Rural Ohio Schools Battle For Trophy

Tyler Sargent

The University of Cincinnati has several trophy games. There's the Victory Bell (Miami), the Keg of Nails (Louisville) and the River City Rivalry Trophy (Pittsburgh). In Clinton County, Ohio, the biggest football game of the year is played for the Cider Keg, and this year it holds added importance since it will also be an OHSAA Division IV second round tournament game.

The game will also feature a couple of high school stars hoping to become Bearcats.

Clinton County, Ohio sits in relative obscurity amid acres of cornfields and dozens of pig farms. The county is northeast of Cincinnati, south of Columbus and southeast of Dayton. Because of this remote location, the high school teams often get overlooked by the media of those cities. However, this Friday in the second round of the Division IV OHSAA football tournament, the Clinton Massie Falcons (ranked #9 in the state) will play their county rivals, the Blanchester Wildcats (ranked 10th in Ohio), for the coveted Cider Keg and a chance to advance to the Elite Eight in the state tournament. The two schools couldn't play the Cider Keg game in 2005 and earlier this season because of scheduling difficulties after Clinton Massie left the Southern Buckeye Conference to join the South Central Ohio League. The Falcons currently hold the Cider Keg.

Despite both schools having rich football traditions, neither has had success sending players to the Division I college level. The only player from either school to sign a Division IA letter of intent for football was Jarrod Rich of Clinton Massie. Rich played at Miami and graduated last year.

The Clinton Massie Falcons (10-1) have been on an impressive roll with five straight tournament appearances and were only one game from making the state Final Four three years ago. Two Falcon stars instrumental in keeping that tournament streak alive this season are seniors Drew Frey and Tyler Sargent. Both have serious interest in becoming Bearcats.

DREW FREY

Frey is a 6' 3"/198 pound running back/receiver/safety who boasts a 4.4 forty-yard-dash time. He's as fast as he is smart with a perfect 4.0 grade point average which is good enough to make him tops in his class. Despite being versatile, fast and intelligent, he hasn't seen much Division IA recruiting interest, and he‘s had to fight the feelings of frustration. "I've had a lot of contact, but I haven't had any offers yet. I'm trying not to get discouraged. Some of the Ivy League schools have contacted me, but it's hard because they don't offer scholarships. I've also been in contact with Miami of Ohio and UC. I went to watch two of their (Cincinnati's) games and have talked to their coaches." Drew also attended the Cincinnati senior camp last summer.

Tyler Sargent is a 6' 3"/200 pound quarterback with a 4.9 forty time. Like most quarterbacks, Tyler would prefer to continue his career as a signal caller. "My heart is at quarterback. That's for sure, but I am open to the idea of switching positions if that's what the staff thought was best." Like his buddy, Tyler has also felt frustrated at times. "It's been kind of frustrating after all the camps I went to this summer trying to get my name out there. I'm still getting a lot of small talk from a lot of the MAC schools, and Holy Cross has been real interested. I think they're coming up soon. Dartmouth and Princeton have still been in contact, Cincinnati as well. I'm hoping to get that chance to keep playing. I feel like if I could get one offer then I really think I'll have some others." Tyler emphasized that he's looking at all his options-even the possibility of walking-on at Cincinnati. "My options are open right now. I'm not in any hurry to make a decision. I like Cincinnati's education. They have a great medical program which is what I'm interested in. Walking on is a possible option, but I'd like to see them make an offer too." Tyler has a 3.97 GPA. He got one B his freshman year.

Both Frey and Sargent believe their recruitment has been hurt by the seclusion of their rural school. Drew elaborated, "It hurts you a little bit when you're a smaller school out in the middle of nowhere. It is strange with the success we've had that we haven't had more players recruited, but the recruiting process seems to be a lot slower because of where our school is. Some teams (colleges) look down on us because of the size of our school and our opponents." Sargent agreed, "We're out in the middle of rural country. That's just a fact of life. I think the Akron city schools and Cincinnati schools get a lot more recognition and publicity."

The Falcons advanced to the second round of the tournament by convincingly defeating the Wyoming Cowboys (41-21), a traditional power in the Cincinnati area and a school that has produced dozens of Division IA talent. Frey scored three touchdowns and kicked five extra points in the contest. Tyler Sargent showed his dual threat capability at quarterback by throwing for a touchdown and running for two scores. Tyler described his style of play. "I think I'm more of a passer with that ability to scramble. We run a lot of option and boot passes. There aren't too many times I just drop back and throw. I'm relying on my legs quite a bit."

Some rivalries can get too hostile, but after listening to Frey and Sargent, this trophy game is more about respecting the other team. Drew Frey commented about Blanchester. "I know they're a powerhouse football team that likes to run the ball. Blanchester's a great football team as they've shown with their 11-0 record. Their program is doing very well. It'll be a respectful game for both sides. I'm just looking to get my job done. I'm not looking to run my mouth in the game." Sargent agreed, "Both teams have the utmost respect for each other, and both teams are well coached."

If the Falcons are to beat the Wildcats Friday night at Kings High School, they'll probably have to cage Blanchester's three headed monster of Corey McClanahan (RB), Austin Knight (QB) and Justin Creager (RB). These three have combined to rush for over 3,000 yards and have scored 49 touchdowns this year.

Judging by attendance, the Bearcat football program has not captured the imagination of the casual football fans in Cincinnati, but after listening to Frey and Sargent, Bearcat football is becoming more popular among the local high school players. Drew Frey gave his impressions of the Bearcat program. "It's a great program, great coaches. I love the football environment there. The field is just great. I get excited every time I go down there, and I've been there numerous times." Tyler Sargent agreed with his teammate. "I think UC is a program on the rise with the great facilities they've built and the great athletes they're bringing in. I definitely like the coaching staff. In fact, I like everything about it. You can get a great education and play great football."

Having coached on both sides of this rivalry, I know the importance of the game, but with this year's contest also being a second round state tournament game, I believe this is the biggest game ever in Clinton County. For Drew Frey and Tyler Sargent, even more is at stake. Each victory provides the winners with a better opportunity to impress a college recruiter and emerge form the corn fields of Clinton County into the bright lights of Division IA college football. Thomas Edison said, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Friday night at Kings High School they'll be plenty of overalls in the bleachers, but opportunity will be dressed in a helmet and shoulder pads and consist of 48 minutes of hard hitting work.

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