One of the area's best mid-summer traditions will once again afford recently graduated high school football players a final chance to represent their communities on the gridiron.
The 28th annual Northwest Ohio Regional All-Star Football Game kicks off at 7 p.m. at Perrysburg's Steinecker Stadium on Friday night. The game features 76 graduates from more than 35 schools.
Anthony Wayne coach Andy Brungard, who played in the regional all-star game in 2000, is now coaching in this year's contest. Brungard said the feel-good event allows the players to show their school pride one last time on the football field.
“It's their last chance to play for their community,” Brungard said. “The stands will be filled with not only friends and family but also people from those communities – Wauseon, Patrick Henry, Rossford, Anthony Wayne, Perrysburg. They get to watch their guy play one more time.”
The event, which is conducted by the Perrysburg athletic boosters, attracts crowds of more than 2,500 each summer for the Friday night game.
“It's a unique opportunity to get to know guys you played against and guys you read about in the paper,” Brungard said.
Brungard, who played at Perrysburg, said he enjoyed competing alongside two former rivals from Maumee in the game.
“You begin to realize we're all from northwest Ohio and we had similar experiences,” Brungard said. “You see each other in a different light.”
The players, who are nominated by their high school coaches, are placed on “Black” and “Gold” teams – Perrysburg's school colors.
Findlay kicker Chase Wilcox, who earned Division I All-Ohio first team honors, said he has built relationships with his former rivals during the set of daily practices leading up to the game.
“It's super cool,” said Wilcox, who will play for the Gold team. “I've always dreamed about playing in one of these. I'd watch the NFL Pro Bowl. It's cool to see all these players from different teams come together. It's great to know that you earned this spot and that you're supposed to be here. It's cool to be recognized.”
Nick Schneider, a three-sport standout from Anthony Wayne, will get to play for his former coach one final time on the Gold team.
“These means a ton to me. I was looking forward to this,” Schneider said. “Getting the W is the main goal.”
All of the area's main leagues also will be represented with players from the City League, Three Rivers Athletic Conference, Northern Lakes League, Northern Buckeye Conference, Toledo Area Athletic Conference, and Northwest Ohio Athletic League competing in the game.
Tickets for the event are $7 for adults and $5 for students and senior citizens. Steinecker Stadium is located at Perrysburg Junior High School.
The Black team will be led by former longtime Rossford coach Tom Ferguson with a staff of other retired coaches.
Brungard will lead the Gold team with his staff from AW. Eastwood coach Craig Rutherford will serve as his defensive coordinator.
“This is basically our whole coaching staff,” Schneider said. “So it's great to be having fun with them again. I love these guys.”
For about 75 percent of the players, it will the final time they will get to put on pads and a helmet to play in a full-contact football game.
“This might be their last time. Only about 25 percent will play [in college],” Brungard said.
Both Wilcox and Schneider will be going on to play at the next level.
Wilcox, who made 36-of-36 of his extra-point kicks and was 5-of-6 on field goals for the Trojans last fall, will play at the University of Findlay. Wilcox said the full week of practice also will help him tune up for fall camp.
“Throughout the summer I will go out and kick on my own,” he said. “With my skill set to be back with a snapper, a holder, and guys rushing you, it's good to get back to the action.”
Schneider, who is the only student-athlete in AW history to qualify for state in three different sports, will continue his football career at Heidelberg University this fall.
“I missed football a lot. It's great to get out here to get the competitive juices going,” said Schneider, who will play running back in the all-star game but will be a slot receiver at Heidelberg. “It's a lot of fun to meet all these new guys. It's cool.”
Schneider helped lead the Generals baseball team to the Division I state championship game last month as an All-Northern Lakes League first-team outfielder. Schneider also qualified for state in wrestling as a junior in 2017. In the fall of 2016, he helped guide the AW football team to the D-II state semifinals.
Brungard said he is looking forward to coaching Schneider and another former player, lineman Nate Barney, one last time.
“I get one more week with them. They went on two playoff runs with us. So it's very special,” he said.
Wilcox said being one of just two placekickers selected makes it even more meaningful. Oak Harbor kicker Tate Smith will handle the duties for the Black Team.
“There are a plethora of good kickers out there in northwest Ohio. I've been honored to have the success I've had and my team has had. So It's just really cool,” Wilcox said.
Brungard said the coaching staff has had to simplify the offensive and defensive schemes due to the limit of five days of practice.
“We keep it pretty simple and basic,” Brungard said.
But while it may be an exhibition game, Brungard said once the Friday night lights come on, the competition ramps up.
“Absolutely we want to win. You don't play to lose,” Brungard said. “You play to win. I remember winning in overtime when I played in it. It was a great experience.”
Wilcox said he can envision connecting on a game-winning 45-yard field goal as the clock expires on Friday night.
“I hope to end my high school career on a high note,” he said.
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