FINDLAY — Two teams of all-star high school football players came from different states — or, if you asked fans, worlds.
One team ran through its practice Wednesday at the University of Findlay’s Donnell Stadium wearing blue uniforms, the other broke their final huddle blaring, “OH-IO! OH-IO!”
It was Ohio against Michigan as one of college football’s greatest rivalries spilled into high school.
Five months before Ohio State and Michigan meet in Ohio Stadium, a team of 40 recently graduated Ohio standouts will meet a roster of Michigan’s finest Saturday in the first Border Classic.
The rosters include 58 people attending FBS schools to play football and 18 bound for Big Ten programs, including two of Ohio’s top-ranked prospects, both of whom must report to Ohio State on Sunday but could not pass on the opportunity to get an early crack at Michigan. “My coach told me it was Ohio and Michigan, so that’s why I’m playing,” said four-star Cleveland Glenville wide receiver Marshon Lattimore.
Glenville cornerback Erick Smith, ranked the state’s top prospect by Rivals.com and expected to contribute immediately in Columbus, called the game a “preview of what’s to come.”
The border clash came about as a fill-in for the traditional Big 33 game, which matched the top players from Ohio with the best in Pennsylvania from 1993-2012. Pennsylvania chose not to extend the contract with Ohio, which had won the past four meetings, and replaced its neighbors to the west with Maryland.
When the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association searched for a new opponent, game director Erik Baker called Michigan “the only choice.”
“Oh yeah, it’s Ohio and The Team Up North,” said Lima Senior coach Mike Fell, who will oversee the Ohio squad. “These kids grow up with that.”
At a recent event in Toledo, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said he will follow the game with interest. Five future Spartans are on the Michigan team, including five-star Southfield defensive end Malik McDowell.
“It should be a great rivalry with all the things that’s gone on between the two states,” he said.
Organizers hope for a crowd of about 7,500 on Saturday. The states will meet again next year at a to-be-determined location in Michigan and evaluate where the series stands.
As with all summer football all-star games, there are inherent challenges.
Preparations are rushed — coaches said they would install half of their playbook in practice Wednesday and the other half today — and several of the states’ top prospects will be missing (Smith and Lattimore are the only two OSU-bound scholarship prospects in the game).
Many enrolled in college early, while others may fear the threat of injury or face pressure from their future colleges. Mike Zdebski, who will coach the Michigan team, said Notre Dame, Northwestern, and Wake Forest had all pulled kids from his roster.
“It’s tough,” Fell said. “That’s why you really appreciate the guys who are here.”
And those that were there Wednesday for the first day of practices appreciated the opportunity.
Many will represent their states for a final time, including Patrick Henry offensive lineman Cole Pettit, who will play at Virginia Tech this fall. He grew up a Buckeyes fan and hopes to be on the opposite sideline when the Hokies visit OSU this fall
“Hopefully I can get out there and fight for a position to get down there and play,” he said.
Outbound, too, is Kenton linebacker Noah Furbush, who will cross the border to play at Michigan this fall. Was it awkward to sign off practice with the “OH-IO” cheer associated with the Buckeyes?
“Yeah,” Furbush said, smiling, “but I’ve always grown up in Ohio, so ... ”
The game will also feature former Bryan punter Sean Culler, future Michigan linebacker Jared Wangler of Warren, Mich., and seven players bound for Toledo or Bowling Green.
■ What: Ohio vs. Michigan high school all-star game
■ When: 1 p.m. Saturday
■ Where: Donnell Stadium, University of Findlay
■ Tickets: $5 at the gate