Winning the Mr. Football award in Ohio is a big deal and it should be.
It's presented to the best high school football player in the state of Ohio in any given year and the winner is selected by a panel of sports writers across the state who should have some idea of all of the players who are worthy of receiving such a prestigious award.
Raymond Williams of Benedictine High School in Cleveland was the winner of the award this past season. As the 2003 winner, Williams joined an elite list of names that include the likes of Robert Smith, Charles Woodson, Curtis Enis, Andy Katzenmoyer, Derek Combs and Maurice Clarett, among others.
Williams helped lead his Bengals to the Division III state title this year when Benedictine beat Kenton 12-0 at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Nov. 28. On the evening, Williams, who scored both of the game's only touchdowns, rushed for 237 yards on 43 carries for a 5.5 yards per carry average.
After the title game, I asked Williams, just days after being named as the 2003 winner, how he felt about winning the honor and if he felt any extra pressure to have to perform well against Kenton.
"Not really," said Williams, who rated Kenton as a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. "I knew we came into this game with a goal and our goal was to win. So we played hard and we came out successful. I know a lot of people came out to see if I was really deserving of the award and I guess they got their perspective. It's not that I had something to prove but if I had a bad game and we won today, that didn't mean that I didn't deserve the Mr. Football award. The team itself put in work, day-in and day-out, so if they were coming to see me they were coming to see the team too."
Obviously if you've seen Williams play at all during the course of their championship season, you knew he was worthy of being named Mr. Football. He was worthy of it in his junior year when he rushed for 3,250 yards and scored 39 touchdowns, but Ben Mauk, the son of Kenton's head coach Mike Mauk, who was busy himself last year setting all sorts of national passing records and he won the honor in 2002.
"I've never coached a Mr. Football," said Benedictine head coach Art Bortnick. "Raymond has tremendous ability but I felt that what's more important in the development of Ray was the maturity factor. When he came into the school at Benedictine as a freshman, it took time; it took a process of learning what the school was about, learning (his teammates), and getting to grow and learn in the process. By the time he got to his junior year he had a tremendous year; if you recall it was the fourth highest total yardage in the state.
"So he had a lot of pressure to come back and do well and he took it upon himself in the off-season to work hard and get himself in good shape, and he had a great attitude coming in this year. He was real blue-collar; he was working real hard, and in each game that we played, he incorporated what he does best; and he got better as the games got bigger. It was a two-year process in which he'd been awarded Mr. Football and I think the award is for all of the great players that surrounded him. He'll be humble and tell you that it was his offensive line and his defensive teammates and the special team guys giving him the opportunity to do his best. So I think it's a real team-oriented award that everybody feels good about him being Mr. Football."
Ironically for Mike Mauk, who had he the 2002 Mr. Football award winner in his offensive huddle last year, he had to game plan against the 2003 winner in the opponent's offensive huddle this season.
"We felt that (Williams') the kind of back that you had to keep corralled. We didn't want to have him create the long touchdown run and for the most part we did that," said the Kenton head coach after the title game. "But he just made those little plays to get the first down or create a seam and find a crack to get into the open field and really show the talent ability he has. I know he ended up with a lot of yards on the night but I thought for the most part our guys did a pretty good job of not allowing him to have the really long touchdown run that we've seen him do in a lot of films."
You definitely have to be a big-play play maker to win an award such as Mr. Football and, no doubt, both Williams and Ben Mauk proved that they fit the description with their play on the gridiron. Unfortunately, it looks like neither of them now are going to have the opportunity to represent their state at the collegiate level.
Ben Mauk, who led his father's team to back-to-back state titles in Division IV just prior to the school moving up to Division III in this past year, is now honing his quarterbacking skills at Wake Forest in North Carolina.
"Benny was here tonight," said Mike Mauk. "He's going through a redshirt year and he's got four years to play and he's excited about the opportunities to play down there. He loves the school, he loves the coaching, it's a great situation and I think this year has been a great year for him to mature and develop. I really anticipate him having a good year next year."
Mauk will battle the incumbent QB at Wake Forest with the hopes of supplanting the junior-to-be under center and thus moving him to a receiver position.
Williams, on the other hand, seems to be in a state of academic limbo and the people at Benedictine have really done nothing to even attempt to clear-up his situation publically. If we're all to believe the rumors swirling around Williams, then he has about as much of a chance of being an academic qualifier next season as the Cleveland Browns do of making it to the Super Bowl this year.
Just yesterday, I spoke directly to Coach Bortnick on the telephone and he didn't even make an effort to explain the seemingly ominous situation surrounding his star running back. I'm certain that Bortnick has to be more candid with the coaches from schools that are attempting to recruit Williams, but why such a big secret? He wouldn't exactly be the first high school phenom to have academic problems.
People in Ohio care about their Mr. Football and most people would love to have the winner playing for the Buckeyes every year. We should be proud of our Mr. Football and want him to represent his state playing as a Buckeye and not as a Demon Deacon.
Since Jim Tressel has been at Ohio State, I've always been a proponent of awarding our Mr. Football a scholarship to The Ohio State University. It's a win-win situation for Tressel and for the young man who is selected as the state's top player. He couldn't make a better public relations move to curry favor with the head coaches in the great Buckeye state.
In most years, the award-winner is going to be a player Ohio State would be typically recruiting anyway, so why not attach such an incentive to winning the award? Whether the player actually chooses to attend OSU is another story but there should be the option to do so for any Mr. Football winner. It would be such a Tressel-like thing to do.
Sure, the number of scholarships in any given year to dole out is important but so is being named as the winner of the Mr. Football award, or so it should be. I'm sure for the most part, we could live with having guys like Ryan Brewer or Mauk himself on the roster whether or not there's a need to fill that particular position. In most instances, that need to fill a particular position played by Mr. Football will dictate whether or not he would take Tressel up on his offer. Even a definite date could be set in order to accept the offer or not so normal recruiting procedures could move along smoothly.
I know it's just a pipedream, but it could also work to OSU's advantage at some point down the line. A particular winner could feel obligated to attend Ohio State when he might not have otherwise been leaning that way.
It could eliminate some of the mystery, like the kind that still surrounds Williams.
On the Lighter Side
Winning the Mr. Football award in Ohio is a big deal and it should be.