WHEELING - It's been a fun, exciting and hot week for the football all stars of the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference.
The players reported to Bethany College last Sunday and amid all of the activities, speakers and dinners, they've actually gotten to work.
And the work pays off this evening when the trash talking comes to an end and the battle for state-line bragging rights unfolds at Wheeling Island Stadium in the 67th annual Rudy Mumley OVAC All-Star Charity Football Classic, which kicks off at 7:15 p.m.
Courtesy Briggs Photography
"It's been a fun experience, not only for me, but for our entire staff and team," said Ohio head coach Eric Schumacher, who heads up the Conotton Valley program. "These kids have realized that they've made friends for life this week. They've really built a nice camraderie and been able to take a relationship from this week that they'll treasure for the rest of their lives."
What sounds like a grueling week ahead once again went by in a blur as the players went through double sessions most of the week, but significantly backed off the contact as the week went along.
"The week went quick, but we got a lot accomplished on the field and, off the field, there have been a lot of friendships for life formed," said West Virginia head coach Doug Taylor. "You know what you're getting into when you take this game. Other than the heat, everything, in camp, went according to plan."
For Schumacher, this was his first time both involved with the OVAC game and also leading a football team.
"I'd like to say it's been an easy week, but it's been difficult and stressful at times," Schumacher said. "We wanted to make sure we got everything in and all of the kids understood their roles for every single down and every single play."
The Buckeye State is trying to snap a two-game losing streak to its West Virginia counterparts. Ohio hasn't won the game since the OVAC expanded and brought in teams such as Parkersburg South, Morgantown and University, which greatly evened the playing field despite Ohio still having an advantage in the total number of teams.
West Virginia posted a 24-3 victory last season and a 24-14 win in 2010. All told, however, Ohio maintains a 41-24-1 edge in the all-time series. The last time West Virginia won two in a row was 1993-94. Ohio then proceeded to win 14 of the next 15.
Schumacher and his staff have liked how their team have improved as the week went along, leading to what he called their best practice on Friday.
"We've got a good understanding of the offense and defense," Schumacher said. "We've had to weed out of a couple of things offensively because we didn't want to put too much on the kids."
Both teams went through light practices on Saturday before heading to the Bethany College stadium for the annual pep rally.
After breakfast and Vespers services this morning, the West Virginia side will go through an abbreviated walk through, clean up their belongs and head for the stadium after a pre-game meal.
"We're going to narrow some things down (Saturday) and make sure we've got everyone in the right place," Taylor said.
Ohio, meanwhile, is hopeful that it'll be able to go through its final walk through at Wheeling Island Stadium as it fine tunes its approach.
"We had an all offensive practice (Saturday) morning," Schumacher said. "We wanted to make sure our timing is down with the receivers and linemen. It's usually a lot more difficult to get that down than the defense and then a walk through in the afternoon."
Along with the timing and crispness of the offense, Schumacher didn't hestitate when asked about the biggest 'X' factor in the game.
"Turnovers," Schumacher lamented. "That's what these games always seem to come down to. I was talking to coach Taylor the other night and we honestly both feel we're pretty evenly matched teams, so it's going to come down to whoever takes care of the ball."
The yearly chess match in the Mumley Classic is about to unfold.
Unlike their games in the regular season, the coaching staffs basically have absolutely no idea what the opposition is going to do or what players will be utilized where.
"That's one of the beautiful things about this game," Taylor said of the unknown. "A lot of all star games, the offense or the defense is limited, but this is a wide-open game. We've kind of prepared for two or three different looks, but we're probably still going to have to adjust on the fly somewhat."
Ohio did some advance scouting of Madonna tapes and sort of built a game plan from there, but Schumacher knows they'll be a lot of adjustments during tonight's action.
"We've thrown a lot of looks at them just trying to prepare for everything possible," Schumacher said. "We won't know until (tonight) and our kids know that and they're prepared for that. Our guys are knowledgeable enough to be able to make the best of it."
Though he's unsure of the schematical approach, Taylor knows enough about some of the Buckeye State players to know his team had better come ready to play.
"I've coached at Weir High and Oak Glen and we've played some of the teams from Ohio, so we know about those kids," Taylor said. "Ohio has some great ball players and we know we'll have our hands full."
Schumacher doesn't only think the two teams are balanced. He believes there's a lot of balance on his own team. He couldn't single out just one guy who shined this week in practice.
"They showed why they're all all stars," Schumacher said. "We did see some things from kids we didn't necessarily expect them to be able to do, which is never a bad thing, but I don't think I can really point just one kid. As a whole, they've all stepped up their games because they know they're going against all stars every day in practice and then again (tonight)."
Ohio is turning its starting quarterback duties over to Bridgeport's Cole Smelley. Indian Creek product David Kemp will also see time.
The duo of Cambridge's Dashaun Lewis and Buckeye Local's Josten Dear will be working together in the backfield. When the Buckeye State uses a fullback, Barnesville's Jesse Stoudt will get the call.
On the perimeter, Steubenville Central's Brannt Pieniazek, Union Local's Zane Ayouch and East Liverpool's Marky Thompkins will be the primary receivers.
In the trenches, Big Red's Michael Camilletti will anchor the line at center. Meadowbrook's Eric Black and Martins Ferry's Elliott Albert are ticketed for the guard spots, while Monroe Central's C.J. Wise and Bridgeport's Mike Dalto will line up at tackles. The tight ends are Barnesville's Tyler Fitzpatrick and Buckeye Local's Jordan Piergallini.
"We're really pleased with our offensive unit," Schumacher said. "We just feel that we're going to be able to get the best opportunity to move the ball offensively."
The Ohio defense will utilize a 50-front and Buckeye Local's Greg Ring will line up at the nose guard. Shadyside's Matt Hammond and Steubenville's William Houst are penciled in as starters on the defensive line.
Shenandoah's Shane Crum and Stoudt are two of the linebackers along with Cambridge's Tanner Roller and Steubenville's Leshawn Luke. Smelley and Bellaire's Josh Davis are the safeties, while Thompkins and Bellaire's Juwan Whetstone are the corners.
"We feel that Smelley and Thompkins' athletic abilities will be most beneficial on both sides of the ball," Schumacher offered. "That's not saying they'll be there the whole game, but they'll at least start and give us the best look."
Martins Ferry's Richie Padyjasek is the kicker and punter. His holder is Thompkins. The long snapper on placekicking is Camilletti, while Dear handles the punt long snapping.
West Virginia's offensive approach is one that Taylor and his staff plans on using as many of their weapons as they can in a wide-open game.
"We've got a few kids who can sling the ball, some receivers who can go get it, but we've also got some backs who can certainly run it well," Taylor said. "I am hoping we can get a good mix going."
Earlier in the week, the Mountain State battled its fair share of injuries. On Wednesday, Taylor said his team was down to just three healthy running backs. The injured players returned to practice on Friday and are expected to go fully tonight.
"We didn't push those kids too hard because it's so close to game time," Taylor said. "We feel they'll be able to go and help us out (tonight)."
Obviously, offense and defense attract the fans and much of the talk during the week, but both coaches made sure they put ample time into special teams work.
"We took the first 15 minutes of practice every day to work on our kicking, punting, snapping, holding and then we try to do two or three specialties a day," Taylor said. "We got everything in, including a couple of fakes, so I think we're OK there."
The Ohio side spent time each day working on special teams and actually took half of its Friday afternoon session to work on the kicking game.
"We've got everyone in and knows what (kicking or punting) team they're on and everything's in," Schumacher said. "I think we'll be alright special teams wise."