OVAC Football All-Stars Reflect on Lost Game
WHEELING — As it pertains to individual accolades an Ohio Valley prep football player can attain, there’s one goal that’s seemingly on everyone’s list.
Being selected to represent either Ohio or West Virginia in the annual OVAC Rudy Mumley All-Star Football Game is worth its weight in gold.
Unfortunately, because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, OVAC officials had to make the difficult decision in the late spring to cancel the 75th annual summer classic.
Though the decision was made two months ago and many of the 64 chosen players had probably come to grips with it, the disappointment became reality Saturday when they didn’t report to Bethany College to begin preparations for the game, which was slated for next Saturday.
“I was heartbroken when I heard it had been canceled,” Wheeling Park quarterback Alex Dunlevy said. “Over the years, I had become good friends with kids from all around the OVAC and I was looking forward to playing football together.”
That thought process would probably be echoed by whichever of the players that were asked.
After highly successful regular seasons, Fort Frye’s Eric Huck and Linsly’s B.J. Depew were selected as the coaches for the game.
Both were tasked with the annual challenge of trying to pare down the more than 100 nominees into a cohesive roster, while also representing a large enough number of schools.
The players began receiving word of their selection in late March. The usual process of receiving a letter at school was taken away because the schools on both sides of the river were closed by their respective governors.
Instead, the high school head coach delivered the news.
St. Clairsville’s Derek Witsberger won’t soon forget the moment when he received word from Brett McLean that he along with two of his teammates — Austin Angus and Colten Grimm — would represent the Red Devils one more time.
“When Coach (McLean) told me that I was picked, I lit up and instantly called me parents,” Witsberger said. “I had an energy surge for the entire day and was super excited to play.”
The majority of the players chosen have grown up on the all-star game.
Coming to Wheeling Island Stadium and watching the unofficial kickoff to high school football season is a rite of passage. That actually pertains to everyone. Whether a person comes to watch the OVAC McDonald’s All-Star Band, the OVAC All-Star Cheerleaders or the game, it all added up meant high school football was just around the corner.
“I idolized the players who got to play on a stage as big as the (OVAC) all-star game,” Witsberger said.
Though he sat on the other side of the stadium from Witsberger, there was a good chance that Weir High speedster Sebastian Spencer was in the crowd at many of those same OVAC games of years past.
“Playing in the OVAC Game had been a goal since I was in middle school,” Spencer, who is headed to North Carolina to run track, said. “I always went to watch the older guys around play in the game and seeing the crowd and atmosphere just made me really want to play in it, too.”
While Dunlevy, Spencer and Witsberger have experienced plenty of all-star games, the chance to experience everything the game means was going to be something new for several relative newcomers to the OVAC.
For the first time, New Philadelphia (Logan Boltz, Sam Zemis and Austin Kohl) and Southern Local (Jayce Sloan) were going to get a taste of the game. On the other side of the coin, it was going to be the last time that Meadowbrook (Boston Black) was represented in an OVAC event since the Colts are heading to the Muskingum Valley League for the upcoming school year.
Barnesville’s Alex Meade was looking to continue the family legacy of playing in the game. He was following in the footsteps of his father, Rick, who represented Beallsville.
Meanwhile, for West Virginia, it was going to be another opportunity for multiple-time Huff Award winner Adam Murray to play at Wheeling Island Stadium, the site of three state title victories for him and his Maroon Knight teammates. Other Central representatives selected were Michael Horan and Jalen Creighton.
The Oak Glen quartet of Michael Lemley, Connor Adams, Seth Mozingo and Matt Wright were anxious to give a taste of just how good the Golden Bears were.
While meeting new players, making life-time friendships and experiencing all of the events that encompass the week are what separate the OVAC All-Star Game and many events, the chance for a recent high school graduate to represent his school one more time is what excited Dunlevy.
“Park was the best four years of my life, and I would’ve loved to have represented them one more time,” Dunlevy said. “I think not being able to play with that ‘WP’ on the side of my helmet one more time is what I am going to miss most.”
Just another unfortunate event for the Class of 2020, but something they’ll tell their kids about many years from now.
The balance of the Ohio roster included: Daniel Wirth (Beaver), Chase Nolan (Bellaire), Mason Ogle (Cambridge), Nick Woodyard (East Liverpool), Derek Carter (East Liverpool), Kaz Zubay (East Liverpool), Isiah Jones, Tyler Fisher, Brady Schilling, Caden Fryman (Fort Frye); Logan Brookover (Frontier), Sam Mazar, Brandon Hiles (Indian Creek), Donte Lewis (Martins Ferry), Heath Rosen (River), Sam Merryman (Shadyside), Easton Hitchens (Shenandoah), Tayveon Crawford, Noah Howarth, Niko Kausky, David Tuttle (Steubenville), Cole Maragos (Steubenville CC), Darien Suggs (Wellsville).
The remainder of the West Virginia squad included: Branden Penn, Dylan Day, Jeff Tucker, Marshall McPherson (Parkersburg South), Dustin Vansickle, Jack Seines (Wheeling Park), Elijah Gillette, Drew Curtis (Weir), Noah Neely, Garrett Scott (Cameron), Max Camilletti (Brooke), Chance Knight, Trevin Tush, Kevin Espinoza, Carl Nyh (Linsly), Bennett Fletcher (Morgantown), Tyler Wilson (Morgantown), Logan Raber (University), Zach Birkett, Justin Frohnapfel, Jace Boggs (John Marshall), Brennan Secrist (Madonna), Mike Hamrick (Magnolia and Ethan Cross (Paden City).