NILES - The best high school football players in the Mahoning Valley will come together once again this summer to battle on the gridiron for local supremacy.
Every year, local high school coaches nominate their players to compete in an annual all-star game, and this year, the Mahoning Valley Coaches Association's 27th annual Jack Arvin Classic sponsored by ScoutingOhio.com will take place at 7 p.m. June 19 at Hubbard Memorial Stadium. Top athletes from Mahoning and Columbiana counties represent the Mahoning County team and top athletes from Trumbull County comprise the Trumbull County squad. All the coaches and athletes met for a first practice Tuesday night at Niles' Bo Rein Stadium.
Niles coach Brian Shaner was selected to lead the Trumbull County team. He led the Red Dragons to a 5-5 record this past season in the All-American Conference, American Division.
"There's a lot of athletes on this field," Shaner said. "It's an honor to coach these guys. You almost hand-select your team from the coaches' nominations, and it's nice to see these guys get out here and running around."
Shaner will be joined by four Niles players whom he nominated - Marcus Hill, Kyle Paden, Chris Parry and Justin Lopes.
"It's a pleasure to coach our guys again and watch these other athletes work as well," Shaner said.
Hill and fellow teammate and wide receiver Chris Parry said they are happy to play under Shaner for the all-star game. They also will have a familiar face throwing to them, as their quarterback, Paden, was nominated as well.
"Definitely having Kyle throwing me and Marcus the ball, one more time for old time's sake, that'll be fun to run around and have him chuck the ball around with friends," Parry said.
Chalker Wildcats coach Ryan Slone will call the shots for the Mahoning County team. Chalker is a Trumbull County school, but Slone and two of his players will coach and compete respectively as part of Mahoning County.
"It was an honor when I got the call to coach one of the all-star teams," Slone said. "This is the best of the best of Mahoning County I'll be coaching. I'll have our Chalker kids with me as well, so it's nice."
Chalker cornerback Austin Casper said it means a great deal to him to move to the Mahoning County side with Slone and play under his tutelage again.
"I thought I was done with football and I get another chance to play," Casper said.
The Jack Arvin Classic gives graduating players like Casper, who opted not to pursue football in college, a chance to lace up their cleats, throw on their shoulder pads and play high school football under the lights one last time.
"All these kids ended their year on a loss, so this is their opportunity to play one more game and to end their football careers on a win," Slone said.
The game also provides these high school graduates with an opportunity to play with different players and under different coaches as well. These athletes will come together and play alongside other players they went up against during the regular season and now call these adversaries teammates.
"I think it'll be a blast," McDonald offensive lineman Carson Williams said. "I'm friends with everyone off the field, I mean you have enemies, but it's a blast to get out with everyone."
Howland linebacker T.K. Fortson said he is looking forward to playing with and against some of highest caliber high school talents in the valley.
"The fact that we're playing against kids we played against all year and now we come together as a team, it makes the game even more fun," Fortson said.
The athletes selected to play in this year's Jack Arvin Classic didn't need a lot of time to warm up to each other, as players were already getting along and joking with each other in the bleachers before even putting on their helmets at the first practice.
"In practice we'll probably have some fun and mess around with each other because there are rivalries, but it'll be a real friendly game," Parry said.
Fun and games aside, though, once that opening kickoff gets booted, it's game on between the two sides.
"We're here to have fun, but we're going to be here to win the game as well," Slone said. "We're going to make sure we practice hard."
Williams spoke his mind on behalf of the Trumbull County team and already gave his prediction for this year's game.
"We're gonna win," Williams said. "That's it."