MORGANTOWN — After dropping a Class AAA quarterfinal match-up to Capital last November, University seniors Josh Ritchie and Robert Sanders walked solemnly off the turf at Mylan Pharmaceuticals Stadium.
Both men, sharing the desire to compete at the next level, were confident they had closed the chapter on their high school football careers.
Turns out, they were wrong.
Ritchie will walk-on to the squad at WVU this fall, and Sanders was offered a scholarship to compete at Bethany College. Before they take the first step to the next level, though, they have some unfinished business on the prep stage.
Ritchie and Sanders will don their high school helmets on top of blue and white uniforms as they compete for the North Bears during the West Virginia North-South Football Classic, on June 9, at South Charleston High School. Kickoff is scheduled for noon.
“The mentality I’m taking into this game is to go out and leave it all on the field, just like a normal game,” Ritchie said. “This is the last game of some of our high school careers.”
Sanders called being selected to compete a blessing, and hopes to use the platform to demonstrate his skill on a statewide level.
“I want to go out and have fun, but I want to play my very best and show the whole state of West Virginia who I am,” he said.
According to UHS coach John Kelley, both players played critical roles on the Hawks’ 11-1 quarterfinal team last year.
He describes Sanders as athletic and versatile with amazing speed, and Ritchie as about as tough as you can get on the offensive and defensive line.
“Both men have exceptional work ethics and are true competitors,” he said. “I’m extremely proud of them both.”
Both Ritchie and Sanders hope that their time learning with the coaching staff, headed by Brad Jett, of South Harrison, and competing with elite seniors from across the state will help prepare them for the next step of their careers.
“I’ve been working really hard and preparing to compete with the best in the state,” Sanders said. “I can take this as a challenge to get to know my teammates and be able to play with them at a fast pace.”
For Ritchie, the game can be used as a measurement of sorts, a chance to gauge where he is at compared to some of the state’s top players, and to figure out what it takes to beat them in the trenches.
“I can use this to compare myself to some of the best in the state,” Ritchie said. “I keep telling myself it’s going to be a whole different ball game once I get to WVU, so I’m using this as a chance to learn new moves and techniques to use at the next level.”
In preparation for today’s game, the players have been Charleston this week, practicing and exploring the city with their teammates. Sanders said that the atmosphere was “super exciting.”
“This is one week I will never forget. I’ve made new friends, we’ve bonded as a team and we have a good chemistry together,” Ritchie said. “I think this game is going to be a pretty good show, and I’m hoping some folks from Morgantown can make the trip.”