business this evening.
Photo by Kim North
Team West Virginia for tonight’s 69th-annual Rudy Mumley OVAC All-Star Football Game. front row, from left, are head coach B.J. Depew, Eric Banks (Wheeling Park), Benton Nanners (Linsly), Cody Smith (Parkersburg South), Lavonte Hampton (Bishop Donahue), Zach Phillips (Wheeling Park), Jameson Murray (Linsly), Alex Andersen (Morgantown), Will Rockis (Morgantown), Will Bowser (Madonna) and Jacob Brill (Magnolia). Second row, from left, are C.J. Burch (Wheeling Central), Trevor Hardesty (John Marshall), Nate Guio (Madonna), Clarence Bennett (Weir), Liam Casey (Wheeling Park), Eliott Nero (Madonna), Shawn Ashbrook (Brooke), Shane Williams (Cameron), Chris Burnham (Oak Glen), John Frankovitch (Weir) and Reno Colaianni (Linsly). Third row, from left, are Matt Hackathorn (Wheeling Park), Clint Arbaugh (University), Tom Watkins (Wheeling Central), D.J. Summers (Morgantown), Chris Vani (Bishop Donahue), Austin Whipkey (Linsly), Derek Yocke (Wheeling Central), Logan Green (Brooke), Todd Clark (Brooke), Andre Collins (Morgantown) and Jared Yates (Bishop Donahue). Back row, from left, are manager Zak Kreichbaum, assistant coaches James Wallace, James Cowart, Chris Kiedaisch, Brian Valentine, L.A. Hampton, trainer Jason Coleman, assistant coach R.J. Zitzelsberger and manager Brady Nanners. Absent was Geremy Paige (Wheeling Park).
The 69th annual Rudy Mumley OVAC All-Star Football Game will usher in a new gridiron season tonight when it kicks off at 7:15 p.m.
"These kids are all competitors and they're definitely getting tired of hitting each other," Ohio head coach Jose Davis said. "Our guys are ready to go and we're looking forward to it. There's no guarantee of winning, but I really like our team, how we've practiced and come together all week."
The game caps a week filled with bonding, making new friends, activities and fun and it's something that Davis has been thrilled to be a part of.
"It's been awesome," Davis said. "What a fabulous group of kids. Before coming, I was kind of dreading it, to be honest, because I had things I needed to be doing at St. John with my own program, but this has been awesome. If this camp was two weeks, I wouldn't have had a problem with it because the kids have made it that great."
B.J. Depew, who will guide the West Virginia side this evening, called the game a bittersweet ending to the week. Obviously, he's excited to be a part of the game, but the bitter part is that everyone goes their separate ways after this evening.
"Everyone has had a great experience," Depew said. "It's sad that it's ending. It's tough because we've all created these bonds and the minute the game's over, basically everyone goes back to their normal lives. But, the connection stretches well beyond (tonight). Though we won't be together as a team, per se, these guys will always be teammates."
Both teams went through their final walk-throughs on Saturday and will spend today reviewing and relaxing. The teams were slated to attend a Vespers service this morning, attend a brunch, relax and then enjoy their pre-game meal before busing to Wheeling Island at about 3 p.m.
"There's not a lot of leeway and we don't want to get the kids up at like 7:30 a.m. to try to squeeze in another practice," Davis said. "We'll probably sit down with our guys, go over a few things and see if there are any last-minute questions. From there, we'll get ready to go."
Depew has a feeling that the downtime today will be welcomed, but it might also cause some of the players - and coaches - to go a bit stir crazy.
"The time between the brunch and the game feels like an eternity because there's so much less to do than there's been all week," Depew said. "We just want to get the kids off their legs, hydrate them as much as we can and get ready to play."
Both coaches were highly complimentary of each other in terms of how well behaved their respective teams have been. There were some episodes of chippiness, if you will, during the week, but nothing more than part of the rivalry.
"It's all part of the rivalry," Davis said. "These kids are anxious to get out on the field and compete. They're ready to play."
West Virginia has won two of the last three after a lengthy stretch of success by the Ohioans.
"There's no hatred or anything like that between the teams," Depew said. "It's purely competitive and that's why the game is played. You have two football teams living literally in the same building, passing each other all the time, it's going to get a bit intense. But, it's been a peaceful camp with no issues at all. Both teams are just ready to play."
One aspect that's an annual problem for the coaches is an unfamiliarity with an opponent. During the season, football coaches study tape basically every waking moment. However, there's no tape on the 2014 Ohio or West Virginia team to review.
While Davis' five-wide, spread, up-tempo approach is pretty much well-documented, he's not had the same luxury with Depew.
"I am kind of up in the air with their approach," Davis admitted. "We don't have much film on (Linsly), but I think they have a ton of (Bellaire). They probably have a good idea of what we're going to do. We'll scheme, line up and then adjust on the fly like you do in a lot of games."
Depew expects to see a few tricks come out of the sleeves - of both teams - possibly at some point this evening.
"Both teams have to utilize the talent on their roster," Depew said. "The game is about the kids and we're both going to play to the strengths of our players. Both states are loaded with quality football players and they're going to be the ones who win the game."
West Virginia intends on starting with Wheeling Park's Zach Phillips at quarterback. The running back spot, meanwhile, could be by committee. Depew has really been impressed by C.J. Burch of Wheeling Central and Madonna' Eliott Nero.
"We have six running backs on the roster and we're probably going to try to get four or five of them plenty of work," Depew said. "We've kind of grouped them together."
The Mountaineers do boast speed on the perimeter with Bishop Donahue's Lavontae Hampton, Linsly's Jameson Murray and Wheeling Park's Eric Banks getting the call at the wide receiver spots.
The play in the trenches always has a big impact on any football game, but especially in an all-star game. West Virginia will open with Matt Hackathorn (Wheeling Park) at tackle, Clint Arbaugh (University) at guard, Derek Yocke (Wheeling Central) at center, Austin Whipkey (Linsly) at guard and D.J. Summers (Morgantown) at the other tackle.
Meanwhile, the Ohio defensive unit will open with Beallsville's Dalton Secrest, Caldwell's Austin Schockling, Shadyside's Cory Banco and Buckeye Local's Devan Pyciak across the line.
The linebacking corps will be made up of Cambridge's Clifford Clark, Harrison Central's Nico Williams, River's Bryce Cross and Shadyside's Chris Littell.
In the secondary, Indian Creek's Blake Roar and Harrison Central's Nate Olmstead will line up at corner, while Wellsville's Marcus Moxley roams at safety.
Triggering the Buckeye State offense will be Steubenville Central's Brenton Colabella, who Davis has throughly enjoyed coaching this week.
"I love the kid," Davis said. "I love his attention to detail, he's buying into everything we're telling him and what we're doing. And I've told him he throws the best deep ball I've seen next to myself."
Similar to West Virginia, Ohio's running back spot will be by committee. Guys like Roar, Moxley, Meadowbrook's Clay Lapp and Toronto's Chez Glenn will all see carries.
The receiving corp for the Ohio side is deep, but Davis intends to open with Steubenville Central's Ryan Fletcher, Moxley, Edison's Rich Springer and Bellaire's Brendon Ross.
Up front, Shadyside's Zach Meadows will anchor the line at center. He'll be flanked by Martins Ferry's Luke Straub and Bellaire's Wyatt Back at the guards. Steubenville's Jaylin Williams and Cambridge's Kordell Stage are the bookend tackles.
"This group has really come together," Davis said. "I'm impressed with these guys. Does that guarantee victory? No, but I really like how these guys have practiced and went about their business."
The Mountaineer defense will be led by its linebacking corp of John Marshall's Trevor Hardesty, Wheeling Park's Geremy Paige and Cameron's Shane Williams.
Up front will be Linsly's Reno Colaianni and Madonna's Nate Guio at ends along with Whipkey and Morgantown's Andre Collins at defensive tackle.
The secondary, which figures to be tested, is led by Morgantown's Alex Andersen and Banks at corner. Morgantown's Will Rockis and Linsly's Benton Nanners will play the strong and free safety spots, respectively.
Wheeling Park grad Liam Chapman-Casey will handle both of the placekicking and punting duties for the Mountain State. St. Clairsville's Zach Musilli and Colby Lindsay will do the kicking and punting, respectively. Bridgeport's Colt Charlton is ticketed to be the Ohio holder.