The Suburbanite
  • Jackson five to represent Polar Bears in East-West Game

  • There will be a decidedly purple and gold feel to Saturday's 2013 CSE Federal Credit Union Repository-Pro Football Hall of Fame East-West All-Star Game at Fawcett Stadium.

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  • There will be a decidedly purple and gold feel to Saturday's 2013 CSE Federal Credit Union Repository-Pro Football Hall of Fame East-West All-Star Game at Fawcett Stadium.
    Specifically, the sideline of the West squad will be steeped in Jackson colors as head coach Beau Balderson and four of his players will comprise a large portion of the team. For the players, the game represents one chance to reunite on a football field before they head off to college and one last chance to put on their Jackson helmet. For Balderson, it's an opportunity to coach four of his players again and see them have a chance to display their skills against the best Stark County has to offer.
    For one of those players, receiver Eian Elsass, playing in the game is the culmination of a dream he's had since he was old enough to be a football fan. The all-time leader in receptions and yards for Jackson has attended many East-West games over the years and is excited about the chance to be on the field with his teammates again.
    "It's really a top honor," Elsass said. "I have been dreaming about playing in game for a long time and I've been going every year since i was little, so it's a great honor. I'm also looking forward to playing one more game with guys from Jackson and playing with a lot of the guys I have played against in my high school career."
    Balderson recalled Elsass' dedication throughout his high school career as a reason for his record-setting run as a pass catcher for the Polar Bears.
    "He was one of those kids who, from his freshman year, never missed a workout or lifting session. It was unbelievable. He also has the best hands of anyone I've ever coached and as good of a player as he is, he's an even better person," Balderson said.
    Elsass will play for Malone this fall and will have about three weeks off from football after the East-West game before he reports for the start of fall practice for the Pioneers.
    He'll be joined on the West team by Zach Hilbert, Roman Miller and Brett Pinson. Hilbert is headed for Wittenberg this fall to continue his football and academic careers and played safety and running back for Jackson last season as the team went 5-5 and had an outside look at the playoffs entering the final weeks of the 2012 season. The three-year letterwinner had a "solid year at strong safety," according to Balderson.
    Miller also played on both sides of the ball and like Hilbert, was a three-year letterwinner. On the defensive side of the ball, he played end and offensively, he filled the tight end role well as a pass catcher and blocker.
    Page 2 of 3 - "Roman Miller is a kid we would have definitely been hard-pressed to replace," Balderson said.
    Pinson, unlike his three East-West teammates from Jackson, has not been playing football for his entire high school career. A member of the school's successful basketball team, Pinson was urged to come out for football for his senior year by his friends and made the most of his 10 games on the gridiron, finding success running the ball and adapting to the sport quickly with help from his teammates.
    "I only got to coach him for one year, but he is very quick and shifty and had a lot of raw athletic ability," Balderson observed. "It takes a while to learn, but (Eian) Elsass and others helped him learn quickly. He did it really well."
    Pinson will attend Capital University this fall.
    Despite the exhibition nature of the game, neither Balderson nor Elsass expects any let-up or half-hearted effort on the field. Such play is a common sight in the NFL's much-maligned Pro Bowl every February and even in some college all-star games, but Balderson is looking for all-out competition from his roster.
    "In high school all-star games, I think you see the kids go 100 percent. They're going at it and they don't care that it's an exhibition game," Balderson said.
    "It's going to be really different and we haven't played in a high school game since last year, but I'm expecting it to be real up-tempo," Elsass added.
    Six days of practice lead up to the game and the plan for the West is to focus almost entirely on learning the simplified offensive and defensive game plans Balderson and his staff have crafted for the contest. With many of the county's best players in uniform, working on fundamentals in practice isn't a focal point and the bigger challenge for the coaches will be narrowing down the playbook to create a game plan that is basic enough for the players to learn in a condensed period of time.
    Figuring out where to put players who might have played the same position as one another for their respective high school teams but now must line up together is also difficult, so the West coaches have discussed which side of the ball their two-way players are best on. Balderson will also draw on past coaching experiences in local all-star games as he prepares for his first chance to be the head coach in this particular game.
    All five Jackson players chosen for the game (Charlie Dear was selected but was unable to participate) were "pretty excited, no doubt about it," Balderson said.
    He too will relish the chance to lead them into competition one final time, having known Elsass, Miller and Hilbert since they came into the program as freshmen. The battles of each season also build a bond between coach and player and that connection is clear as Balderson reflects on his all-star quartet.
    Page 3 of 3 - "All four are special kids and this gives you one last opportunity to coach these kids you've worked with," Balderson continued "Anything you can get that's positive for your program, that puts it out there, that's a plus."
    The Jackson coaches have pushed their returning players to attend the game and support their former teammates, with their all-star contingent including two of last season's captains.
    There is, however, one member of the Jackson family who will hasn't been quite as enthusiastic about the game. Balderson and his wife are expecting their first child in July and as Balderson observed with a laugh, his wife "hasn't been thrilled" with him having to commit more time to football as they ready for the arrival of their first born. Once the final horn sounds, he will have time to dive into dad mode full-time - for at least a few weeks, until practice begins for the coming high school season.
    Reach Andy at 330-899-2872 or andy.harris@TheSuburbanite.com.
    On Twitter: @aharrisBURB

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