Tuesday saw two scrimmages in Stark County featuring some of Ohio's top players and teams. In the morning it was Massillon at Massillon Perry, while the evening brought Cleveland St. Ignatius to Fawcett Stadium to take on Canton GlenOak. After seeing players in shirts and shorts for the past few months, it was good to see them put the pads on again.
The Massillon Tigers, under new coach Tom Stacy, shocked the Perry Panthers early when junior running back Brian Gamble scored on a 60 yard touchdown run on the scrimmage's second play. After that play, the Panthers settled in and played good football for second year coach Spider Miller. Although they were unable to generate much of a ground game, the Panthers were able to move the ball through the air against the Tigers.
Perry will be much improved over last year and the best is yet to come. Perry athletics director Frank Gamble spoke highly of the direction the program is headed under Miller and I couldn't agree more. It will be interesting to see how the Panthers fare in the Federal League in 2005.
For the Tigers, there was a lot to be happy with, although some work needs to be done to become the type of team Tom Stacy wants them to be. This team is clearly more physical than the past few Tiger teams. Led by several players listed among the best in the state by Ohio High magazine, the Tigers totally stopped the Perry running game. Antonio James, who is committed to Illinois, played well at defensive end, showing both power and speed. Rob Morris was a force at middle linebacker and as a lead blocking fullback. Quentin Paulik, last year's quarterback, is a great looking outside linebacker and figures to get better as he gets more reps at the position. Dirk Dickerhoof was a force inside as the senior made quite a few plays.
Offensively, it was the Brian Gamble show as he made several nice runs in addition to his long touchdown. Of the four teams I saw today, Gamble was the most impressive running back, showing tremendous speed and great vision to avoid tacklers. Gamble also played well defensively and appears to be a player to watch in 2005. Duke recruit Brett Huffman also played well and will be a force from his tight end position in the Massillon short passing game. Huffman can be a great player for the Tigers.
In the nightcap, GlenOak started slow against Ignatius but seemed to play much better as the scrimmage progressed. Their two stars, Mike Hartline and Ryan Palmer, mirrored their team's effort. Palmer struggled early against a tremendous front four but seemed to catch his stride and finished very well. Palmer, one of the top offensive linemen in the state, is stronger physically than last year and is in better condition. Hartline, ranked as the number two quarterback by Ohio High, made some questionable decisions early and suffered some dropped passes. But he also threw the ball really well in spots and showed nice athleticism in escaping the Ignatius pass rush, which was relentless all evening. Junior running back Kevin Pratt showed excellent speed and cutting ability and was a solid performer.
St. Ignatius was clearly the best team I saw today and seemed to be in mid-season form. Behind an excellent offensive line, quarterback Rudy Kirbus was quite effective throwing the football. Kirbus, ranked as one of the top five quarterbacks in Ohio, is fundamentally sound and seems to have improved his arm strength over last season. On the receiving end of many of those passes was split end Robby Parris. Parris, ranked as the No. 27 prospect in Ohio by Duane Long of Ohio High, has verbally committed to play football at Notre Dame. Parris combines great hands with great leaping ability to be a difference maker.
The St. Ignatius front four was easily the best group I saw today. These seniors totally stopped the run game of GlenOak and pressured Mike Hartline relentlessly. Marty Kern was a player I didn't know much about, but I know about him now. Kern (6-0, 260) lined up across from Ryan Palmer and played Palmer tough all night long. Brian Neff (6-3, 230) played with a high motor and made a lot of plays.
Defensive end Reilly Lauer (6-7, 230) used his long arms and quick feet to harass Hartline all night. Lauer, the No. 79 ranked player at Ohio High, is a player to watch as he adds weight and gets more reps at his position. Lauer has tremendous upside and should be a division I recruit.
The best player I saw today was John Ryan, who played both ways as a tight end and defensive end. He made tough catches on offense and dominated the line of scrimmage on defense. Ryan is headed to Notre Dame, and the Fighting Irish are getting a great player. Ryan, (6-5, 240) is ranked as the No. 20 prospect in Ohio, and that might be too low. He can come off the edge with the best of them and plays the run like a pit bull. Ryan shows great intensity, strength and determination. He is a great football player.
St. Ignatius, coached by legendary Chuck Kyle, appears to be a team that can win a state title. This team has speed, size, senior leadership and of course the coaching of Chuck Kyle. If you want to score on this team, you better find a way to block this front four.