CLEVELAND -- Stark County is the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Museum and is considered a birthplace of the sport of football.
On Sunday afternoon, it became the home to the Cleveland Browns Regional 7-on-7 Tournament champions, as 20 young men from county high schools defeated the Defiance team in the championship game at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Ron Kuceyeski, a former coach at the University of Mount Union and Alliance High School, coached the Stark County team and ran the Cleveland Browns’ High School Development Program in the county, as well as ones in Girard, Ohio, and Akron Archbishop Hoban High School.
“I think this is the first time Stark County’s won it, so it feels pretty good,” Kuceyeski said. “I’m a Stark County guy, so it’s good for our area. It’s a tremendous opportunity for the kids to play in a professional stadium like this on a nice day.”
Kuceyeski chose players from Alliance Marlington, Canton McKinley, Canton GlenOak, Massillon Jackson, Sandy Valley and Alliance High Schools for Sunday’s tournament.
“We had 250 players at the one site and it’s a tough chore,” Kuceyeski said of picking the team for the regional tournament. “You have a lot of good skill people and you also get to reward some linemen this year. It’s not hard to find 20 players, especially in the skill department, when we’ve got teams like McKinley and GlenOak coming to camp.”
The teams that participated in Sunday’s tournament represented the seven areas of the state where the Browns held development camps throughout the early part of the summer. There were two camps held in Northwest Ohio and five in the Northeast corner of the state.
Each of the seven teams brought 20 players and 140 young athletes played in the tournament. Of those players, 12 will be chosen to represent the Browns at next month’s National Tournament in Indianapolis.
In addition to the 12 players, six linemen will go to Indianapolis for the Lineman Leadership Program at the National Tournament.
“One of the things that we tell our national team when we call them is, ‘We have three practices to get ready for this national tournament, so we need you to come focused and prepared. We want you to have fun, but we also want to compete when we go to this tournament. We need you to learn and learn fast,’” said Matt Yunker, manager of youth football for the Browns.
“The past few years, we’ve had really competitive teams and I think it speaks volumes about the people we have running our High School Player Development Program. We get the quality athletes out there. We get them to the camps, we get them to this tournament and in turn, they want to come play for us on the national team. They want to do well. They want to represent the Browns; they want to represent Ohio and where they’re from and I think that plays into the success that we’ve had.”