BY CHRIS RAMBO
BELOIT-Before departing this summer to play football for the United States Air Force Academy, West Branch senior Connor Sharp will have the chance to play a little more at the high school level.
Sharp will suit up for the 68th annual North-South Classic on April 27 at Dayton's Welcome Stadium. It is the longest running high school football all-star game in the United States.
"I've played in all-star games in the past, but I've always thought about playing in this particular game," said Sharp, who will play center and guard in the Division I-III game. "It will be a really cool opportunity."
Sharp has already gone through two practices with the other players, with a third scheduled for this weekend at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
"All of the players here are really good," Sharp said," It's been a lot of fun to go against them."
Sharp earned his way onto the squad with a senior season that saw him help West Branch running back Brenden Wells set school rushing and touchdown records. The Warriors captured their first Northeastern Buckeye Conference title in 11 years as Sharp and Wells being named to the Division III All-Ohio second team.
"It was really cool to be a part of that team," Sharp said. "I'll always have a lot of memories from what we were able to accomplish. Our senior class will go down as the one that brought West Branch football back."
Collegiate offers began to trickle in for Sharp during his junior season, with the only full scholarship offer coming from Youngstown State. But Sharp-whose father was an Air Force pilot for 10 years-had wanted to join the Air Force for quite some time. By October of his senior year, having had no prior contact with the Air Force Academy, Sharp mailed in a questionnaire hoping to draw some interest.
"I figured it was worth a shot," Sharp said, "Being in the Air Force is something that I always wanted to do, and if I get to play football that's even better."
The Falcons were indeed interested in Sharp, offering him a scholarship on Jan. 30, which he immediately accepted.
To stay in shape for football, Sharp-as he has done every offseason-competed in wrestling and track for the Warriors. Earlier this year, Sharp made his third appearance in the state tournament, finishing fourth in the 285-pound weight class.
This spring, as a shot put and discus thrower, Sharp has already collected multiple first-place finishes.
"Track and wrestling definitely will help me out for football this fall," Sharp said, "Both sports help me stay strong and in good condition."
Sharp has yet to visit the Air Force campus in Colorado Springs, Colo. His first trip will come in July when he starts football practice. But before moving on to the stringent Academy life, Sharp is ready to enjoy the rewards of his high school career.
"I'm just hoping to have a good time playing the game," Sharp said. "These are some of the best players in Ohio that I'm playing with, and we've gotten to practice in a lot of cool places. It's been a great experience."