In the mid-1990s, Ryan Thornhill was a tough-as-nails outside linebacker and running back at Eureka High, and Farrell Shelton was just getting his coaching feet wet as the Wildcats defensive backs coach.
Fast forward to Saturday's http://www.stltoday.com/sports/high-school/football/article_946b894c-d892-11e0-b701-001a4bcf6878.html" target="_blank">Great American Football Classic at the Edward Jones Dome. On one sideline will be Thornhill, now heading the Marquette squad. On the other will be Shelton, now the head coach at Eureka. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:15 p.m.
"Ryan was one of those character guys who always played hard," Shelton said. "I loved him to death. He was a no-nonsense guy, and if you look at Marquette that is the way they play."
While Shelton, in his 12th season as Eureka's coach, is considered a fiery competitor, Thornhill recalls a slightly kinder, gentler version.
"He was a lot more reserved back then," Thornhill said with a chuckle. "They have a lot of the same coaching staff that has done a lot of great things over the years."
http://stats.stlhighschoolsports.com/sports/football/11/stats/teamschedule148.php" target="_blank">Marquette (1-1) is looking for that kind of continuity on the field. The Mustangs, who return only one starter on offense, haven't been in sync so far.
"We have had to scale back things a lot and really touch on the basics," Thornhill said.
Shelton looks at Marquette and sees a basic strength. Year in and year out, Eureka churns out an offensive line that would compare physically to most small college teams. When he looks at Marquette, its line pops out.
"Their offensive line is huge," Shelton said. "I don't know if they are going to come down on a bus or a livestock trailer."
http://stats.stlhighschoolsports.com/sports/football/11/stats/teamschedule73.php" target="_blank">Eureka (1-1) has scored 85 points, best in the Suburban West Conference, and is coming off a 57-point explosion at Mehlville.
Senior running back Spencer Stein has rushed for six touchdowns while amassing 352 yards. Stein burst onto the scene as a junior, running for 1,182 yards and scoring 16 touchdowns.
"He has some of the best vision I've seen a runner have in a long time," Thornhill said.
For Stein, 2011 is looking like a terrific finish to a high school career that was slow to get out of the blocks. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound running back wasn't a starter in middle school or as a freshman.
"How many players quit after something like that? Shelton said. "He's not the best athlete in the world. He's not going to take it to the house from 80 yards out. For him to go 80 yards, it will take us 10 plays. But he is the poster child for hard work and is the epitome of a high school player who uses 100 percent of everything he has."
The Wildcats have another top playmaker in Aaron Schnurbush, who has thrown a touchdown, caught a touchdown and totaled 212 yards of offense.
If Marquette is going to stop Stein and Co., defensive linemen Nick Thomas Smith and Kyle Ostrander along with linebackers Michael Cooper and Matt Bruer are going to have their names called out on a regular basis.
"We will have to watch those two big threats," Thornhill said. "For us, it is going to have to start with the defensive line. Then our linebackers are going to have to meet them at the line of scrimmage and make some plays."
Both coaches acknowledge that the game will be special regardless of the outcome.
"As a coach, I like to keep things the same every week," Thornhill said. "But this is going to be a great time for the kids, their families and the school."
"This is all for the kids, the community and the school," Shelton said. "We gave up a home game for this. But how often do kids have a chance to suit up in the Rams locker room and run out of an NFL tunnel onto the field?"