MONFORT HEIGHTS – With opening wins against Colerain and Winton Woods, La Salle High School’s football program is out to a quick, positive start. However, the only cupcakes Lancer football players get tend to come from the team mom’s club.
Friday night, IMG Academy out of Bradenton, Florida, ranked No. 2 in the country by MaxPreps, comes to Lancer Stadium. This past Saturday, in an ESPN-aired contest at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, IMG’s Ascenders slammed an online charter school based out of Columbus, 58-0.
Coach Pat McLaughlin and staff watched the tape of the dismantling, which served to only identify key players to watch. Bishop Sycamore is now 0-3 and was 0-6 last season playing the likes of Cleveland St. Ignatius, Aurora, Lakewood St. Edward, Warren Harding and again IMG, who defeated them 56-6 in 2020.
“We didn’t get much out of it,” McLaughlin said of the video. “They did a couple of different formations and a few different things on defense. In terms of what Bishop Sycamore was doing, it didn’t help us out a ton.”
Even ESPN’s commentators questioned the validity of the matchup, which was put together by Paragon Marketing Group, a third-party, according to various online reports.
Other reports claimed Bishop Sycamore was the only team to step up and play IMG. In the case of La Salle, their game was scheduled this winter. IMG has a national team and a Florida team. Former New York Giants linebacker Pepper Johnson coaches them. After La Salle, they will have three more road games, with the rest of their schedule in Florida. They play teams from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, Alabama and Illinois in addition to La Salle and three Florida teams.
That they played Bishop Sycamore who was winless in 2020 plus had just played a game Friday night in Pennsylvania remains puzzling.
“Bishop Sycamore is not an Ohio High School Athletic Association member school, so we don’t know much about them,” OHSAA director of communications Tim Stried said. “Whether or not they are an actual school would be up to the Ohio Department of Education, not the OHSAA. Our member schools are permitted to play non-member schools, but they don’t get any computer points for doing so in football.”
ESPN issued the following statement Monday afternoon:
“We regret that this happened and have discussed it with Paragon, which secured the matchup and handles the majority of our high school event scheduling. They have ensured us that they will take steps to prevent this kind of situation from happening moving forward.”
Paragon Marketing who has worked with ESPN televising games since the early 2000s added:
“IMG was scheduled to play a game at the NFL Hall of Fame. It was a matter of finding them a team to play. We checked with a lot of schools in the Greater Ohio area but most already had games. Bishop Sycamore was available and they had played them a year ago. The roster they had over the summer looked a lot stronger than the roster they came to compete with. We knew the game may not be close, but we thought it would be a lot more competitive than it was.”
Regardless of last week’s circumstances, IMG’s 2020 national champions have stayed in Ohio and will be on La Salle’s campus Friday night with a roster of Division I commits and prospects. The Ascenders have 29 boys who are three-star players or better.
A MaxPreps game story listed the following players: Florida State quarterback commit AJ Duffy, Penn State running back commit Kaytron Allen, Northwestern commit Trevon Howard, Illinois receiver commit Shawn Miller, Michigan State commit Ade Willie, four-star junior receiver Carnell Tate, four-star sophomore Stacy Gage and the No. 2 sophomore of the class of 2024, Desmond Ricks.
“If our focus is on the number of kids that have three-stars and they’re going to Alabama and Ohio State and they played on TV, then we’re focused on the wrong thing,” McLaughlin said. “We’ll practice the same way, we’ll have the same routine and have the same scouting reports. It’s ‘practice well, prepare well, play well’ as hard as we can on Friday night. We’ll see what happens.”
The murderer’s row lineup of games continues post-IMG. Sept. 10 features a visit to Kentucky 6A champion Louisville Trinity. The following week 2-0 DuPont Manuel of Louisville comes to La Salle. In between their Greater Catholic League-South matchups with Moeller, St. Xavier and Elder, they host Indiana 5A champion Indianapolis Cathedral and travel to 2019 Ohio Division III champion Trotwood-Madison.
With Trinity, Cathedral and St. Xavier, the Lancers will line up with three state championship teams.
“I think it may be the toughest schedule of anybody on record,” McLaughlin said. “Although Elder’s playing a tough schedule, (St.) X is, Moeller is. Quite honestly, we’re all just trying to find games.”
The kickoff for La Salle and IMG Academy is 7 p.m. Friday night.