North, South battle tonight at Laidley Field
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's been an awfully long time since either Martinsburg quarterback Justin "Cookie" Clinton or Wayne running back Brandon Spurlock have lost a football game.
That's going to change for one of them tonight.
Clinton will lead the North against Spurlock and the South at the North-South Football Classic at Laidley Field this evening with kickoff set for 7 p.m. Admission is $8 and the gates will open at 5:30 p.m.
Clinton ended his prep career winning 41 of his last 42 games, including three-consecutive Class AAA state championships, while Spurlock won his last 23 games as a Pioneer, including two Class AA state titles.
But Clinton and Spurlock, who finished second and third, respectively, in the Kennedy Award voting last year, are just two of a seemingly endless list of story lines heading into tonight's game.
"It's been a heck of a week," Clinton said at the conclusion of the North's final practice at West Virginia State in Institute on Friday. "Especially getting to know teammates from other schools, playing with the whole state of West Virginia - it's a good opportunity. You wouldn't be here if you weren't an athlete or couldn't make a difference in the game."
While each has the ability to lead his team to a win tonight, more might depend on just how well North coach Jodi Mote and South coach Joe Dean installed their systems and how polished each team is in terms of executing them.
"It's a challenge," Dean said of cramming schemes and alignments into five days of practice. "But they're great football players so they pick it up pretty quick, you just don't get a lot of repetition. We do what we can."
It won't hurt to have Spurlock in the backfield.
The speedy back racked up 2,003 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2012 and said he's ready to go no matter what kind of offense the South puts out on the field tonight.
"I'm doing what I usually do," Spurlock said. "It's a little different. The plays of course are a little different than what I've been running, but it's cool. It's gonna work out. I like it.''
While Dean has the talented Spurlock among others to play with in his backfield, Mote will have Clinton starting under center and admitted jamming everything into one week of practice has been a bit hectic on the North side as well.
"I think a lot of it has to do with the kids' attitude and willingness to learn," Mote said. "Even though something's a little bit different than what they've done throughout their career, their receptiveness to at least listen and try to learn something different. Then you have to try and take the strengths of them and put them in situations that they're successful, instead of trying to take what you've done and force it upon them."
Both Mote and Dean have been in agreement all week that the most important thing to come of North-South week is the relationships players from all over the state develop with one another.
Mote said in addition to his players becoming friends and spending time together, players from the South have been hanging out on the North's dorm floor and vice-versa.
But as practice came to a close on Friday, the competitive nature in his players started to come out a bit. In the end, Mote said he has 35 players who are going out to try and win a game.
"They're tired of practicing, they're ready to play," Mote said. "I think they've built relationships and they've enjoyed it, but at the same time you're looking to get back into a normal routine at home. I'm sure they miss friends and family at home.
"What's neat is you're walking down to practices and I'm looking at Wayne and Wahama kids in front of me and I'm thinking, 'Martinsburg, yeah, they're champions, but obviously Wahama and Wayne were on the South's team.' So that mentality is on both sides of the ball, do doubt about it."
And though the South is riding a three-game winning streak, Dean is expecting a dogfight.
"Everybody wants to be successful," Dean said. "If you're a competitor you want to be successful. This group from the North, they're very nice people, too. We have to understand, they're all-stars too. It's not a cakewalk, it's going to be tough."
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt. Rick Ryan contributed to this report.