Tradition, prospects on display in Ohio

Mark Miller knows the tradition is alive and is purple-clad. He felt the passion Friday afternoon, when Cincinnati's Elder High School staged an elaborate pep rally.

Alex Welch, a Notre Dame-bound tight end and teammate, agrees.

"Football is talked about every day around here; you can't escape it," he said.

The traditions found in the Cincinnati area span generations.

There's Opening Day of Major League Baseball with the Reds, the appetizing eats of Skyline Chili, Montgomery Inn Ribs and Glier's goetta, and riverboats on the Ohio River.

High school football might be in the hearts of Cincinnatians, with good reason: In any given year, there could be multiple nationally ranked teams and future pros within a 20-mile radius.

The tradition of Friday night lights gave way to a Sunday afternoon matinee at the nation's most storied high school stadium. Elder Stadium, or "The Pit," hosted the ESPN cameras, showcasing a taste of Cincinnati football.

As usual, Elder's all-male student body wore purple, comprising the vaunted Purple Nation.

"This might be the coolest game ever at The Pit," said head coach Doug Ramsey, Elder's winningest football coach (111-35), who's now in his 13th season.

Miller threw for 225 yards and two touchdowns, guiding Elder, ranked No. 3 in the ESPN RISE FAB 50, to a 20-7 victory over crosstown rival Colerain before an overflow crowd of 13,000 at The Pit.

Elder (2-0), which advanced to Ohio's large-school classification (Division I) final last season, is looking like a return trip to Canton is in the works.

In spite of dropping two straight games, Colerain isn't far off the postseason radar, with eight winnable games.

"High school is not what we do, it's who we are," Colerain coach Tom Bolden said.

Sunday's game spotlighted several prominent players from both teams, including eight ranked by ESPNU's Scouts Inc.

  • Colerain's Tyon Dixon (ESPNU's No. 70 outside linebacker) is headed to Louisville, while classmate Greg Tabar, an athletic, dual-threat quarterback, is fielding offers from Middle-American Conference schools like Akron, Toledo and Kent State. Running back Trayion Durham is an elite junior.

  • Welch is the No. 12 tight end prospect for the Elder Panthers, while Tony Miliano is the No. 1 kicker in the Class of 2010. Indiana has verbals from lineman Pete Bachman (6-5, 240) and wide receiver Tim O'Connor, and Miller has had several looks from BCS schools.

Both offenses struggled. Welch didn't play a big role in the opening half, as Elder led 10-7. The Panthers (2-0) took the lead late in the second quarter when Miller hit Selby Chidemo on a 10-yarder.

After being shut out for more than five quarters this season, Colerain finally found the end zone on fourth-and-1 when Durham scooted 23 yards for a 7-3 edge. Miliano opened the scoring with 12 seconds left in the opening quarter, kicking a 22-yard field goal.

Elder added seven points in third quarter when Miller fired a 29-yard TD strike to O'Conner, and Miliano nailed a 36-yarder with 11:48 remaining to cap the scoring.

Colerain threatened on two drives in the final 12 minutes, but its offense sputtered. The Cardinals, who averaged 35 points a year ago, have scored seven points this season.

Colerain, known for its triple option offense, totaled 271 yards, including 130 from Tabar (105 rushing, 25 passing) but converted only 1 of 10 on third down. Dixon carried 13 times for 98 yards and a TD.

The game was a celebration of Cincinnati high school football, most notably the west side of town. The schools are only 25 minutes apart, with most of the players having bumped pads since the junior leagues.

Cincinnati might be the epicenter of Ohio prep football.

"Cincinnati and Cleveland are the strongest areas of the state," said ESPNU national analyst Bill Conley, who previously coached and was the recruiting coordinator at Ohio State. "Cincinnati has a good mix of private and public schools."

The 0-2 Cardinals, the traditional public school power in southwestern Ohio, might be down, but not out.

They'll need to regroup in a hurry when Manual (Louisville, Ky.) visits in their home opener Friday. Colerain then embarks on the Greater Miami Conference schedule on Sept. 18 against Lakota West (West Chester), considered the conference co-favorite.

The Cardinals have traditionally padded their record during conference play, having won or tied for the past nine regular-season championships, including the past four outright.

"This game [against Elder] is normally played in the playoffs or at a larger stadium," Bolden said. "Today was special. We played at The Pit and it was on ESPN."

The next time they'll tee it up against Colerain will be in Week 2 next season, unless the rivalry is extended at the Region 4 playoffs in November.

Otherwise, it's only 364 days to go.

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA Today, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys' and girls' basketball. He also worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, for which he ran the Gatorade National Player of the Year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.