Wayne football is stepping into the national spotlight to begin the upcoming season.
On Wednesday the Warriors head coach Jay Minton was informed Wayne will be part of the seven-game GEICO ESPN High School Football Kickoff that will be televised on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU from Aug. 25-27.
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Wayne landed the only Sunday game on Aug. 27 at Pine-Richland High School in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania. The season-opening contest will be televised live at 1 p.m. on ESPN.
“The experience and exposure for the kids and the program and the community and Southwest Ohio, it’s a great opportunity that I don’t think you can deny your players,” said Minton.
Promoter Eric Horstman allowed Wayne to opt out of hosting a Backyard Blitz opener. In return, the Warriors will have a short recovery week. Wayne is at Olentangy Liberty just five days later in a Week 2 game. Liberty lost to Cleveland St. Ignatius in a Division I state semifinal last season.
“We’ve got a short stretch there,” Minton said, “but if that’s the level where our program is supposed to be, then we should be able to do it or at least be competitive.”
All the games will feature players ranked among the ESPN 300, its top players for the Class of 2018. Wayne seniors making the list are defensive end Alex Reigelsperger (No. 149) and receiver L’Christian “Blue” Smith (No. 195). Riegelsperger is verbally committed to the University of Kentucky. Smith is uncommitted, but has an abundance of offers, including Ohio State.
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Pine-Richland features quarterback Phil Jurkovec (No. 116), who’s committed to Notre Dame. He’s considered the next great QB to emerge from Western Pennsylvania, a traditional hotbed for high school talent, especially quarterbacks.
Among the more notable quarterbacks that area has produced are Joe Montana (Ringgold), Joe Namath (Beaver Falls), Jim Kelly (East Brady), Dan Marino (Pittsburgh), Johnny Unitas (Pittsburgh), George Blanda (Youngwood), Babe Parilli (Rochester), Johnny Lujack (Connellsville) and Terrelle Pryor (Jeannette).
Wayne, 11-1-1 last season, was in prime position to contend for an elusive Division I state championship and appeared headed to another showdown with unbeaten Colerain. The Southwest District powers were 1-2 (Colerain winning) in the final Associated Press state poll, but both were upset in early rounds.
Colerain was knocked out 29-23 in overtime in Week 12 by eventual state champ Cincinnati St. Xavier. Wayne lost 17-14 at Pickerington Central in a regional final the next week. Wayne was the D-I state runner-up in 2014-15 and has lost all four of its state championship games.
Located 12 miles north of Pittsburgh and a public school, Pine-Richland was 7-5 last season, losing 28-27 at Lakewood St. Edward in its opener. The Rams were a PIAA Class AAAA state runner-up in 2014. Pine-Richland has since been reclassified as Class AAAAAA (largest).
It’ll be at least the sixth time Wayne will have played on an ESPN network, including three times when QB Braxton Miller was a senior in 2014.
“It really adds to your summer conditioning program,” Minton said. “When they know you’re going to play a nationally caliber team on national TV, you better be ready to play that sucker and play their best.”
GEICO ESPN FOOTBALL KICKOFF
Who: Wayne at Pine-Richland H.S.
When: 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 27.
Where: Gibsonia, Pa., 12 miles north of Pittsburgh.
TV: ESPN (live).