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A summer football tradition gets under way next week when recently graduated high school players are afforded one last chance to gain gridiron glory.
For nearly a quarter century, Perrysburg has hosted an event that gives dozens of local standout players the distinction of being all-stars. For some, the exhibition contest allows them to sharpen their skills as they move up to the college level.
The premise of the 24th annual Northwest Ohio Regional All-Star Football game is to celebrate the sport and foster camaraderie.
More than 100 players will gather at Perrysburg Junior High School for a week of practices beginning on Sunday. It culminates under the lights on Friday at Steinecker Stadium.
Perrysburg athletic director Ray Pohlman, who founded the event, said the goal was to boost camaraderie among northwest Ohio football programs.
“We've always tried to make it a first-class event,” Pohlman said. “We make it exciting for the kids. We take care of them.”
The players, who are nominated by their high school coaches, are split into Black and Gold teams. The players are chosen by the coaching staffs.
Former Rossford coach Tom Ferguson heads up a staff of retired coaches at the helm of the Gold. Cardinal Stritch's Brian Wical is head coach of the Black squad.
Kickoff is 7 p.m at Perrysburg Junior High School. Tickets are $6.
“The coaching staffs do a real nice job working with the kids,” Pohlman said. “They make the week fun. But with both the players and the coaching staffs, you can't take the competitiveness out of them.
“When the lights come on and the stands fill up and the music goes on, you see the motivation and enthusiasm.”
The players come from various local conferences — both big and small divisions. Some come from rival schools and are paired as teammates.
“The kids who played against each other form new friendships,” Pohlman said. “The players are from different leagues. The kids from big schools find out that the kids from small schools are pretty doggone good. They come to respect each other.”
The Black team features four players that earned a spot on the All-Blade football team last fall.
Central Catholic receiver Chris Boykin had 41 catches for 644 yards and 10 touchdowns. He will be joined on the Black team by former teammate Derich Weiland, a defensive back who had three interceptions and 18 pass break-ups.
Also on the Black squad is St. Francis defensive lineman John Fudacz, who had six sacks among 82 tackles and forced five fumbles. Clay receiver Kyle Row led the Three Rivers Athletic Conference with 1,200 receiving yards and caught eight touchdown passes.
The lone All-Blade player on the Gold team is Perrysburg defensive back Matt Mesker, who had 110 tackles, including 19 for loss, and three interceptions for the Yellow Jackets.
Of the 98 players who committed to the event, Johnston estimates that it will be the last game for 60 percent of them.
“This will be their last hurrah, and that's what makes it special,” Johnston said. “They are competing with and against each other for their four years. This is the last time to come together as a unit to showcase their skills and enjoy the great game of football.”
Other players will look to sharpen their skills and knock off some of rust as they prepare for collegiate careers. Most will play at Division II and III programs.
“For the kids that are going on to play, it's a chance to hone their skills or get a jump on the season,” Johnston said. “It's a week of practice before they report to schools.”
Pohlman said in past summers the event has spurred some players to continue.
“Some kids have decided after this game that they would give it a shot to play at Findlay or Bluffton or other small schools,” Pohlman said. “They get the fever and decide to continue to play.”
The event also serves as a fund-raiser for the Perrysburg athletic boosters club.
Barry Johnston, a Perrysburg booster member and director of the all-star event, said the most the event has raised in one year was around $13,000. Johnston, who is a 1981 Perrysburg graduate, played at the University of Toledo.
“I just love the enthusiasm of high school football,” Johnston said. “It's also an excellent way to help bolster the funds for our programs.”
Pohlman said an annual highlight of the event is the guest speakers who are brought in to address the athletes. Past guest speakers have included Ohio State great Archie Griffin and former Notre Dame coach Gerry Faust.
On Tuesday, Ohio State defensive coach Chris Ash will speak to the players. Ash was hired in January as the Buckeyes' co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach.
“We want to give one more life lesson and story,” Pohlman said. “We bring in someone with a good background. All of them have a good message and it gives kids a little something different.”
Johnston said a “competitive spirit” develops throughout the week.
“It's purely for the love of football,” he said. “It wets our whistle for the upcoming season.”