North-South: Class A, grade A
On Saturday night at 7, some of the finest graduating talent in the Mountain State will make one last gridiron stand in the North-South Football Classic at Laidley Field.
On a rainy Monday on the campus of West Virginia State, coaches from both sides got a chance to start organizing their 35 players, and it must have felt a little like orchestrating a fantasy team.
This might be especially true for South coach Joe Dean and North coach Jodi Mote, who have had long tenures at Midland Trail and St. Marys, two Class A schools where large rosters and across-the-board talent are not the norm.
The clash of Class A coaches will be the first such matchup since 2001 when Danny Tennant of Parkersburg Catholic headed the North and Frank Spangler of Fayetteville coached the South.
Mote, who played in the game and has been a North assistant under Ravenswood coach Dick Sturm in 2011, said once the week begins, class affiliation goes by the wayside.
"One thing about it is you come down here and you learn that all football players are football players, regardless of class," Mote said. "I think the smaller schools want to prove that they can play with the larger schools and I think the larger schools want to prove that they're as good as people say they are, and as you've read about through the season."
Indeed, the week is a last go-round for a lot of players and there are activities and events throughout the week. But on Saturday, there will still be 35 players on each side trying to prove themselves one last time.
The chance begins in practice throughout the week. and Dean was impressed by the ability and his team's collective effort.
"This is a blast," Dean said. "They're a good group of young men, they're 35 of the best football players in the state - it's a joy. Then you get to work with some of the best coaches in the state, it's a great time.
"I think we need more footballs."
Dean, who has served as Midland Trail's coach since 1997, was a North-South assistant under Oak Hill coach Jim Martin in '97. Sixteen years later, he still has a firm grasp on what the week are all about.
"A lot of these kids are going to college - some will play ball, some won't - some are going on to play ball in other sports," Dean said. "We want them to have a good time. We want them to understand it is a game, have fun, we want them to be competitive and of course they want to be successful, they want to win the game.
"They just need to enjoy the experience. For some, this is the last time they'll ever put on a football uniform."
Motes ended his senior season at St. Marys in 1992 in the North-South game, and his two trips to the game have provided him with unique perspective as well.
"The thing I remember the most as a player and even two years ago - and it'll be the same Saturday - you look good in practice, you feel good with all the talent that's there, and then seven o'clock comes and there's that much talent across from you," Motes said. "The speed is just as good, the strength is just as good, and that's what an all-star game is all about."
With in-class bragging rights on the line, one might expect a small rivalry to bud this week. But if that exists, it's certainly not showing up yet.
"Coach Motes is first class all the way," Dean said. "Obviously we want to be successful and win the game, but it's not a blood feud or anything."
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/Rpritt.