Athletics and football rivals team up to face Licking County All-Stars

HEATH – It wasn't long ago that Heath quarterback Brayden Bayles and Licking Valley wideout Jacob Wheeler competed in the long jump at track and field events.

Now they're teammates for the first time, as offensive weapons on a Licking County all-star team looking to end a two-year losing streak against Muskingum Valley. They play at 7 p.m. Friday at Jim Rockwell Stadium in New Lexington, and the recent victories helped Muskingum extend its lead in the series back to 22-19 in one of Ohio's longest-running all-star contests.

“When we competed against each other, we forced each other to jump farther or higher,” Bayles said, as he and Wheeler were often the top two long jumpers at each meet. “It makes us closer. We face each other all year long (in football, basketball and track), but when we come here on the first day, we're best friends. We get used to each other and I think we're going to make some great plays.”

Wheeler said the All-Star Game brings the rivals a little closer together.

“It gives us a chance to show what we can do as teammates,” he said after practice Friday at Heath's Swank Field. “The first couple days (of All-Star practice) were a little strange, but now, four practices in, we're getting to know everyone and learning quickly. We've started with the chemistry aspect and it's amazing how quickly we're growing together.”

“Fast” is a key word for this Licking County team. They also have another track star, Isaiah Mitchell of Lakewood, who, like the Lancers, will run all over the field.

“We're very fast,” said Bayles, who will play at Otterbein on the college level. “They just move.”

Licking head coach Tim Ward noted of Heath: “I'm used to coaching speed. It's always been a part of our group,” he said. “But with this team, we have speed across the board, at every position.”

Mitchell, who will play college football in Marietta, will alternate between running back and wide receiver for the All-Stars.

“Playing with guys I've always played against is pretty cool,” he said. “I've always wanted to play with Brayden (Bayles). Since my sophomore year.”

Wheeler, who will go on to kick for Ashland University, will handle punting duties for Licking while Granville's Noah Musick will handle kicking. Wheeler is looking forward to playing one last time on the field, where he was a consistent threat down low for Valley.

“This is my last chance,” he said. “So I'm going to let it sink in as long as I can.”

Ward started early on the chemistry aspect for Licking County.

“We had a barbecue at (Alex) Phelps' (Licking Valley's) house on Sunday night and we had about 20 players and coaches there,” he said. “It was a good start.”

Licking County, which lost 31-7 at Swank Field last year, will look to get back on track on the Muskingum Valley turf.

Muskingum is led by six Sheridan stars, including quarterback Caden Sheridan, running back Justin Munyan, wideouts AJ Winders and Bryson Ruff and linemen Cole Davis and Conner Backus. Head coach Nate Brownrigg and his West Muskingum team also have five Tornadoes to work with one last time, although Ohio State-preferred walk-on Rashid Sesay is not on the roster.

The locals are keen to end their recent losing streak.

“We want to get a win, not only for the guys who are expecting to win, but we want to give the guys who haven't won as much a chance to go home with a win,” Ward said.

Mitchell noted, “It would be a great way to end my (high school) career and it means I'm going to give everything I have to help this team win.”

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