By SETH STASKEY
Times Leader Sports Editor
The Ohio North-South All-Star Game is one of the longest running games of its kind in the United States.
Under a different format, the prep stars of the Buckeye State will line up again this evening, many for the final time as a prep player, at Welcome Stadium in Dayton.
This year, there are actually two games. The Ohio High School Football Coaches Association opted to break the game into two and allow the Division I-III schools to play in one contest, which will kickoff at 4 p.m., and the Division IV-VI schools play in their own game, which will begin at approximately 7 p.m.
The latter game will feature no fewer than seven area coaches and players, which is believed to be an all-time high for the immediate area.
Harrison Central head coach Justin Kropka is the head coach of the South squad in the Division IV-VI game. He led the Huskies to a 7-4 record and the school's second trip to the postseason, which ended with a loss to St. Clairsville.
Ironically, Kropka pegged Red Devils' head coach Brett McLean as one of his chief aides for tonight's contest.
They also chose five players from their two squads, including four from the state runnerup Red Devils.
"It's been a lot of fun with the local guys. This is like a nice cap to a pretty good season around (the Ohio Valley)," Kropka said during a phone interview. "We've had relationships with those guys, but now it's nice to be on the same side. Plus, it's great to see our kids interact with the kids from all over the state. These kids will be able to take this experience with them for the rest of their lives."
St. Clairsville, which finished 14-1 after falling to Clarksville Clinton-Massie in the state title game in Canton last November, will be represented by four players, which ties Creston Norwayne, which the Red Devils dispatched in the state semifinals, for the most players in the game.
Representing the Red Devils are wide receiver Dan Monteroso, who is Purdue bound; defensive back Jerrid Marhekfa, who is headed for Ohio University; Corey Ernest, who is headed for West Liberty and quarterback Matt Kinnick, who will play at West Virginia State.
According to Kropka, Ernest will start at left tackle on the offensive line. Marhekfa, who was an all-Ohioan as a junior in the defensive backfield, is expected to start at safety this evening.
Kinnick and Coldwater product Austin Burns, who is headed to Ashland, will alternate series at quarterback.
Monteroso, who Kropka said has been one of the most impressive players on the South squad in the practices, will start at one of the wide receiver spots.
Harrison Central all-Ohioan Nick Pelegreen will also be taking part in the game. While he earned first-team all-state honors as a linebacker, he will be lining up at tight end this evening.
"It's always tough to decide which side of the ball to use some of these kids," Kropka said. "Coach McLean and I watched a lot of film on these kids to see where we wanted to use them."
On top of the local players, the South squad also features Jacob Matuska, whose parents are St. John Central graduates. Matuka was an all-Ohioan at Columbus Bishop Hartley and is headed for Notre Dame in the fall.
"We consider Jacob a valley guy," Kropka joked. "He's got his valley card. He's a really good kid and a really good player."
THE PLAYERS and coaches reported to Dayton on Thursday morning to begin final preparations. They went through two practices Thursday and Friday. Plus, the South squad had three practices on its own.
"It's tough to get 30 kids from your own school on the same page at times, let alone 37 from all over Ohio in such a short amount of time," Kropka said. "We had every single kid show up for all of the practices and they've gone really, really well."
THE COACHES AND PLAYERS from all four teams were honored at a banquet Friday night.
THE GAME moved to Dayton for this year because of work being done at its usual home Ohio Stadium on the campus of The Ohio State University. So, with the change to two games and also the change in venue, the OHSFCA hasn't missed a beat in the organization of the game.
"There have been some kinks, but you'd expect that with all of the changes," Kropka said. "The coaches have done great job. They adjusted and everyone has worked together. I'd say it's gone about as smoothly as it could go."
THE GAMES aren't being broadcast on television, but stats can be followed on hsgamecenter.com
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org