The next time Mid American Conference rivals Kent State and Miami of Ohio meet on the football field, there may be a distinct local flavor to that game.
That's because each school has secured a former standout from Canfield. On Feb. 1, in front of a large throng of students and administrators in the school athletic lobby, Jordan Italiano and Jimmy Rousher signed their respective letters of intent to play college football. Italiano chose Kent while Rousher made Miami his new home. It is highly unlikely for a high school to have even one star talented enough to play Division I college football. That is why such a big deal was made when the Cardinals' program promoted two to the MAC.
"Only 1 percent of high school athletes go to play Division I college football," said Canfield head coach Mike Pavlansky sounding like a proud papa. "We will miss (Jordan and Jimmy's) performance on and off the field."
Photos by Nike Zirounis, Town Crier correspondent
Jordan Italiano was joined by his parents, John and Carolyn Italiano, on Feb. 1 as he signed his letter of intent to play football for Kent State University this fall.
On the field these two Cardinals were important cogs in coach Pavlansky's ball-control offense. Italiano led the team from the quarterback position and was a skilled rusher as well as field general. He was voted All-District, two-time All Conference and was a three-time letter winner. Although Italiano will be playing defensive back and not quarterback at Kent, he doesn't care less what side of the ball he will be on as long as he is fulfilling one of his childhood goals.
"It has always been a dream of mine to play Division I college football," said Italiano between back slaps and handshakes from fellow students. "So this is like a dream come true. It is an unbelievable and great feeling."
Rousher ran mostly from the tight end spot on Canfield's offense earning All-District, All-Conference twice and three letters. He is just as adept at blocking as he is running routes and catching touchdowns. Those skills will be helpful when he finally dons a Red Hawk helmet.
"I will be playing some H-back so my blocking will be important," said Rousher.
Both former Cardinals were overjoyed when the day to finally put pen to paper arrived last week ending months of anticipation. They were also both confident in the schools they selected.
"It was a big relief off my shoulders," said Italiano. "I liked (Kent's) coaching staff. The school is on the turnaround. It was an easy choice."
While Italiano's decision was fairly simple, Rousher's was a tad bit harder. Rousher was recruited by almost every other MAC school plus Indiana from the Big Ten. That explains why the tight end exhaled after signing his letter.
"The recruiting process was stressful," said the senior. "The main thing (about Miami) was their coaching staff. A lot of them graduated from Miami."
Sitting next to both kids on the dais on signing day were their parents, John and Carolyn Italiano and Jim and Debbie Rousher. Having family near was important to Italiano and Rousher and also helped them choose colleges in Ohio.
"(Kent) is close enough where I will always be able to get home," said Italiano with a smile.
"It is only about a four-hour drive (to Miami of Ohio) so my family will be able to watch me each week," shouted Rousher over the hallway noise.
The two Cardinals learned all about family from the tight-knit environment on the Canfield campus. One not need look any further than the huge turnout for their press conference to realize how close a community Canfield is and how fortunate this pair was to be able to play in front of Cardinal Nation.
"My experience at Canfield meant a lot to me," Italiano mentioned. "Thanks to everyone for everything."
Rousher also gave thanks and added,"We talked about playing for the C on our chest (at Canfield). There was always lots of school spirit and tradition."
Traditionally speaking, most "jocks" are not as well spoken as Italiano and Rousher are, but that's what makes this duo pop out. In fact, Rousher will use his time at Miami to study pre-med so if this football thing doesn't work out he will certainly be OK. The key to his success will be lot of hard work.
"It will take a lot of sacrifice," said Rousher. "It will be hard to find a balance. Other people have done it though, so it's not impossible."
What is possible is the chance that sometime over the next four years good friends Italiano and Rousher will become friendly rivals. So what happens when that time occurs?
"I'll catch a few TD's (against Italiano), I hope," said Rousher with a laugh. That's ironic because Jordan Italiano and Jimmy Rousher are two of the best catches Kent State and Miami of Ohio ever made.