A Closer Look – St. Ed’s Came to Town

Week five took the WHBC radio crew to Massillon’s Paul Brown Tiger Stadium to witness the absolute best high school football atmosphere anywhere! Huge crowd (most dressed in orange), giant inflated Tigers in the end zone, tailgaters all over the hills surrounding the stadium, the band playing that Tiger Rag thing – it was awesome!
This night the opponent was Lakewood St. Edwards from Cleveland. They looked more like a college team than a high school one. In fact, Saturday I did the Mount Union – Baldwin Wallace game for TV and the offensive line for St. Ed’s (288 lb. average) was about as big as either of those college teams. The Eagles right tackle is listed at 6’8 315 lb. And he is a sophomore! Can you imagine that grocery bill?

It was going to be a tough task for the Tigers for sure but when they lost starting running back Wiltrell Hartson (2nd series of plays) and starting quarterback Darrius McElroy (2nd quarter), things got even more difficult. And so my topic for this week – replacing injured players.

For me, injuries are the worst part of high school football. Maybe the only bad part – except when parents, fans and even sometimes coaches, lose sight of what is important and get overly competitive. With pro players it is a given – you will get injured. For college players it is part of the deal when you play one sport at that level, you risk injury every time you step on the field. But for high school kids, they just want to play. Most will never participate beyond HS and are playing to just have fun. So I cringe each time a player goes down and my constant hope is that it is a minor injury and the player can return to play soon. Friday night Massillon’s two players mentioned above did not return to play so subs had to take their places on the field. At running back Reesieo Kirksey and Ta’Shaun Smith relaced Hartson, Stark County’s leading rusher coming into the game with 736 yd. Tall order indeed but they combined for 88 yd. and played hard to help their team. At quarterback, freshman (yes, FRESHMAN!) Jalen Slaughter replaced the senior, McElroy. Jalen is a slightly-built young man (who wasn’t as a freshman in HS) but it was easy to see he has a live arm. A left-hander, Jaden can “sling it” as they say when a QB has a strong arm. Of course, it took a little while for him to find his rhythm but he finished the game 9 for 22 for 137 yards, 2 TDs and a 2-point conversion pass. Pretty good night! More importantly, especially in the 2nd half, he looked like he belonged out there. Even the St. Eds coach commented how well he did and how good a player he will become.

Replacement players don’t always do well when put into a game. Most do not get the reps to be ready. Coaches have a tough job getting the starters ready to play each week let alone preparing back-ups in case they are called upon. Usually the 2nd team gets a few plays at the end of each practice segment and the 3rd team just has to learn by watching. That’s why JV and freshman games are so important to the development of young players. Nothing like playing time to learn your trade. It certainly helps to have talent and all three of the Tiger players mentioned have that but kudos to the Massillon coaching staff for getting these guys ready in case they were needed, which they were on Friday night. Young players become prime timers in many ways. One is certainly injury to the player ahead of them.

Anyone remember Wally Pipp – Lou Gehrig got his chance because Wally was injured and could not play. We will hear from these Tiger players again for sure!