The Civil War pitted brother against brother. Ohio's North-South Classic features a similar struggle.
"AJ Williams…," Mentor (Ohio)
senior and North defensive end Tom Strobel said. "He's going to Michigan too next year but right now I can't wait to play against him. This game is about bragging rights."
And a whole lot more.
Nationwide high school football all-star games may struggle to find their niche, but the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association North-South Classic has a few it can call its own. The game, first held in 1946, is the nation's oldest-running high school football all-star game and will contest its 67th annual edition today at 4 p.m. at Ohio State's Ohio Stadium. The game will be televised nationally on SportsTimeOhio on tape-delay.
In addition to its longevity, the North-South Classic has an alumni list that reads like roll call at the Pro Football Hall Of Fame. Literally. Len Dawson? Check. Roger Staubach? Check. Jack Lambert? Check. Alan Page? Check. Larry Csonka? Check. Paul Warfield? Check. The list goes on…and so does the game's credentials.
The most impressive feat may be the fact that of the 46 Super Bowls played, only two have failed to have a North-South Classic alumnus on the roster (II and XXXII).
This past year in Super Bowl XLVI there were six Ohio North-South Classic vets on the sidelines.
"Some of the best players who ever played the game of football have played in this game," Kenton (Ohio)
coach Mike Mauk, who will lead the South, said. "It represents the best of high school football in Ohio."
There have been hiccups.
After a lengthy run in Massillon, the North-South Classic was moved back to Columbus in 2001 where it was played in Columbus Crew Stadium – a soccer venue. In 2006 the game got unwelcomed competition from the Big 33 when the Ohio-Pennsylvania all-star game moved from July to June to combat players enrolling early in college. After back-to-back drubbings by Pennsylvania in the Big 33, the OHSFCA took steps to save and advance the North-South Classic in 2008. That year the game was moved to Ohio Stadium.
In 2010 the North-South Classic was moved to April and scheduled the Friday before Ohio State's Spring Game. Since then additional draws have been added, including the Ohio State marching band, which performs at pregame and halftime.
Said Mauk: "Playing in Ohio Stadium the night before the OSU Spring Game is special."
This year's North-South rosters fit that description too.
Twenty-six players have signed with BCS schools and 14 are headed to the Big Ten. Other destinations include Big 12, SEC and Big East schools.
The South features two outstanding quarterbacks in all-time national passing leader Maty Mauk
(Kenton, Ohio) and Ty O'Connor (Central Catholic/Lima, Ohio). Mauk is headed to Missouri, O'Connor to Michigan State. Running back Warren Ball is an Ohio State commit.
The North counters with an NCAA Division I defensive line in Strobel, Willie Henry (Glenville/Cleveland), Greg McMullen (Hoban/Akron) and LaTroy Lewis (Hoban/Akron). Strobel and Henry are going to Michigan, Lewis is headed to Tennessee, McMullen to Nebraska. Ohio State commit and safety Devan Bogard (Glenville/Cleveland) owns the second level.
"We know the South is going to throw it," Lewis said. "We know Maty Mauk is a pretty good quarterback but we know our defensive line is better. We're 100-percent sure they're going to put the ball in the air and we're going to try to stop that before they can even get it going."
There is no stopping the North-South Classic.
"To play in this game is beyond special," said Strobel, who will be booed relentlessly the next time he enters Ohio Stadium as a Wolverine. "It truly is an honor to be here."