Harding players keyed up for Arvin

CORTLAND — Not many players know the rivalry between Trumbull and Mahoning County better than those from Warren G. Harding, and not many want to prove who’s better more than the Raiders.

Harding has four players taking part in Thursday’s Jack Arvin Football Classic All-Star Game, which pits Mahoning/Columbiana counties versus Trumbull. While some fans and competitors think of an all-star game as more fun and laid back, the bragging rights and competitiveness always surface at the Arvin.

Maybe even more so this year.

“They (Mahoning and Columbiana counties) really think they going to beat on us,” said Terrion Jackson, a 6-foot-5 wide receiver and defensive end for WGH and now for the Trumbull team. “The first day (when both teams were together for media day), they was talking. But we don’t start nothing, we finish it.”

The trash talk started early for counties that respect — but don’t like — one another when it comes to football.

The Trumbull team took exception to one Mahoning/Columbiana player saying, “Mahoning makes the best football players” in a recent TV interview. The four Raiders taking part in Thursday’s game (starting at 7 p.m. at Canfield High School) want to prove that’s not the case, and more than most after a tough season that saw them drop four games by seven points or less (three against teams from Mahoning County).

In fact, more than half of Harding’s schedule (five games) was made up of teams from Mahoning (Ursuline, Cardinal Mooney, Boardman, Austintown Fitch and East). While the Raider quartet wants to get some payback, they also understand not to overlook their competitors.

“Smash-mouth football,” said WGH lineman Mike Koontz of what first comes to mind when thinking of Mahoning County football. “That’s the kind of offense they run. You’ve got to respect them, or you’ll get embarrassed yourself. You can’t take them for granted.”

The mutual respect doesn’t change the Raiders’ thoughts on who’s better.

“All I been hearing is Mahoning County is where all the athletes are made,” said Harding lineman Jowan Poole. “It’s funny to me because it seems like most of the stars are coming out of Trumbull.”

All four of the Harding boys will be playing collegiate football in the fall.

Poole is going to Lake Erie College, Koontz to Westminster, Jackson to a prep school in Winter Haven, Fla., and lineman Marcquise Allgood is headed to Allegheny.

The foursome is excited for one last chance to represent Warren G. Harding High School together.

“You get to go back out there with the same guys you grew up with one last time,” he said. “So when you look back, you can say, ‘Hey, that was me on TV, beating them.’ “

Since the Arvin is seniors only, no one from either team has experienced such an event. They admitted practice has been fairly easy, with very little conditioning and significantly less hitting. Most of the emphasis has been on learning new terminology and different plays. Bonding with new teammates was fairly simple, they said, mainly because they’re all focused on the same goal and are no longer enemies. The adversaries are different this time around, and the easy-going mindset will likely change in a hurry Thursday.

“Initially, I think it’s going to be a little laid back, but once it comes down to crunch time — knowing we’re all competitors — it’s going to be crazy,” said Poole of what he expects. “After halftime, I feel like everything’s going to switch. It’s going to be a whole new team. Everybody is going to show their true colors. That’s what I’m looking forward to. I’m ready to have some fun, play some football.”

While winning isn’t being overlooked and has extra significance to the Raider players, just playing on the same team one more time holds its own special meaning.

In a few months — weeks, in some cases — these four will be leaving Warren and heading in completely different directions. Maybe they’ll see each other again soon, and maybe they won’t. They understand they’re only promised one last moment in the sun.

“It’s special,” Jackson said. “These are my brothers right here, on and off the field. It’s just a pleasure to be out there.”