The Times West Virginian

June 20, 2014

COLUMN: North-South football game turns enemies to familiar faces

By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — It’s no secret that there’s some bad blood between the county football teams and the teams that surround Marion County.

But as players from all over the Mountain State join together to play in one last football game for the 2013-14 season, rivalries can be pushed aside as newly formed friendships settle into the forefront.

Many rivalries across the state hold a rich history.

Everyone knows about the East-West rivalry between East Fairmont and Fairmont Senior, coined the “oldest rivalry in the state of West Virginia.”

And some locals might even remember the year 1987, which pitted North Marion against Lincoln in a bitter rivalry that ended in a brawl that canceled the series until the two teams were forced to meet again two seasons ago.

While those rivalries may not be dispelled just yet, they’re being put on hold for some of Marion County’s top football players while in the southern part of the state for the North-South Football Classic, held Saturday at Laidley Field in Charleston.

North Marion features Chase Banker and Ryan Elliott; Fairmont Senior features Vincent Delligatti and Andrew Summers; and East Fairmont features Matt Hopwood and Jared Harr on the North team’s roster.

And the coach for the North squad?

None other than East Fairmont’s Bill Haddox.

For both Hopwood and Harr, the familiarity helped ease into the week.

“It’s been good. A lot like our practices at East Fairmont,” Hopwood said. “It makes it a lot easier. I can help the other players out and help them learn it quicker.”

But for guys like Banker and Delligatti, you’d think things might be a little awkward, playing for a coach who has coached the team you were taught to always want to beat.

As different as it’s been, though, the rivals are taking it in stride and have found out that it’s not so bad.

“Billy Haddox is the man. (I don’t care) what anyone says,” Delligatti tweeted during the week of training camp in Institute.

The North Marion guys agree.

“Coach Haddox is a pretty fun guy. There’s never a dull moment,” Banker said. “He likes his trick plays. Everyone knows that. So that’s a little bit of a change for me since I come from a smashmouth offense. But he knows what’s expected out of everyone, and he’ll have us ready for Saturday. That’s what counts.”

Aside from playing for a rival coach, Banker has been reunited with a personal rival of his, receiver Dillon O’Dell from Lincoln.

Just two seasons ago, Banker and O’Dell had a heated rivalry on the field, battling to be the Big 10 Conference’s top pass-catcher, each of them finishing the season with 63 receptions but O’Dell coming out on top with 921 yards to Banker’s 678.

Now, though, the two have been rooming together at training camp.

“We hit it off pretty well actually,” Banker said. “I grew up my whole life and was expected to hate teams like Lincoln and then he and I had that battle for receptions, but we have a lot in common.”

While the two were one-time rivals, they’ve learned to form a bond that only two football players can share, highlighting Banker’s week on the field for the last time.

“The best experience is that everyone I thought I hated, we’re pretty good friends now,” he said. “We’ve all come together pretty well. There’s no beef and hard feelings. We went from rivals to teammates.”

Email Matt Welch at mwelch@timeswv.com or follow him on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.