By ANDREW WILLIAMS
“There’s no place like home,” as Judy Garland’s character Dorothy Gale reminds us at the end of the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.
Of the more than 70 former high school football standouts from Ohio and Michigan that departed from their respective homes Wednesday morning for Findlay and the inaugural Ohio-Michigan Border Classic All-Star game, only one arrived at a place he will call home for the next four years.
University of Findlay commit Rico Lewis is getting an early taste of his future as players stay in on-campus dormitories and utilize UF practice facilities this week in advance of Saturday’s 1 p.m. game at Donnell Stadium, where his college career will begin in a few months.
“It feels exciting,” Lewis said. “I get to play where I’m going to be calling my home for the next four years and it’s going to be exciting. It’s an early experience to be away from home to come to school to interact with coaches and players.”
The Detroit East English Village product was identified by Walled Lake Western coach Mike Zdebski, who is leading the Michigan squad, and other members of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association as one of the top 40 players in the state.
“I feel honored to play in this game with the best players out of Michigan,” Lewis said. “And I’d like to come down to Ohio and beat Ohio. Even though I’m coming to the University of Findlay in Ohio, it’s still a great feeling.”
As a senior, Lewis was named to the All-City second team after compiling 62 tackles, six interceptions, a fumble recovery, a sack and six touchdowns to lead the Bulldogs to a 7-4 record. The 6-foot-2, 170-pound defensive back also served as a team captain in 2013, while earning team MVP and Best Defensive Back honors for East English Village.
UF is an interesting college choice for the Michigan product who admitted he’s “not really too fond of Ohio.” Eight of the 15 schools in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which the Oilers compete in, are located in Michigan.
While 19 of his teammates for Saturday’s game chose to stay in state, including three Lewis could potentially see down the road in GLIAC play, Lewis said selecting a school was about finding a place where he felt comfortable.
“I chose the University of Findlay because it’s a good home,” he said. “I felt like I belonged here, I could play here and the community seems to embrace me.”
Lewis is no stranger to the high quality of competition he will be competing with and against in Saturday’s game. He was one of 21 players in Detroit’s Public School League from the Class of 2014 to sign a National Letter of Intent to play football.
He’ll have the opportunity to line up across from a pair of Ohio State commits in Cleveland Glenville’s Marshon Lattimore and Davon Anderson, while sharing a defensive backfield with a duo of Big Ten commits in Jalen Watts-Jackson (Michigan State) and Jalen Embry (Iowa).
“Of my defensive guys, DBs group, Jalen Embry, Jalen Watts-Jackson, are really a couple of cool guys who like to have fun and make plays,” Lewis said. “It’s a good time. We’re having fun, cracking jokes with the coaches. We just love to play ball.”
The future Oiler hopes to make a splash in his first game on his new home field at Donnell Stadium Saturday. With one more prep game left before he begins his college career, his goals are fairly simple.
“My last game of high school, I want to come away with a win, have fun and just do what I do best,” he said
As always, when a team from Ohio and a team from Michigan meet up on the gridiron, the level of competition aside, there are going to be strong emotions evoked and bragging rights on the line. That will be no different when the red of Team Ohio and the blue of Team Michigan collide Saturday.
In true rivalry fashion, Lewis had only one thing to say to his Ohio counterparts.
By ANDREW WILLIAMS