NORTH CANTON For his entire football career, Eric Sarbaugh has been looking to defeat the Canton McKinley Bulldogs and GlenOak Golden Eagles. For one night only, he was looking to partner with them for a win.
Sarbaugh and several former McKinley and GlenOak players were teammates on the East team in the annual Canton Repository East-West All-Star Game, played Saturday night at Bob Commings Field at GlenOak High School.
In the past, the game has been played at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, but the massive renovation project on the facility isn’t quite done, so it shifted to GlenOak this season. Sarbaugh spent a week practicing with and getting to know foes against whom he’s played in some intense games over the years.
“I’ve enjoyed getting to know a lot of the other players from different schools and a lot of them, I didn’t even get to play against,” Sarbaugh said.
One of the traditions for the game is for players on each team to swap helmet decals during the week of practices leading up to kickoff, resulting in colorful, creative makeovers for those helmets by the start of the game.
Often, players from teams that are the most bitter rivals during the season end up swapping decals and the sight of a rival decal on a player’s helmet can induce a double take or two from fans.
“Kids bring them to practice and trade them … I never thought I’d put a McKinley Bulldog or a GlenOak ‘G’ on my helmet, but it doesn’t look too bad,” Sarbaugh said with a laugh.
Practices began eight days before the game with a Friday session, followed by two-hour practices in the week leading up to the game. Learning the defense and scheme wasn’t difficult, as the rules of the game limit what coaches can do in terms of alignment and playcallIng. As a kicker and defensive back - two spots he played for Hoover - Sarbaugh was able to pick up his temporary new scheme quickly.
During practice, Sarbuagh got a chance to talk to players such as former GlenOak standouts J.J. Olivera and Jake Steiner, along with Brody Hahn of Louisville. Spending time with unfamiliar faces showed Sarbaugh that he had quite a bit in common with them and being a part of the game was also a chance to continue a family tradition.
“My first reaction when they asked me to play was that I definitely wanted to because my two older brothers both played in the game,” he said, referencing brothers A.J. (2010) and Ryan (2012), who both played for the East. “They said playing in the game was a worthwhile experience.”
St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Badre Bardawil led the East team, which led much of the way before West 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 Sarbaugh's former Hoover teammate 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 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.
Although Sarbaugh will play football at Mount Union this fall, the experience of playing in his final high school game was one that left a distinct impression. Even players who go on to have successful college careers often look back on their high school days as some of their most fun times playing football, so when that ride comes to an end, it’s cause to stop and reflect.
“It’s bittersweet because it’s the last time I’ll ever be able to put on my Hoover helmet and play high school football with my friends,” Sarbaugh said.
Even if that final game came with some new faces by his side and some unfamiliar decals on his helmet, it was still an opportunity to say one final farewell to high school football before turning the page to what comes next.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB