The creation of former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit, the Ohio vs. USA Challenge started as an idea he had with some fellow high school football fans.
is an idea that really started in a room with myself and a few friends and it's
kind of taken a life of its own," Herbstreit said at a press conference at Crew
Stadium prior to the Ohio North-South Classic in June. "I'm a huge high school
football fan – obviously a huge college football fan – and we started to think
about a good way to reach out, not only for Ohio, but to kind of go abroad and
reach out nationally.
"To give you an idea of the magnitude of this game, if you ever get on the high school internet rooms – the chat rooms – you can see the trash talking going on between Texas and Ohio. If you live in Ohio, you think Ohio plays the best high school football. If you live in Texas, you think Texas has the best high school football. And we figured this was a great way to settle it right on the field, where everybody can see it. ESPN will be involved with it and it's going to get a lot of national exposure."
Fans will get a taste of some of the best high school football in the country when Tyler Lee and Colerain take the field Friday night. Both schools are defending big school state champions (Colerain: Division I, Tyler Lee: 5A Division I). Both state titles were the first in school history for Colerain and Tyler Lee, respectively.
Colerain claimed the Division I state championship last season in what was the most dominating seasons in recent history scoring an average of 46.3 points per game and allowing only 6.5 per contest.
After graduating seven Division I recruits from that state championship team and 13 college recruits total, Colerain opened up 2005 with a 7-0 loss to Cincinnati St. Xavier. The Bombers held Colerain to a mere 123 yards of total offense while quarterback Gary Pride was 0-4 with three interceptions.
Colerain rebounded last week, however, with a convincing 45-14 win over defending Kentucky Class AAA state champion Highlands. The Cardinals were in typical form as Pride gained 129 yards on 13 carries and completing 2 of 5 passing while scoring twice. Running back Terrence Sherrer had 104 yards on 10 carries and also added two touchdowns.
In addition to skill players Pride (5-8, 175) and Sherrer (5-9, 195), offensive lineman Conner Smith (left) is a force upfront in the triple option offense. He is ranked nationally as top-25 recruit and has already verbally committed to Ohio State.
"I think the thing about Connor that makes him different than anybody I've coached – and he's the most recruited player I've ever had – is he has tremendous intensity from the beginning of a play until the end of a play," said head coach Kerry Coombs prior to the season. "He's a gentle giant. He's 6-6 and 304 pounds, but he runs great. And when he plays, I mean he is a physical, nasty kid.
"Then he picks the kid up, pats them on the head and goes back to the huddle. I love Connor Smith. He's a gem."
Michigan-recruit Cobrani Mixon leads the Colerain defense, which allowed only 124 yards of total offense last week against Highlands.
"With Cobrani, there are two things that are special about him," Coombs said. "One, he tore his ACL in the fifth week of the season and he came back and played in the eighth week without surgery and finished the year. He's a tough kid and tough kids make great players. He was a great player before he got hurt. He was a good player after he got hurt. He's going to be healthy in the fall. He's 6-2, 225 and he can run like the wind. He's a physical player."
Tyler Moeller (6-2, 205) is another Division I prospect. As of this report, he was considering scholarship offers from Ohio State and Iowa.
Tyler Lee claimed it's first Texas state title in school history in 2004.
Tyler Lee finished 12-3 last season, and the Red Raiders are rolling once
again in 2005 with a 2-0 start to the season. Lee defeated 2004 Florida state
semifinalist Hollywood Chaminade Madonna 34-28 in the East Texas Football
Classic in the season opener. Last week, the Red Raiders outscored Waco 21-7 to
start the season undefeated.
Despite the perfect start, Tyler Lee head coach Mike Owens still feels his team could use some fine tuning before it can reach it's full potential with only five total starters returning from last year.
"We lost a lot of players from last year and I don't think we're the football team we were last year or even the year before," Owens said. "But somehow we have managed to win the first two even though we are a little bit thin in some areas. But I think we have played better the past couple of weeks and I think we are going to have to play a whole lot better if we even expect to even be on the field with Colerain."
lone starter returning on offense this season is senior center Andrew Bailey
(5-10, 239). Despite the inexperience on the offensive line, Tyler Lee has good
size up front averaging
nearly 258 pounds.
Leading the Red Raider offense out of the backfield, senior tailback Jason Williams (left, No. 34) had 112 carries in 2004 for nearly 700 yards and six touchdowns. According to Owens, Williams (5-10, 205) is a major Division I college prospect and is receiving a lot attention on the recruiting front.
Senior quarterback Preston Hill (6-2, 201) reassumes his starting role after
stepping in his sophomore year for five games and throwing for 1,062 yards and
five touchdowns. Receivers Jonathan Williams (6-1, 193) and Jacob Amie (6-4,
223) are Hill's main targets.
On defense, tackle Jacoby McKenzie (6-1, 256) anchors the line with 50 tackles and four sacks after becoming a starter late in 2004. Junior free safety Tekerrein Cuba (6-2, 193) filled a starting role in the second half of 2004 and finished with 77 tackles, two fumble recoveries and an interception return for a touchdown. Senior cornerback Quett Nicholson (5-10, 174) had 32 tackles last season and a pick while linebacker Matt Uzell (6-0, 213) collected 78 tackles in 2004.
Jacoby McKenzie leads the Red Rider defense after a successful 2004.
"We are getting better everywhere," said Owens. "Our offensive line was a
huge question mark coming into the season. For most of them, these are their first
varsity snaps. Defensively, we have a bunch of new faces. We have been in great
position to make plays in the first couple of games, but we have missed some.
"It has been a learning process," Owens continued. "I think everyone is working hard and getting better, and everyone is playing as hard as they can. The talent level isn't what was, but they are finding a way to win right now. I don't think there is any lack of effort there. One thing I would say we are doing real well is playing with intensity and playing hard."
With the classic debate of which state boasts the best high school football, Ohio, Texas, California, Florida, and Pennsylvania tend to all be mentioned in the same breath. So, when Colerain and Tyler Lee take the field Friday, major bragging rights and pride will be on the line.
"Ohio has such a strong tradition in high school football, we are honored to be have been chosen to participate in this great event," Coombs said at the June press conference. "Obviously, playing Tyler Lee, the defending state champions from Texas, presents an incredible challenge for our program. Having our game connected to two of the most storied college programs in the country – Ohio State and Texas – certainly serves to make the weekend that much more exciting."
Playing Colerain will be a challenge for the Tyler Lee program as well.
"Colerain has a great program, there is no doubt about it," said Owens. "Coach Coombs does a great job there. He has some tremendous athletes and we are just going to have to scramble for our lives to stay in it.
"They have a great run offense and we have got to be able to slow that down somehow. We have struggled with that somewhat in the first couple weeks. I know we are not going to stop them, but we can't just let them take it and keep it for eight or nine minutes at a time and score points.
"Same thing offensively," Owens continued. "We can't have any three and outs. Of course, the kicking game is real important too, there is no doubt about that. We cannot afford to make any big mistakes and expect to remain in the game."
Tyler Lee coach Mike Owens
With so much hype surrounding this unprecedented match up, it can be difficult at time to keep the players focused on the task at hand. Owens realizes this, and is taking the necessary measures to keep his players grounded.
"We are approaching (Colerain) like any other game, at least we are trying to," said Owens. "I haven't allowed our players to do a bunch of interviews and we are just trying to get there and get settled in so we can just play a game. We realize we are basically going to be up there by ourselves and it is going to be tough, but that is just part of it.
"This is not a trip to Disneyland. We are not going to go any tours or anything, and I made it clear to our marketing people that we are not going to be doing any of that. We are going there to get settled in, practice like we always do and play the game."
With a win already this season over Chaminade Madonna (FL), Tyler Lee is looking to claim the title for the Lone Star state as the best high school football state in the country, to some extent, with a win over Colerain. However, Colerain, with the support of the entire Buckeye State, will represent Ohio well as the Ohio high school football fans across the state pull for an Ohio victory.
It doesn't get much better than this!