ELYRIA — The Stripes players truly have a league of their own.
Twelve of the team’s 35 players will be playing college football in the Ohio Athletic Conference next season.
The Stripes team will face the Stars team tonight in the Sliman’s Lorain County All-Star Football Classic at Midview High School.
The Division III next-level players on the Stripes include:
- Elyria Catholic’s Conner Riddell, Connor Hrobat and Jeremy Holley will join Brookside’s Arin Pruitt at John Carroll University.
- Elyria Catholic’s Will Washington, Avon’s Antonio Orr and Vermilion’s Tyler See will be at Heidelberg University.
- Avon’s Braeden Friss and North Ridgeville’s Bailey Gannon will play for 16-time OAC champion Mount Union.
- Brookside’s Brandon Bellman is going to Otterbein University.
- Lorain’s Eriq Hall will travel south to Capital University.
- North Ridgeville’s Jason Lucas will play for Ohio Northern University.
“It’s pretty cool,” Stripes and Elyria Catholic coach Mike Polevacik said. “We knew we had our kids going to John Carroll and Will was going to Heidelberg. Then I heard Mr. Pruitt from Brookside was going to JCU with the other three and it just kind of dominoed from there. We realized we had a high number (of players) all going to the same league.”
The bond of heading to the same league has made it easier for the former rivals to build quick chemistry that can become a huge asset in an all-star game that includes an abbreviated practice week.
“It brings up an easy topic of conversation to get to know the guys,” Friss said. “Talk to them about it and why they made their decision.”
Friss said his decision to join the Purple Raiders wasn’t under pressure from Avon coach Mike Elder or receivers coach Ryan Magyary, a couple of former Mount Union players.
“Do they love for their players to go there? Obviously, but they try to stay as unbiased as possible when it comes to the college situation because they know it’s not about them and their alma mater, it’s about us and what we want,” said Friss, who plans to room with Gannon next fall. “I’m a competitor and I want to win championships, so that’s where I want to be and I’m excited about it.”
The allure of playing at a high level is why many of the Stripes players decided to head toward the league.
“Being the OAC, it’s the premier (NCAA) D-III league to go to,” Lucas said. “The OAC has really good competition and I was ecstatic to see all the people from conference and Lorain County go to the OAC. I’m looking forward to it.”
While the week of all-star practice naturally brings good-natured ribbing among past competitors who are now teammates, the future OAC players have been able to group together and create a subset for the friendly trash talk.
“We are like, ‘OAC or die,’ … we just yell out stuff messing around — friendly fire,” Washington said. “I think it’s pretty interesting, especially because we’ve battled against these people during four years of high school and now we get to face them on the next level.”
When the topic of conversation at practice turned to the large amount of OAC players on the team, did Washington go home and check Heidelberg’s schedule to see which Stripes teammate was the first he’d face?
“Oh, yeah,” Washington said. “We’re playing John Carroll … and Pruitt. That’s the first one.”
The Brookside linebacker is ready for the challenge, and he’ll have three of Washington’s EC teammates on his side of the ball when they square off in the fall.
Pruitt believes one of the bonuses of the all-star game will be getting to know a few of his JCU teammates — and his OAC opponents — before they get together again at the end of the summer.
“I thought it was cool because you’re able to see who you’re going to compete against,” he said. “We have four on the team including me (going to JCU). I didn’t get to play with them (in high school) so now I get to play with them before we do it in college.”
With so many OAC players on the roster and several other players headed to other college programs, the Stripes might have an edge — at least in confidence — heading into tonight’s game.
“We better win, right?” Polevacik said with a laugh. “The guys all seem to know each other — there are some connections and friendships. Some of the guys played grade-school ball together or against each other. They’ve kind of come together and built a team around that.
“We’ve taken a short-and-sweet approach. We’re trying to execute simply, we’re not trying to kill them. They’ve all picked up on everything really well. It’s made it easy.”
Mike Wearsch, Amherst, DL; Antonio Orr, Avon, RB; Braeden Friss, Avon, WR; Dominic Bodnar, Avon, DL; Kevin Maloney, Avon, LB; Logan Juhl, Avon, DB; Rhys Ratino, Avon, WR; Shaun Traine, Avon, DL; Tommy Glenn, Avon, QB; Vince Orlando, Avon, OL; Arin Pruitt, Brookside, LB; Brandon Bellman, Brookside, P/K; Bryan Decato, Brookside, OL; Jake Morgan, Brookside, DB; Bill Doughty, Clearview, OL; Drew Hatcher, Clearview, DL; Emaje Payton, Clearview, RB; Tom Smith, Clearview, LB; Conner Riddell, Elyria Catholic, WR; Connor Hrobat, Elyria Catholic, WR; Dakota Tallman, Elyria Catholic, OL; Jake Dempsey, Elyria Catholic, DL; Jeremy Holley, Elyria Catholic, QB; Lucas Ball, Elyria Catholic, LB; Luke Michalski, Elyria Catholic, LB; Will Washington, Elyria Catholic, LB; Zac Berry, Elyria Catholic, OL; Zac Zidek, Elyria Catholic, WR; Eriq Hall, Lorain, DB; Bailey Gannon, North Ridgeville, DB; Jason Lucas, North Ridgeville, DB; Sam Schultz, North Ridgeville, OL; Seth Konrad, Vermilion, DB; Tyler See, Vermilion, OL.
WHAT: Sliman’s Lorain County All-Star Football Classic
WHERE: Ross Field at Midview High School