Derek Taylor: Absent stars stole show at N-S media day
INSTITUTE, W.Va. - There's a phrase where I'm from that indicates a person occupying the attention of another without even trying.
It's called "Renting space for free," and it's exactly what Ryan Switzer, Elijah Wellman and Eugene German are doing this week.
The trio -- and let's face facts, Switzer is the crown jewel of the three -- starred at the North-South All-Star Football Classic media luncheon at West Virginia State University on Tuesday without even being in the room.
Heck, two of the three aren't even in the state, and none of their names were mentioned in official remarks.
Yet, the respective winners of the Kennedy Award (Switzer), Huff Award (Wellman) and Hunt Award (German) from the 2012 season -- none of whom are playing in the game -- found their identities laced throughout comments made by game organizers and coaches throughout the early afternoon.
It began with Mark Montgomery, who stepped to the podium inside the Wilson Student Union at State to make a bold and proud proclamation.
"I'd like to welcome everyone, and congratulations to you guys for being the best football players in West Virginia," said Montgomery, the assistant director for the game.
"I mean it. If you're not here, I don't consider you one of the best."
It wasn't simply the inaccuracy of the statement that raised eyebrows. It was the venom with which it was delivered.
The statement was made in front of an assembly of both teams that will play in Saturday's game at University of Charleston Stadium. The sports world is full of rabble-rousing rhetoric used in order to excite teams and individual athletes about one thing or another in order to maximize their performance.
In this case, however, there were also plenty of people within earshot of the words who had no stake in anyone's performance and no interest in the success of the game itself as a moneymaker or even as an historic part of Mountain State sports lore.
North Coach Jodi Mote, who played in the game at the end of his days at St. Marys High School and now serves as the Blue Devils' coach, was less brash about the subject but nevertheless "went there."
"People have asked because a kid didn't come, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. These guys that are here, both the North and the South, what they're going to experience this week is very special.
"Our society is all about 'me.' These guys -- at least I've been around this group for just a short time -- it's not about them. It's about their team and that says a lot about the future of society. It's not all bleak, so to speak."
Mote didn't leave things off at that point.
"I want to address this because reporters have asked me, about colleges and stuff. One, I think that's a question you need to ask college coaches, why they would ask a young man not to be here," he said.
This brings to mind another phrase, typically used by my kids.
"That makes me want to punch myself in the face."
For the record, each of the state's three major award winners is in summer classes at his respective college of choice, where he will continue his football career. Switzer is in Chapel Hill, N.C., at the University of North Carolina. Wellman is in Morgantown at WVU and German is in classes at Charlotte.
That's what often happens when a prep player signs a Division I scholarship offer for football: They enroll early to get a jump start on being able to work out with the team throughout the summer, prior to the start of fall practices.
George Washington's Dustin Crouser? He starts summer classes at Charlotte next week, where he will enroll in its second summer semester.
The only times a player who is actually participating in the game was mentioned during the press conference by organizers or coaches was when those officials were asked specific questions about those players. That amounted to two mentions. Otherwise, more emphasis was placed on the fact that some top-tier players are not participating.
It is a disservice to those who are actually taking part in the game for that to occur.
The vitriol and misleading information emanating from the North-South camp regarding Switzer has been going on since at least March. During the basketball State Tournament I ran into one North-South worker who told me rosters should soon be released, and she noted with indignation that the Parade All-American wasn't playing in the game.
"Well, I probably could have told you that a few months ago," I said at the time.
It was fairly well known that Switzer intended to leave Charleston as soon as possible to join the Tar Heels program. In fact, he was in Chapel Hill for class before returning to town so he could walk with his class at GW graduation. He finishes his first semester of classes next week.
The N-S rep couldn't stop herself, though.
"Well, a lot of people are mad at him anyway, after he said he didn't want anything to do with WVU," she said.
For anyone who actually followed the recruitment of Ryan Switzer closely, the wild inaccuracy of that statement is hard to fully appreciate. Yet, there was a North-South rep spewing it to apparently anyone who caught her attention and was willing to hear her talk.
There has been a paradigm shift for West Virginia students that apparently most in positions of authority on the North-South committee apparently do not understand. From 1990 to 2008, the percentage of West Virginians with bachelor's degrees increased from 12.3 percent to 17.1 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Those numbers do not include the considerable amount of students who leave the state after college.
The percentage of Mountain State students that finish high school jumped dramatically in that time period, from 66 to 82.2 percent.
Most do not pick up their high school diploma and walk into a coalmine or chemical plant the next day. Most, in fact, do go off to college. So, while the North-South game will be the last time many players suit up to play full-contact football, it is not likely to be the crowning achievement of that young man's life.
In fact, one should hope that it will not be. Disparaging young men for not wanting to participate in a game that -- in its current calendar position -- has far outlived its usefulness as a recruiting tool because they have other, higher priorities is petty and self-serving.
Ironically, it's the very things that Mote claimed the North-South game not to be.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at email@example.com or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT