MU Recruits, Tri-State Players Shine In N-S Game

The 51st West Virginia High School Football North-South Game was played on June 19 and the game has often been a jumping off point for future Thundering Herd stars. Players such as Jackie Hunt (punt return for touchdown in 1938, 25-0 South win), Carl Lee, Carl Fodor, Mike Barber, Greg Adkins, Matt Downey, Bryan Litton, William King, Shannon King, Melvin Cunningham, Larry McCloud, Jimmy Parker, Orlando Washington, Luke Salmons all played in the annual game before coming to Marshall.

For that matter, even two of the best MU basketball players, Carlton King and Monty Wright (South MVP in 1997), played in the All-Star contest at Charleston's Laidley Field. Current MU players Geremy Rodamer, Hiram Moore, Nate Howard, Seth Cook, Gavin Herscher and Nate Manns have played in the last three games before Saturday and many players headed to Marshall starred in this weekends game. For one Marshall recruit on Saturday, he would not only lead his team to the win but pick up the Most Valuable Player Award for the North, who won the game 15-14.

Ben Gum, a perferred Marshall walk-on (coming to camp on August 8), led the North Bears to their fifth win in six games over the South Cardinals and was selected by a 6-1 count as North MVP. Who the other guy voted for, and why, will never be known but everyone else saw Gum rush 17 times for 147 yards and two touchdowns on offense, with 133 of those yards coming in the second half. Gum, one of the few players to play significant minutes on both sides of the ball, also came up with seven tackles on defense, a tackle-for-loss and a quarterback pressure in a game reminiscent of his championship game for state AAA champ Parkersburg South back in November.

"I just play hard every play," said Gum after receiving the MVP award at mid-field after the game. "I just had to follow the great blocking up front." Included in those dominating North offensive linemen were MU scholarship tight end Joe Bragg (6'5", 260 pounds) of Morgantown and perferred walk-on Matt Altobello (6'5", 290 pounds) of Keyser. "I was the smallest guy on our line," said Bragg. "We sat in the locker room at half and said coach, we know we can play with these guys, give the ball to Gum and (Ryan) May (of North Marion) and we did in the second half. I think the North getting to and winning championships has a lot to do with the North's recent dominance in the game; Gum's been there, I was there, the Parkersburg, Martinsburg guys. I think that's got a lot to do with us winning five of six." Bragg will room with Gum in August at Marshall and both look forward to the challenge. "It's like I'll be going down with a brother," said Bragg. "There always something running through my head about coming to Marshall in a few weeks. I would like to play by my sophomore year, it's a really big step up."

Bragg would also like to see Marshall get a shot at his hometown school, the West Virginia Mountaineers. "WVU recruited me real hard early, then just stopped. They never called, never sent another letter. Marshall offered two weeks after I sent my Elkins game tape and as far as I'm concered, the Bring on the Herd has new meaning (for me), let's bring on the Mountaineers!" said Bragg. I'd love to get a shot at the hometown boys, plus it could become one of the greatest rivalries in college football."

Altobello felt the North knew all along they could win the battle for the line of scrimmage. "Second half was dominate for us," said Altobello. "We came out of the locker room saying there's no way we are going to lose this game. It was a hot, grueling week and we got a chance to win the big game." He also got to know future MU teammates this week. "I got to know Bragg and Gum real well. We are working hard." Asked about coming to MU, where the offensive line depth is a question going into 2004, Altobello sees a chance to maybe contribute earlier than most freshmen. "I'm real excited about that. I'm working real hard and to get a chance to play as a freshman would just be awesome."

Other Marshall newcomers for 2004 to appear in the game included North cornerback Josh Durham, who had a tackle on special teams; South running back Anthony Hayes of Princeton (five carries for six yards/one catch for minus-three); Scott Stalnaker, offensive lineman from Hurricane; Terence Pruitt of Matewan, who had two catches for 66 yards, caught a two-point conversion (from Poca's Matt Santmyer) and recorded one pass-broken-up at safety; Derek Keeton, who had one catch for nine yards.

Tri-State area all-stars who played well in the game included Spring Valley's hard-hitting linebacker Zack Mays, who does not have an offer for college but is hoping to hear from Carl Lee and the Yellowjacket football team of West Virginia State University. Lee may have called right after the game, based on Mays' South-leading nine tackles and picking up one of three interceptions the Cardinals stole, returning his for 34-yards to set up a late second quarter South score. "It was a great experience, everybody up here was real cool," said Mays. "Maybe I opened some eyes. I talked to the State coaches this past week and maybe something will work out up there." Mays was second in the voting for South MVP, getting three votes to four for Charleston-area player John Allevato of George Washington, who passed 31 times, completing 13, for 177 yards and an 11-yard touchdown to Santmyer, who also rushed for nine yards on six carries.

Mays' Timberwolves teammate, Randy Thompson, recorded a couple of tackles on special teams. Other local players included defensive lineman Jimmy Jordan of Point Pleasant, who recorded two tackles, a sack and quarterback pressure; Levi Merritt of Cabell Midland, who had three tackles on the defensive line; his Knight teammates, Derek Keeton (who had a tackle on defense and one catch for nine yards) and offensive lineman Andy Reynolds; Brandon Browining of Logan, who had two tackles at linebacker; and Aaron Lowe of Iaeger, who posted three tackles on the defensive line.

Passing: North Jon Kemp 13-2-1, 16/Shane Smith 7-4-2, 59/Total 20-6-3, 75; South Allevato 31-13-0, 177.
Rushing: North Gum 17-147 2TD, May 7-48, Alan Tracewell 6-21, Matt Wright 5-41, Brandon Barrett 1-7, Kemp 1-(-14), Team 1-(-1)/Total 39-249 (6.4 ypc); South Hayes 5-6, Justin Green 5-0, Santmyer 6-9, Allevato 11-9, Gregory Vineyard 5-25 TD, Damian Meadows 1-1/Total 33-50 (1.5 ypc).
Receiving: North Matt Rockwell 3-41, Barrett 1-11, Tracewell 1-15, Wright 1-8; South Josh Dodd 4-67, Santmyer 3-5 TD, Pruitt 2-66, Keeton 1-9, Hayes 1-(-3), Meadows 1-5.
Punting: North Kyle Ackerman 6-239 (39.8 ypp); South Scott Sears 5-212 (42.4 ypp, including record N-S punt of 69 yards).
Field Goals: North Ackerman 1-31.
Penalties: North 5-40; South 3-20.
First Downs: North-15; South-10.
Notes: South leads series 33-17-1, although the North have won five of last six (four in a row 1999-2000). Head coach for the North was John Stender of Tyler Consolidated; for the South, Steve Edwards II of George Washington. Winning West Virginia Coaches Association scholarships were: North-Durham, Kemp, Eric Turner (Weir) and Chance Kildown (Tyler Consolidated); South-Dodd, Kelly Mariotti (Bluefield), Santmyer and Lowe.

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