EAST LIVERPOOL - Are you ready for some football?
The Ohio squad got down to business Monday evening as the Buckeyes held their first day of practice at the East Liverpool practice field in preparation for the 33rd-annual Penn-Ohio Stateline All-Star Football Classic. The game will be held at 7:30 p.m. June 29 at Springfield High School in New Middletown.
The practice was cut short due to the storm that passed through the area. The practice lasted a little more than a hour before being called due to lightning.
The Ohio squad is led by Indian Creek head coach Andrew Connor. Connor led the Redskins to an 8-3 record and a playoff berth last season.
Connor said his team had a pretty good first day on the field.
"You have your kinks," he said. "You have got to get everything lined up and ready. Obviously, the weather did not cooperate with us either, but for the first day I thought they were excited. They all showed up. They seem enthusiastic, and I think they seem committed on what they are going to do the next two weeks."
Connor has experience coaching an all-star game. Previously, he served as an assistant coach during a North-South All-Star Game.
"I think the important thing is you want them to enjoy their time," Connor said. "You want them to make new friends, but obviously the bottom line in football is you want to win the game, so we want to represent Ohio and go up there on Friday night and win a football game.
"Like I said, I think they did a pretty good job of meeting each other today. It was in a way kind of an opening mixer type of thing with the practice being short and everything. Just the whole idea of an all-star game is a little different because they are so many different things that go on in a week that you have to adjust to, whether it is media day on Wednesday or everything else.
"I thought the kids did a good job of getting here, being on time and then practicing pretty hard today."
Local athletes playing for the Ohio team are Leshawn Luke, William Houst, and Davon Wicker of Big Red; David Kemp, Mark Ludewig, and Frank Ward of Indian Creek; Shane O'Brien of Edison; Joe Fallon of Central; and Aaron Thompson of Toronto.
Connor said it takes a little time for everyone to get on the same page.
"It's a little bit," he said. "You have to try and learn the kids names. For me, I knew the kids that we chose from down in our area in Jefferson County. You hear things about the kids up here, but now putting a name to the face is a little difficult because you only see them a couple hours. That is something that you have got to get used to."
The Ohio practice began with some stretching and running followed by a few drills.
"I thought it was pretty good," Connor said. "They conditioned. Like I said, obviously the weather did not cooperate with us, but I thought we got through a lot of the stuff. The teaching part of it, we will go through that tomorrow. Wednesday will be a little shorter day with media day, and then I can't wait for Thursday because we will put the pads on and start banging around."
Some players had a tough time dealing with the conditioning drills, especially the sprinting. Connor said it can be tough for players to get back into football shape.
"I think so," he said. "You could kind of tell what kids realized they had a football game coming up, and what kids didn't. We understood that. As a staff, you realize you can tell the kids that they have got a game, but obviously until they show up for practice and realize that it's football season again, they're probably not going to go out and get themselves in football shape. I was fine with that."
During the high school season, coaches are able to scout and watch film on their upcoming opponents. Connor said it is a little tough in an all-star game because the players and coaches are not familiar with their opponent.
"It is, because obviously you have no idea," he said. "Obviously, they have the rules set up so you know what defense they are in and stuff like that, but I mean just not knowing who is where. You see there roster, and you try to get an idea of their size and their speed. You are just trying to gauge all of that. You don't get to see that until the first series of the game, and then hopefully we make good adjustments and the kids can respond well from that point."
On the flip side, Pennsylvania is in the same boat as Ohio in regards to not knowing much about the players and the coaches on the Buckeye State side of things.
"That is the big thing," Connor said.
"You get that kind of unknown quantity that you have that you have got to get through on game night."