The Ohio North-South All-Star Football Game has changed its format for this season.
Rather than one game, featuring seniors from all six divisions, the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association, which sponsors the game, opted to separate the game into two all-star games, featuring Divisions I-III in one and Divisions IV-VI in the other game.
The Division IV-VI game, which will be played on April 27 at Dayton's Welcome Stadium because of construction at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, will have a definite local flavor.
Harrison Central head coach Justin Kropka, who served as an assistant in the 2007 game, has been voted the head coach of the South squad after leading the Huskies back to the Division IV playoffs with a 7-4 record.
"Whenever your fellow coaches vote you to do something like this, it's a great honor," Kropka said. "It's a great honor and it makes me proud to see how far we've come as a program (at Harrison Central) that I could get elected to something like this."
While the separation of the divisions has been met with some resistance, Kropka is a big fan of the decision.
"I think it's a good thing for some of the kids from the smaller schools," Kropka said. "I know when I coached this game in 2007, a lot of those kids from smaller schools got left behind. This allows some talented kids to have an opportunity they might not have had."
Kropka will be aided by five assistant coaches, four of whom are from different parts of Ohio. The other assistant coach is St. Clairsville's Brett McLean, who guided his Red Devils to the Division IV state championship game and a 14-1 mark.
"Brett and I are very good friends," Kropka said. "This is something we've talked about for a very long time to be honest, but it was always in the hypothetical. Once they split the game, we had a chance to choose a coach and I couldn't think of a better guy to have with me than Brett. There's definitely no questioning his ability as a coach, person and he's someone that I really trust. We're definitely going to enjoy the experience."
With the coaching staff selected, it began the process of choosing its players and four area seniors are headed to Dayton to take part in the game.
"It's a great thing to be able to take so many local kids," Kropka said. "We've watched a ton of film on guys and obviously we were a little biased toward the local players, but when you really compared the film, the local guys we took were deserving."
St. Clairsville will have a trio of its seniors heading to the game, including Dan Monteroso, Matt Kinnick and Corey Ernest.
Monteroso is the Red Devils' record-setting wide receiver who caught 68 balls for 1,483 yards and 17 touchdowns. He's been committed to Boston College since the fall, but has recently drawn offers from both Purdue and Maryland since the Eagles' change in coaching staffs.
Kinnick, meanwhile, was the trigger man for the Red Devils at the quarterback spot. He passed for 3,428 yards and 41 touchdowns and had a monster postseason.
Ernest, meanwhile, was the Red Devils' top two-way lineman. He was a mainstay at both tackles spots.
"You usually don't see that many kids from one team, but I wasn't going to punish a kid, who deserved to be chosen, because one of his teammates got to go," Kropka said. "We actually could have chosen a couple more from St. Clairsville."
Harrison Central's Nick Pelegreen also drew an invite to the game after becoming the Huskies' all-time leading tackler from his linebacker spot en route to first-team all-Ohio honors. He finished his final prep campaign with 121 tackles. He was also a solid option at tight end.
"To be able to take one of my own players to the game is wonderful," Kropka admitted. "Nick has definitely earned this and every honor he's received. He's a great football player, but an even better kid."
Also named to the South squad is Columbus Bishop Hartley tight end Jacob Matuska, whose parents are St. John Central grads. Matuska is headed to Notre Dame.
All of the players will be in Columbus on Feb. 7 for a kickoff luncheon and press conference and the teams will have four practices on Sundays in the spring at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center at Ohio State University. They'll report to Dayton on April 25.
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org