LAKE TWP. Even for a player who’s going on to compete at the next level, there’s still something special about one last shot to play high school football.
Former Lake star and incoming Walsh University freshman Zach Sturmi will get his shot to play college football beginning this fall, but before donning the gold and maroon of the Cavaliers, he and two former Lake teammates took on last chance to put on their Blue Streaks gear and represent the program they helped lead to two straight postseason berths during the Repository East-West All-Star Game.
“I’m going to Walsh, but it’s always exciting when you get to play high school football and the lights are shining on you,” Sturmi said. “You get those pregame jitters and it’s super exciting to play representing Lake one last time with some new guys and some old buddies from Lake.”
Those old buddies from Lake, Chase Knoch and Petey Flower, were Sturmi’s teammates for the West, which was coached by Canton Central Catholic head coach Jeff Lindesmith.
Fresh off leading the Crusaders to a Division V state title, Lindesmith coached a team that included Sturmi, Knoch and Flowers, but also players from some of Lake’s biggest rivals, including Jackson.
“At this point I’ve gotten to know my teammates a lot more and they’re actually really accepting of the fact that you might be playing out of position and learning something new,” Sturmi said.
One of those new teammates, former Jackson defensive back Jack Dear, and Sturmi spent quite a bit of time talking during the course of the week. Since both play in the defensive backfield, they worked together in practice often during the week.
After playing against one another throughout their high school careers, the chance to be on the same side in a game was a nice change of pace, accroding to Sturmi.
Beacause the West team played a more man-to-man style on defense instead of the zone looks with which Sturmi became familiar while playing for Lake, he found himself somewhat out of position as the week wore on, but any issues were minimized by working with teammates and coaches to learn his role in the scheme.
When the invitation to play in the game came around, Sturmi didn’t hesitate and happily accepted the offer even though it’s been more than seven months since he last played a competitive football game.
“Not playing in a while, the coaches know that and they let us jump into things a little slower,” Sturmi said. “We’ve done some conditioning after practice to get ready and in the 7-on-7 stuff at the end of practice, it helps.”
With two-hour practices each day of the week leading up to the game and one practice the previous week, there wasn’t much time to put in any sort of complicated system on either side of the ball, but the experience and joy of playing in the game tend to be more of a focal point for such all-star contests than the final score.
Still, winning the game was a nice benefit for the West, which claimed a 35-33 victory on a field goal by Tuslaw’s John Cybak with 1.1 seconds remaining. It was a fitting capper for a memorable night in which the two teams combined to set game records for most points (68) and total yards (841) in the 28-year history of the contest.
The East received a record-setting effort from Hoover’s Donny Genetin, who hauled in eight receptions for a record 205 yards, but the West was able to walk away with the win thanks to a last-minute drive led by Canton Central Catholic quarterback Jack Murphy. It was quite a finish for a game that saw both sides filled with players who hadn’t played a competitive contest since November and left fans on both sides walking away with smiles on their faces.
For some, it was the final time they would play a competitive football game of any kind. For Sturmi and others who will go on to play college football, it was still a memorable night because the Friday - or Saturday, in this case - night lights always feel a bit different when you're playing for the school you grew up attending and with friends you've known since your youth football days.
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