But that also made Norwalk High School head football coach Todd Fox appreciate the experience even more.
Fox coached the North team in Saturday’s 74th annual Ohio North-South Classic at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon — the longest-running high school All-Star game in the nation.
Coaching in the Division I-III game featuring some of the top senior high school players in the state, Fox and the North team — which featured three Norwalk players — lost a close 35-33 game to the South team.
Norwalk’s Tche Leroux, Kaden Livingston and Trevon Raymore — three All-Ohioans who will play collegiately — appeared in the game for the North team.
“Overall it was just a great experience for everyone, including myself and our players, to be surrounded by so many great players and coaches,” Fox said. “It was neat to watch the process develop and see everyone play a great game together in such a short time.”
The North team had five turnovers, including three in a four-possession stretch at the end of the first half, that proved too costly.
The South team led 35-21 in the second half, but Fox’s North team nearly came back with a pair of TDs. They cut the deficit to 35-33 with just over 10 minutes left, but got no closer despite a few changes.
Cincinnati Winton Woods standout receiver Raequan Prince was the Offensive Player of the Game for the South with six catches for 151 yards and two touchdowns. The North Offensive Player of the Game was Massillon receiver Tre’Von Morgan — a Michigan State recruit. He also had five catches, totaling 93 yards and a TD.
Guiding Fox’s North team was Canton McKinley quarterback Alijah Curtis, who will head to West Point to play for Army. The Norwalk coach also turned to Berea-Midpark QB Trevor Bycznski. The University of Buffalo recruit was 14-of-32 for 322 yards with three TDs.
The MVP of the game was Cincinnati Colerain linebacker Ivan Pace Jr., who is headed to Miami University.
Those were just some of the big recruits playing in the game — admittedly a concern for Fox entering the game.
“As a coach, my biggest fear going in was having these kids who were the top players on their team be able to come together, be selfless and work together as a unit,” he said. “They weren’t going to have all the touches and be the main focus point. But it proved why those 35 guys were chosen.
“Everyone that was here was in this together,” he added. “And when we take a step back, we’re going to see a lot of those players on the next level on Saturdays, and you never know — maybe even some who will play on Sundays. There is a long tradition of players from this game reaching the NFL. It was a lot of work in four days, but a great experience.”
Fox talked about what he saw from Leroux, Livingston and Raymore. Leroux and Raymore will head to Bowling Green State University together as preferred walk-ons, while Livingston is headed to Div. III Baldwin Wallace University.
“The best thing was that our three competed with the best kids at that level,” Fox said. “It shows their hard work and things they have done has put them in a position to play at the level of elite players.
“The roster was limited to 35 kids, and we were able to have three of our guys compete really well,” he added. “It was exciting for them and we’re excited for their futures. Also, hopefully it gives the kids in our program a level or bar to keep chasing and competing at to get better.”
A big reason Fox and the three players were chosen for the game was because of Norwalk’s historic 2018 season. The Truckers reached the Div. III state semifinals, where they fell to Kettering Alter.
Norwalk went 10-4 overall, winning three playoff games in a single-season for the first time in program history. It was the first state semifinal appearance in 44 years, and the biggest single-season turnaround (3-7 to 10-4) in the 124-year history of the program.
In 2019, Norwalk will bring back roughly 15 of the 22 starters on offense and defense from last season, as well as standout kicker Garrison Smith (57 PATs, 8 field goals), punter Nathan Adelman (37.3 average) and kick and punt returners Jake Sommers and Ethan Phillips.
Notably, the Truckers will have junior QB Garrett Chapin (2,154 yards, 14 TDs) and the entire offensive line back — led by All-Ohio first-team selection and Ohio State recruit Trey Leroux (6-8, 335) at left tackle.
The 2019 season opener is on Aug. 30 at Mansfield Senior.
“Summer is coming up fast, and we’re excited to see what some of our teams are doing now in baseball, tennis and track after a strong winter with basketball and wrestling in the SBC and beyond. We’re just trying to continue to build that winning culture.”
Fox said the football team will mainly focus on lifting and conditioning through much of June, with one exception — a 7 vs. 7 tournament on June 14 held at the BGSU campus.
“We want to try and give Coach (Steve) Gray and the basketball team a lot of the extra stuff in June,” he said. “We were invited to that tournament, and it’s their first one of this nature. They (BGSU) have two of our players from this All-Star game going there, and their coaches there will be able to look at our other players — so we wanted to take that opportunity for the kids.
“Coach Gray was gracious enough to give us that day,” Fox added. “I do feel bad, we would like to leave that for basketball, but we’re going to go that day. But we’re excited. There is a new vibe … last year we weren’t sure what we could be and what we wanted to be, and now, it’s more of, ‘Let’s go.’”