As week one approaches, UA looks forward to playing in The ’Shoe against defending national champs, St. Thomas Aquinas
by Bo Fisher, ’11 & Parijat Jha, ’11
On a hot, summer afternoon, instead of lying around by the pool, a team of exhausted football players are practicing with the thought of playing in The Horseshoe for the Kirk Herbstreit Classic on their minds. The Kirk Herbstreit Classic is an annual football series in which high school teams from Ohio and Texas are pinned against high school juggernauts from around the country.
On Saturday, Aug. 29, the Upper Arlington Golden Bears will take on St. Thomas Aquinas of Florida, a powerhouse that has been preseason ranked as the number one team in the nation. Not only will the Bears be playing in front of thousands of fans in the Ohio Stadium, but also the entire nation will be watching as the game is aired live on ESPN.
With the pressure on, senior quarterback Kyle Cassady looks to help the Bears shine in the national spotlight. Coming off a season-ending injury from last year, Cassady will be making his first appearance in a real game since his sophomore season.
After watching his team lose in the second round of the 2008 playoffs, Cassady looks to have a great start this season against a nationally-ranked team. This year, Cassady is the starting quarterback and has also been chosen by his team to be one of the six captains.
“I think the team looks up to the seniors and the captains, so I think it is our job to keep everyone calm and keep our confidence up,” Cassady said.
Due to his injury, preparation for the 2009 season began in August of 2008 for Cassady. Instead of working hard on the field, he worked everyday after his injury to get back on track for this season. Through his rehabilitation, Cassady said he became mentally and physically prepared for the big game. Even with the rehab, the thought of getting hurt again and jeopardizing his lacrosse and football careers lingers.
“I do not play thinking I am going to get hurt, but I am not going to lie, sometimes the thought of getting hurt is in the back of my head,” Cassady said.
Head coach Mike Golden said that if not for the injury, Cassady probably would have been the starting quarterback last year.
“We were lucky to have John Townsley [last year for quarterback], but I am really excited to have Kyle back,” Golden said.
Though Cassady has not taken a snap in a real game since his sophomore season, Golden is not as worried as some may think. He said he has prepared the Bears to enter this game with high expectations. Although this game is going to be a challenge for the Bears, Golden thinks of it as just another game.
“It is a big game, but it is one out of 10. It is not the whole season,” Golden said.
The team has worked hard through two-a-day practices and will be ready on game day. Team trainer Ron “Dubbs” Walters has played a big role in helping the team stay injury free, and he has helped them stay in condition during preseason.
“I think we are getting there. Everyone has worked really hard, but on a hot Saturday afternoon we will have to try not to let the heat get to us,” Walters said.
Last year, the Bears opened against Ohio’s top dog, Pickerington Central. While close throughout the game, the Bears sustained a 22-9 loss at the end. In many ways, the level of competition in the upcoming St. Thomas Aquinas game will be similar.
“They are very similar,” Golden said. “Both teams have kids going to Division I colleges, but since it is nationally televised [this year] and it is in the Horseshoe there is a lot more hype.”
This year, Columbus will play host to four of the Kirk Herbstreit Classic games. Besides Upper Arlington, the Classic includes other Ohio teams such as Hilliard Davidson, Dublin Coffman, Westerville South and Olentangy Liberty. Originally the Bears were supposed to play rival Pickerington Central in the Horseshoe; however, the match was changed due to the level of play of the out-of-state teams.
Drew Russell, the Associate Vice President of Horseshoe events, said he feels these will be good games and not blowouts.
“We felt UA and Pickerington Central would mount a serious challenge against the out-of-state teams,” Russell said.
He said these games would be the best match ups when pairing up teams for the Classic.
“We felt the Golden Bears would match up well with the defending national champs,” Russell said.
Pickerington Central, who made it to the final four last season, will be facing the highly-rated California team, Orange Lutheran, who is also nationally ranked.
“We are excited to once again showcase some of the best high school football teams in the country and give these young men the chance to play on a national stage,” college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. “Giving these young men the chance to play on national television in one of the best stadiums in the country is a very rewarding experience.”
The Bears are excited for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and with the spotlight on them they hope to get off to a good start in their hometown.
“I think it is an exciting challenge,” Golden said. “They have some great players. But so do we.”
Since the Golden Bears’ State Championship victory in 2000, Upper Arlington has been lost in the Ohio Central Confrence. Teams like Hilliard Davidson, Dublin Coffman and Hilliard Darby have been rising and taking fame away from UA. This could be the Bears chance to take back the fame in the OCC.
“I am excited. [Playing in the Horseshoe] has been a dream since I was little,” Cassady said. “It is a family tradition, from my grandpa to my dad, and now to me.”