On The Lighter Side: Prep Football Returns!

The high school football season began with a bang on Thursday night. Click here to read about a memorable duel between a pair of Akron schools and tailbacks, Garfield's Chris Wells and Hoban's Tyrell Sutton.

High School football is alive and well in 2004. I got a tremendous dose of it last night.

I was at Dowed Field in Akron Thursday night to watch the visiting Hoban Knights take on the home standing Garfield Rams. That's right Garfield was technically the host team for the debut of Hoban's new Prograss artificial turf.

On display were two of the best running backs not only in the city of Akron but in the entire state of Ohio as well.

Chris Wells versus Tyrell Sutton was the subplot in this backyard, lid-lifting rivalry that was won 13-7 by Hoban.

Wells is the affable, young and extremely gifted junior who already has offers from Ohio State and Michigan while Sutton is the more polished virtuoso and extremely productive senior that's virtually been ignored by Ohio State and Michigan and has already given a verbal commitment to play college football Northwestern.

Personally, I really like both of these guys a lot but I have to admit that I really have an affinity toward Sutton at this particular time. Wells is going to get his accolades from people like me and others from now until he decides between Ohio State and Michigan. He's truly gifted.

But for the life of me, I can't figure out how anybody who makes a top 10 list in the state of Ohio can leave a kid like Sutton out. I guess you have to see this kid play in person to really appreciate the ridiculous things that you can see him do on video.

What's even more mind-boggling to me is that Ohio State hasn't even picked up the scent on Sutton.

If there every really is such a thing as a prototypical "Tressel recruit," then he's embodied in No. 20 for Hoban. Sutton, a four-year starter for the Knights now, excels equally on the field, in the classroom and in just about every aspect of his life. Other than for his non-prototypical size, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-9, 190 pounds, Sutton is the consummate, all-around, team-first running back. As he displayed in his numerous carries on opening night, the kid is tough as nails. And he plays both ways!

From most accounts, Ohio State is more interested in two other smallish running backs who are, I'm sure, equally talented in their own right. I happen to be a very big fan of Dayton Chaminade-Julienne's Javon Ringer as well and from my perspective, Sutton and Ringer could be examined for cloning at birth because I see no discernable difference in the two, size-wise. If you've ever stood next to each of them, as I have, there's no way that you can say that Sutton is a small back and Ringer isn't.

But this isn't a Sutton versus Ringer argument. Like Sutton, Ringer also had a huge debut to his 2004 season (306 yards in a thrilling 39-36 win over Clayton Northmont Thursday). Ringer is a physical freak in his own right and for the record, I'm certain when that elusive offer eventually does come from Ohio State, he'll be a Buckeye.

I just think that somebody has to stump for Sutton and I'm more than happy to be that guy. He may not be the right fit for Ohio State in their thinking and that's understandable, but it in no means makes him any less of a player than Ringer or any other highly touted player in Ohio and even in the country.

I watched Sutton operate closely yesterday on the field during the pregame warmups and I purposely stood on the Hoban sideline for the first three quarters of the game so I can watch him off the field as well. Without question, he has a fiery demeanor and he's a very emotional leader.

On Garfield's opening drive of the game, when a goal-line stand by the Knights on fourth-and-goal at the 1 prevented the Rams from getting on the scoreboard, Sutton was in on numerous tackles from his starting cornerback position. On more than one occasion, Sutton was in on the tackle when the bruising Wells (6-2, 225) would burst through the line.

When the contest ended after Hoban thwarted a last-ditch Garfield drive on an interception by Anthony Pelini, the nephew of Bo Pelini, Sutton uncharacteristically fired a warning shot that even surprised myself.

"This (game) is a huge statement, telling everybody to watch out," Sutton said. "All of those (people) who thought that we were going to be a little on the downside, this tells them to watch out for us. And they know they've got to watch out for me, I'm coming. I'm going for that Mr. Ohio, that's all that's on my mind. Mr. Ohio and a state championship."

He clearly fired the first salvo if his performance in the game was any indication. Unofficially, Sutton had 31 carries for 263 yards. His 47-yard touchdown scamper late in the first half gave the Knights the boost they needed going into the locker room.

"That ignited us all," Sutton said. "It's just unfortunate that we couldn't get another score in the game but we've got some things to work on and things to improve on to be ready for Mentor Lake."

Possibly, his stamina was the only thing evident that Sutton needs to improve on. Oftentimes he was on a knee both on the field between plays and on the sidelines. Otherwise he looked to be in midseason form while playing on both sides of the ball.

"I think I did OK but I know I can do a lot better," he said. "Going both ways is going to be a tough task but I will get it down. It's my senior year and I hope to be out there all of the time. I'm doing it all for the team. I'm very happy with our performance overall as a team but I always feel that I can do better personally."

Sutton was certainly the best running back on the field on that particular night.

"He also had an outstanding game too," Sutton said of Wells. "Although he didn't score, man, he is not scared to lower his shoulder."

Wells, who had 125 yards on the night, was equally complimentary of his counterpart.

"I didn't do good at all to me but Tyrell, he did it, he showed he was the real deal," he said. "Whatever school ain't recruiting him out there is crazy. They're nuts."

Bob Sax, the Rams head coach, was impressed with Sutton, again, as well.

"When you're the best back in Ohio you're going to get your yards and our big thing with Tyrell is that we wanted to limit the big one," he said. "We did that for most of the game but right there before halftime. It didn't knock us out but it would have been real nice going in 3-0 (instead of 10-0).

"He's good, he's amazing and his balance is amazing to me. We had him stuffed on our sideline one time and he tippy-toed down the sideline for about four more yards when he was going down. He's a good one."

Everybody outside of Akron seems to know how good Wells is or has the potential to become, but he's yet to come even close to posting Sutton-like numbers in his young career. But Sutton continues to toil in relative anonymity. Just the way that Northwestern likes it, I'm sure.

Sutton will keep grinding it out and let the chips fall where they may. In addition to doing it all when he's on the field, he seems to play with pain very well. He doesn't just inflict pain but he endures it fairly well as well. His ankle was causing him some discomfort in the game.

"My ankle kept getting tweaked a little bit," he said. "But the only way that I'm coming out for good is if I break my ankle or I break my leg or something where I can't run again. My ankle is always getting tweaked every now and then but I just got to grind it out."

He's almost too good to be true and he continues to be the best kept secret in Ohio! (Shhh. Don't tell anyone I said that.)

EDITOR'S NOTE -- Gary Housteau and Steve Helwagen will be at the University of Cincinnati Saturday to provide coverage of the Crosstown Showdown.

Three of the five games scheduled are extremely notable: At 12:30 p.m., Hamilton, with DB Adam Myers-White, takes on Anderson. Then, at 3 p.m., a pair of OSU verbals will square off as Lakewood St. Edward and OL Alex Boone meet Cincinnati St. Xavier and QB Rob Schoenhoft. Then, at 5:30 p.m., Colerain and two-time defending Division I state champion Elder rematch last year's regional final, won by Elder 24-23.

The festivities begin with Princeton-Winton Woods at 10 a.m. and conclude with Moeller-Lebanon at 8 p.m. See you at Nippert Stadium (and stop back here for updates).

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