Almost half of the East team in the Sliman’s East West Football Classic tonight will consist of players from Avon and Avon Lake — teams that have shared a fierce rivalry over the past decade.
Avon coach Mike Elder wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s a lot of fun being out there coaching kids that you spent the last four years game-planning against,” he said. “It’s been great having (Avon Lake wide receiver) Jimmy Hessel on our side. He single-handedly beat Avon last year.”
The East will have seven Eagles and eight Shoremen — 15 of the team’s 31 players — and players from Elyria Catholic, Columbia, North Ridgeville, Elyria, Keystone and Midview.
That puts four — Avon, Avon Lake, Columbia and Midview — of the county’s five playoff teams together, and the roster boasts eight All-Ohioans and 19 All-Lorain County first-teamers.
“They all stand out as impressive,” said Elder, who coached in the North-South game in 2008.
“But I think both sides will have great players — there are a lot of great kids in this county. It’s going to be a good game.”
That doesn’t mean it was easy for the Eagles seniors to spurn their competitive nature and welcome their new teammates with open arms.
“It was weird, especially that first day of practice,” said Avon linebacker Kevin Skotko, an All-Ohio and All-Lorain County first-teamer. “Seeing all those players from other schools in our home locker room … it just didn’t feel right. Those were guys we were trying to beat on the field just a couple months ago … I talked some trash to some of those players.
“Now, three days later, we’re all really comfortable with each other.”
A lot of that has to do with the fact the players come from successful programs and have had the desire to win cultivated in them over the past few years.
Hessel, who will study accounting at Ohio State next year, said one of the big pluses of getting to play one last game in his football career is the opportunity to replace the last memory he has — the Shoremen’s postseason loss.
“Things didn’t end the way we wanted them to,” Hessel said. “So I’m glad we get to go out there and have some fun and get to know some of the other guys from the county.”
Told of Elder’s comments, Hessel agreed that it was better to be working with Avon this weekend instead of facing them.
“Avon is a big rivalry for Avon Lake, but they are all a bunch of great guys,” Hessel said. “I’ve become good friends with (Avon’s) David Zeh … I’m a receiver and he’s the quarterback and you get that natural chemistry between us.”
Hessel was also an All-Ohio first-teamer, as well as an All-Lorain County player of the year. Avon’s Ralph Smith, who will leave within the next few weeks to play for Ball State, is the East’s other All-Ohio first-teamer.
Zeh and Midview’s Andrew Carlson were All-Ohio second-team picks, while Avon’s Tim Von Salter, Elyria Catholic’s Ian Kovacs and Columbia’s Matt Zelinsky were third-team selections.
“I’ve been amazed at how good some of these players are,” Skotko said. “I’m really comfortable with (the talent level of) our team. It’ll be disappointing to go out with a loss during our final high school game, so we’re all expecting to play hard and get a win.”
It wouldn’t just be a win in the final high school game for some of the players, it could be a win in the final game they ever play.
Hessel wants to keep up with intramural sports — flag football and basketball — at Ohio State, but believes this might be the last time he straps on the pads.
“It’s more bitter than sweet,” he said. “I’m going to miss football a lot.”
LINEBACKERS: Kevin Skotko, Avon; Aaron Conway, Avon; Taylor Reaser, Elyria Catholic; Steve Kozel, Midview.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Jeremiah Burris, Avon; Michael Pulice, Avon; Tim Von Salter, Avon; Brian Horn, Columbia; Andrew Carlson, Midview; Zach Zamiska, Avon Lake; Tyler Nicola, Keystone; Steve Best, Midview.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Ralph Smith, Avon; Joe Pappas, Avon Lake; Matt Morissette, Avon Lake.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Bill Hyland, Avon Lake; Sean Can Niel, Avon Lake; Damon Stewart, Elyria; Zamiska; Cody Schneider, Elyria; Don Rader, Midview; Best; C.J. Rastetter, Keystone.
RECEIVERS: Smith; Jimmy Hessel, Avon Lake; Brandon Dillon, Avon Lake; Ian Kovacs, Elyria Catholic; Jake Lavelle, North Ridgeville; DaJuan Glover, Elyria.
QUARTERBACKS: David Zeh, Avon.
RUNNING BACKS: Garrett Easterly, Avon Lake; Greg Howard, Keystone; Brett Bartone, Midview.
KICKER: Matt Zelinsky, Columbia.
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.