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CANAL WINCHESTER, Ohio (AP) — The late August game between Pickerington High School North and Canal Winchester was just a preseason scrimmage.
Still, hundreds of fans filled the stands on a cool evening that had a hint of fall to watch two schools in the suburbs southwest of Columbus work out the kinks. There were no college coaches on hand — it was a dead period in the recruiting calendar — but that will change, especially for Pick North, where Jack Sawyer, one the country’s best players in the class of 2021, goes to school.
There are ominous signs for high school football across the country, with participation dropping over the last decade amid safety concerns, a trend toward specialization in youth sports and the growth of other sports such as lacrosse. On a Friday night in Fairfield County, Ohio, those troubles are not apparent and the state’s passion for football remains high.
But Ohio also has one of the slowest-growing populations of any state and there are other troubling numbers: The number of high school football players in Ohio dropped by 28% from 2009-10 to 2018-19, according to data tracked by the National Federation of State High School Associations, and NCAA stats show the percentage of Ohio players competing at the highest level of college football has slipped from 5.9% in 2013 to 5.1% in 2018.
That’s still enough to rank fifth among the 50 states, but fourth-place Geo
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