This weekend’s state high school football finals in Stark County will be a homecoming of sorts for St. Clairsville head coach Brett McLean.
“It kind of feels like coming home for me because I lived up there in Stark County for ... years,” said the 34-year-old McLean. “I played four years at Mount Union, coached at St. Thomas Aquinas and lived right there in Louisville, so I’m real familiar with the area.
“Some of my best friends live a block from the stadium, so it’s just really a neat thing to be able to bring my team up there where those guys can see us and enjoy it.”
The 14-0 Red Devils will battle 14-0 Clarksville Clinton-Massie for the Division IV championship Friday at 3 p.m. at Fawcett Stadium.
• State finals preview on:
McLean was a defensive player on three unbeaten Mount Union College teams in the late 1990s. He then took an assistant coaching position at Aquinas fresh out of college.
At 24, with no head coaching experience, McLean was hired to coach the Red Devils, whom he played against as a player at Brooke High School in West Virginia.
All he has done in 11 seasons at
St. Clairsville is put together two undefeated regular seasons, six playoff berths, the team’s first Ohio Valley title in 21 years and the school’s first appearance in a state championship game.
Much of his coaching foundation comes from playing at Mount Union for assistant coaches Jeff Wojtowicz, Don Montgomery and Mike Sirianni, and of course, head coach Larry Kehres.
“I think the biggest thing I took from coach Kehres is ... to make practices harder than games,” McLean said. “(He) put a lot of pressure on us in practice.”
McLean uses that same high-intensity, fast tempo at practice.
“I think that helps our kids to be prepared in these big environments,” he said. “But I love them up at the end of the day, let them know we care.”
With barely 5,000 residents hunkered down near the Ohio-West Virginia border, St. Clairsville is a tight-knit community.
When one of its own dies, all feel the pain.
Last month, McLean felt compelled to do something for the Thompson family and, specifically, Red Devils freshman Logan Thompson. His father, Paul Thompson, suffered a fatal stroke Oct. 3.
Paul Thompson was just 44. The younger Thompson told McLean he wanted to dress for that Friday’s game, against Richmond Edison, because his father would want him to.
McLean agreed, and then St. Clairsville’s coaches and players hatched a plan to get Logan into the end zone. St. Clairsville built a big lead and when Michigan recruit Michael Ferns broke off a long run late, he stepped out of bounds at the Edison 1.
Enter Thompson. McLean told the wide-eyed kid to follow Ferns and he did, walking into the end zone. While confused fans wondered who he was, Thompson pointed skyward to honor his father.
It didn’t take long for the heart-warming story to break nationwide.
The only thing left for the Red Devils now is to write the perfect ending to a perfect season, in McLean’s home away from home, Stark County.