Football has always been the kingpin around the Mahoning Valley. The rest of the country lauds the talent that comes from this area from Mario Manningham to Ross Browner to Paul Warfield and even John Simon to name a few. For this area, it truly is a few.
However, this column has nothing to do with football. There's another sport, to a lesser-known extent, that has talent year in and year out. That is distance running, cross country to be specific.
The normal 3.1-mile jaunt around a course has been burned up by many fleet-footed runners through the years.
This year, the names of Boardman's Mark Hadley, McDonald's Bobby Johnson and Howland's Ryan Sullivan stand out. All three are dominant figures in the distance running realm. All three figure to be at the state meet at National Trail Raceway in November.
But, where will they go to college? With their running prowess, Maplewood High School graduate and Youngstown State University junior Eric Rupe has a suggestion - how about joining the Penguins?
"Anybody that is in the area now, it's a shame if they don't come to Youngstown," Rupe said. "It's kind of like extending your high school career and representing the area. That's the thing I like the most about running for Youngstown. I feel like I'm in high school, representing in the community. Like going for a run in Mill Creek Park, people will say good luck and stuff. I don't think you get that if you go to Ohio State or somewhere else where you have that community support.
"If there's any high school kids out there, I'd love to get them to Youngstown. It would be awesome to have an area all-star team of guys from Boardman, Maplewood, McDonald and those teams."
Take 2013 Liberty graduate Jon Richmond. He had his fair share of victories during cross country and track and field season, but never seemed to get up to the upper echelon of distance running.
Enter a short trip down the road to YSU. Richmond, as a freshman, is the team's fifth runner.
"He's really looking good right now," Rupe said. "It's crazy, some kids from their senior year of high school to their freshman year of college have a huge improvement. They're more comfortable running in the college races. I think he's one of the guys who is going to excel at the longer races. He's looking good right now and he's our fifth guy for the moment."
Those two aren't the only two Mahoning Valley representatives on the YSU men's cross country team. McDonald's Kyle Joynes, who led the Blue Devils to the 2011 Division III state cross country championship, is there with Canfield's Jon Hutnyan, Lisbon's Ryan Sowards and Struthers Ryan Pavlicko are there as well.
On the girls roster, there are plenty more.
Lowellville's Monica Ciarniello, Austintown Fitch's Alexis Cooper, McDonald's Paige Eckman, Jackson-Milton's Samantha Hamilton, Boardman's Katie Heney, and McKinsie Klim, Anna Pompeo and Libby Rogenski - all three from Poland.
In addition, the YSU women were ranked 15th in the Great Lakes Region, in the preseason poll released by the USTFCCCA on Aug. 26. It is the first time in the program's history the Penguins have been ranked in a regional poll.
Hamilton and Pompeo have dropped 3 minutes from when they started. Ciarniello has dropped 2 minutes, while Klim lost 1:30 in two meets.
"Locally, we've been pretty fortunate," Gorby said. "Having the local kids has been great for the program."
YSU is fortunate to host all three Horizon League championships - cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field. The track and field championships will be held on campus, while the cross country is on Nov. 2 - the same day as the OHSAA state track and field meet - at Boardman High School.
"We know it hasn't been done in the Horizon, but we're pretty sure it hasn't been done in the NCAA for league championships. It's a pretty big undertaking," Gorby said. "It's neat to be able to do this stuff with the local folks. It's been a ton of fun. Each year, it seems we're getting a little bit better."
YSU could be better with some of the area's best joining the Penguins distance team.