"We had one practice, and every single time I wanted to hit somebody,” Leroux said of the preparation for Saturday’s North-South All-Star Classic. “But it was like, 'Wait, it's just one practice, you can't hit anyone yet.' Every time I put the helmet and shoulder pads on, I feel at home.”
Leroux is one of three Norwalk seniors, along with Trevon Raymore and Kaden Livingston, who will play for the North team in the Division I-III game, scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday at Massillon Paul Brown Tiger Stadium. Adding to the honor, the head coach for the North team is Norwalk head coach Todd Fox.
First held in 1946, the North-South Classic is the nation's oldest-running high school football All-Star game. The Ohio High School Football Coaches Association runs the event, which is for the top seniors in high school. The game boasts a legacy of top athletes who have played over the years, including Pro Football Hall of Famers Len Dawson, Roger Staubach, Jack Lambert, Alan Page, Larry Csonka and Paul Warfield.
Leroux and Raymore are headed to Bowling Green State University as preferred walk-ons in the fall, while Livingston will play at Baldwin Wallace University. And while the game serves as an opportunity for the three to play together again under Fox — all four also agreed it serves as one last chance to reflect on a historic 2018 season.
The Truckers went from 3-7 in 2017 to 10-4 last fall, advancing to the Division III state semifinals for the first time in 44 years.
"It's one last ride together, you can say,” said Livingston, who was special mention All-Ohio after he caught 32 passes for 605 yards and four touchdowns as a receiver in 2018. “Right after the season, me and Trevon lifted together for a while and we were talking about how we never pictured where we were at in the playoffs. We talked about it when we were little, but never pictured where we were or what we had done until about a month after it was over.
"I'm just trying to meet some new people and get some new connections, play some more football I guess,” Livingston of Saturday’s game. “This game gives me a head start on college, getting to play with top talent. It's exciting to look forward to."
Raymore set program records last season for rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns in a single game — and is the all-time leader in career rush attempts at Norwalk. His 2,518-yard, 27-touchdown season was good for the All-Ohio second team, and is second only to Breck Turner in the program record book.
"It will be a good test to see if I still have my abilities to compete against some of the best,” Raymore said. “I also found out some of us are in another All-Star game in the summer, so I’m definitely excited to get to play with these guys again in a Norwalk uniform.
“And with Coach Fox, it will be a familiar voice — and we're already going to know what the base offense and defense looks like going in,” he added. “It's going to be a bit easier to have a lead on all the running backs on the roster. I get to help teach them.”
The jump from 3-7 to 10-4 marks the biggest single-season turnaround in Norwalk football’s history. The upcoming 2019 season is the program’s 125th season.
"When we were younger, we always talked about our senior year being our year to make an impact,” Raymore said. “We were 7-2 as freshman, then 6-4 and 3-7, it kept going backwards. We wanted to go out strong.”
Livingston, the program record holder in blocked kicks, cited the family aspect of the program as to why the Truckers were able to turn things around so quickly.
"Coach Fox really brought with him that everybody is one,” he said. “We're all brothers, we're all family. And it all kind of came together that way on and off the field. It really clicked that I can do everything the guy next to me can do if we both just work at it with the same effort.”
Meanwhile, Leroux is coming off a senior season that saw him earn All-Ohio first team honors at defensive end. He had 95 tackles and 16 sacks to go with three fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown.
"I just want to compare myself and see where I am,” Leroux said. “Obviously we're the lowest division there for our game. I really want to show what it means to be a good football player, and not just some kid at a Division III school.
"Then visiting Bowling Green for the spring game last week, it just gets you excited,” he added. “It's awesome anytime you get to hang out with these guys, but then obviously there is going to be a lot of talent there as well. We get to compete with and against some of the best.”
As for Fox, the game is meaningful for him because he was voted as the coach by his peers.
“I've coached in the one at Lexington that used to be at Mansfield as well as the Fostoria one,” said Fox, who spent eight years at Tiffin Calvert prior to Norwalk. “Those ones were great, but this one is different, obviously. I get to coach our guys one last time, and that's always a good experience.
“Selfishly, it's an honor that you're selected by peers to be a head coach in the longest-running All-Star game there is,” he added. “And then the added bonus of our Norwalk guys on the team. We have some guys going to play at Michigan State and other Big Ten and Division I schools. It's just a great experience.”
While noting offseason workouts are in full swing, and school is out in a little over a month, Fox also has found himself reflective on 2018 this week.
"We have tried to push forward and move beyond last year,” he said. “But every once in a while you have to sit back and realize last season was something we’ll never forget, and it's something to enjoy.”
Tickets to Saturday’s game cost $10 and can be purchased at the game. One ticket is good for the Div. I-III game, and the Div. IV-VII game, scheduled for 12 p.m.
“This game is something where the association does a great job of taking care of the coaches and players while we are there,” Fox added. “It's just a great experience for us these next few days."