Going around the county in 80 plays

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” — George Harrison.

You just don’t realize how much space there is in this county until you try to get from one side to the other.

That was the main takeaway from Tuesday, when the desire to get as many local athletes in The A-T sports section as possible led me to seven different towns in the coverage area.

It was also an attempt to get more comfortable behind the camera. Assistant sports editor Matt Nye and I will be taking more photographs this season, and I saw an opportunity to practice taking football shots, something I hadn’t really done in 15 years.

So the plan was simple.

In the afternoon, drive from Tiffin to Attica, to interview Seneca East football coach Ed Phillips on the upcoming season.

From there is was off to Bellevue to get some pictures of the Redmen’s football practice. Then, to Clyde for more gridiron photos.

From there, it was off to New Washington to get some Buckeye Central players in the paper. Then to Carey for more football. Then, finally, to Sycamore and more practice. And then I wanted to catch Calvert volleyball’s home opener, with the defending state champs hosting Danbury.

Yeah, that was a number of stops. But all the places I was visiting were in The A-T’s coverage area.

Simple, right?

Well, not really, but I was feeling confident. A few days earlier I’d stupidly ignored the tire pressure light that was blinking inside my car, figuring it was no big deal.

Then my tire essentially blew up on the Ohio turnpike, forcing me to the side of the road, then to Norwalk with the help of a friendly towing company. My biggest concern at that point was that I was on my way to my nieces sixth birthday party, and my passenger seat was full of stuffed animals. I needed the gentlemen to know the stuffed animals weren’t mine.

The point is, I got the tire fixed and made it to Hudson. My nieces were hugging their stuffed animals and I was watching the Browns preseason game and eating birthday cake in no time.

I figured Tuesday’s trek would be another a piece of cake.

I even named the trip. It was “Around the County in 80 Plays.”

Good name. Bad planning.

It wasn’t as easy as I’d expected. But when the day was over, I had a better appreciation for the athletes, the coaches, and timing.

The day started in Attica with the Phillips interview. Phillips is a wonderful subject, who once he starts going, talks with the confidence and excitement of pro wrestling legend Ric Flair before a big match.

Unlike Ric, Phillips can’t be certain how his bouts will end before they begin. But his belief in his players is as strong as any coach in the area, and he had me believing the Tigers were on their way to another strong season.

From there it was off to Bellevue, where I snapped a few pictures of the Redmen’s gridiron practice. Caleb Marshall immediately caught my eye because, well, he’s bigger than just about anyone else. The basketball standout is going out for football this year, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many passes the player would catch.

Then it was off to Clyde, where football coach Ryan Carter greeted me and told me I could go anywhere I wanted during the practice.

I nearly asked if I could play quarterback in one of the drills — I led the Browns to three Super Bowls while playing two-man-against-air pigskin with my brother in our backyard in the 1980s — but held off.

All I know is that the Sandusky Bay Conference Lake Division will be a bear this season. Columbian, Norwalk, Bellevue, Clyde, Sandusky … it’s as intriguing a league as there is.

This is where the trip took a turn.

For some reason, I didn’t think the journey from the Fliers practice to New Washington would be that long.

It was 30 miles, and took more than 40 minutes.

By the time I arrived at new coach Chad Jenson’s football practice, the sky had turned a dark gray and the wind was howling. A few photos were snapped as the sky kept growing darker. Jensen called his Bucks in, and then it started to storm. I beat the rain, though a heavy downpour arrived just as I was filling up the tank at a gas station. I was tiring, but mostly dry.

The trip to Carey was even longer — 41 miles. It was at this point that I started to think I was losing it. The Blue Devils appeared to run three pass plays in a row. I’m pretty sure the forward pass wasn’t even legal there until 2003. For a moment, I mourned the loss of the pure wishbone, and of 90 minute football games that were easy on deadline — not to mention my blood pressure.

But I couldn’t dwell on it. I figured I might make it to Mohawk in time to see the end of Eric Daniel’s team’s practice.

Perhaps because of the intense rivalry between the two schools, I always figured Mohawk and Carey were closer than they were. But the two are 15 miles apart — which seems longer, especially when the radio station you’re listening to is playing the Carpenters.

Finally, I reached Sycamore, where I was greeted by sunlight and lightning.

Welcome to northwest Ohio in August.

There wasn’t a football practice, but there was a Mohawk-Columbian volleyball match. I figured I’d take the camera in and get some more practice. Finally, after getting some warmup pictures, I headed back to Tiffin.

I was just in time to see Calvert polish off Danbury. It occurred to me that if one thing has changed about the Senecas program in the last year, it’s that they — and everyone else — know how good they are. No one can know if another state title is in the offing. But we do know it’s out there.

Finally, back to The A-T.

Seven of my photos ended up in Wednesday’s section.

I don’t think I had seven pictures in the paper in my first 12 years here.

Here is the final rundown:

Eight stops.

Nearly six hours.

One-hundred-thirty-nine miles.

Four counties (Seneca, Crawford, Sandusky, Wyandot).

It was a proud day in some respects.

Until it hit me.

Athletes do this sort of thing several times a week. Coaches do, too. Sometimes we see the results, but forget about the drives, the practices, the sacrifices.

And players work a lot harder on the field than I did with my camera.

I saw probably only about 80 plays between all the football and volleyball that day.

But I didn’t see the driving, the film study, and everything else that went into them.

There was plenty to see in that journey. But I couldn’t help but think about all that happened in the space between.

Zach Baker is the sports editor for The Advertiser-Tribune.

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