By David Fong
TROY — There were no trumpets blaring fanfare, no ticker tape parade and certainly no tweets or retweets giving 140-character pronouncements of Ryan Brewer’s greatness.
In fact, in the grand scheme of things, it barely registered at all on the sports landscape — particularly in the mind of the kid who had just won the highest individual honor in Ohio high school football.
“You know, I remember being at basketball practice — it was before I found out my wrist was broken and I wouldn’t be able to play,” Brewer, a former Troy High School football player, said of finding out in 1998 he had just been named Mr. Football Ohio, the award given annually to the top high school football player in the state. “I remember someone coming in the gym and telling me and I was like, ‘Ok.’ Then I went back to practice.
“You know me. I just wanted to play football. I was more worried about trying help my team reach the playoffs. My stats were what they were, and if that was enough to get me some individual honors, that was cool, too.”
That fall, Brewer became the 12th player to win the prestigious honor. Earlier this week, Toledo Central Catholic running back Michael Warren became the 30th player to win the award, which was first awarded to Zaneville’s Buster Howe in 1987. The Internet was in its nascent days when Brewer was crowned Mr. Football Ohio. That obviously has changed, which also has led to a drastic shift in how much attention the award receives on a yearly basis.
All of which makes Brewer feel very old.
“Absolutely, it does,” said Brewer, who would go on to play at the University of South Carolina and still lives in Columbia, S.C., where he owns his own business. “It’s changed so much since I was in high school. It’s a lot bigger deal now — when I won it, I think they were still working out the kinks. I know people talk about it a lot more now. It’s all over the Internet. I do a lot of radio shows down here in Columbia and they talk all season about who they think is going to win Mr. Football down here. Kids today have a lot more of that stuff in their face.”
With the passage of time, however, Brewer said he’s grown to appreciate just how elite the fraternity to which he belongs truly is.
Tens of thousands of high school players have played football since 1987 — only 28 of which have ever been named Mr. Football Ohio (while the award has been handed out for 30 years, two players, Euclid’s Robert Smith and North Canton Hoover’s Erick Howard, both won it twice).
“It’s a much bigger deal to me now than it was then,” Brewer said. “When you think about it, it’s a pretty huge honor. It’s a great thing. I guess it keeps me in the spotlight a little bit. A lot of times when I go on these radio shows, they’ll announce me as the Mr. Football Ohio winner who beat Ohio State in the Outback Bowl (in 2001 and 2002). If I hadn’t won that award, I don’t think me beating Ohio State would have been as big a deal. I would have been just another kid from Ohio on a team that beat Ohio State.”
A further look at some of the demographics of all 28 Mr. Football Ohio winners reveals just how elite the company is that Brewer keeps:
Winners by county
There are 88 counties in Ohio, but only 17 have produced Mr. Football winners. Seven counties have been home to multiple Mr. Football winners. Brewer happens to be from one of them. After Brewer won the award in 1998, Piqua’s Brandon Saine won it in 2006, giving Miami County a pair of Mr. Football winners.
No county in Ohio has produced more winners than Cuyahoga County, which has had five winners. Franklin and Stark counties both have had three winners. Miami, Lake and Hardin counties all have had two winners apiece, while Muskingum, Mercer, Wood, Hamilton, Darke, Sandusky, Trumbull, Mahoning, Athens and Lucas counties each have had one Mr. Football winner.
Winners by district
The Mr. Football Ohio award has been largely dominated by players from Northeast Ohio, which has brought the honor home 15 times. Up next is the Northwest District, which has produced six winners, including Warren, the most recent recipient. In third place is the Southwest District with four winners, which includes Brewer, Saine, Mississinawa Valley’s Curtis Enis (1993) and Norwood’s Marc Edwards (1992).
The Central District has won it three times, while the East and Southeast districts have each had one winner.
Winners by school size
Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the winners have come from the bigger (based on male enrollment figures) schools in the state, including Brewer and Saine.
Sixteen winners have come from “big” schools, 11 have come from medium-sized schools and only three have come from small schools.
From 1987-93, there were five football divisions in Ohio. From 1994 to 2012, there were six divisions. In 2013, a seventh division was added.
For analysis purposes, “big” schools were Divisions I and II during all three division eras. Medium-sized schools were Division III from 1987-93, Divisions III and IV from 1994 to 2012 and Divisions III, IV and V from 2013-present. Small schools were considered Divisions IV and V before the first expansion, Divisions V and VI following the first expansion and Divisions VI and VII since 2013.
The biggest school to produce a Mr. Football winner was Mentor, which averages more than 900 male students in any given year. The smallest school to win was Mississinawa Valley, which averages less than 100 male students.
Winners by school
Only four schools have ever produced multiple winners. Euclid has won the award three times, including Smith (1988, 1989) and Tony Fisher (1997). Mentor (Bart Tanski in 2007 and Mitch Trubisky in 2012), Kenton (Ben Mauk in 2002 and younger brother Maty Mauk in 2011) and North Canton Hoover (Howard in 2008 and 2009) all have had two winners apiece.
Interestingly, the award has gone to a player from a public school 25 times. The only parochial school players to claim the award were Bedford St. Peter Chanel’s Bam Childress (1999), Cleveland Benedictine’s Ray Williams (2003), Archbishop Hoban’s Tyrell Sutton (2004), Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary’s Dante B0oker (2013) and the most recent winner, Warren.
Winners in the NFL
Being named the best high school football player in Ohio isn’t always a harbinger of future success. Of the 28 different winners, 12 have gone on to play in at least one regular season NFL game (including Saine, who had a brief stint with the Green Bay Packers until injuries ended his career), 10 did not make it to the NFL and six are either still in high school or have college eligibility remaining.
Of the 12 that did make to the NFL, only Smith and Fremont Ross’ Charles Woodson ever made it to the Pro Bowl. Only Smith, Woodson and Edwards played six or more years in the NFL.
Brewer would go undrafted out of South Carolina, but would sign a rookie free agent deal with the Baltimore Ravens. He was one of the final players cut that year. He would play several years in NFL Europe before retiring from football for good.
To this day, he’s only met one other member of his elite club in person.
“Bam Childress came up to me before the Outback Bowl when he was playing for Ohio State,” Brewer said. “We didn’t talk long, but he introduced himself and told me he won Mr. Ohio the year after I did.
“I think it would be cool if we all did commercials like the ‘Heisman House’ commercials on ESPN. I mean, Charles Woodson actually did win a Heisman — we should all get together some time. We could have a Mr. Football Ohio house. I think that would be great.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong