Culicerto returns with strong understanding of North-South All-Star Classic, while Law starts to form one as newcomer

INSTITUTE, W.Va. — Vince Culicerto thinks back to 2018 when he was an assistant coach for the South Cardinals in the North-South Football All-Star Classic.

“I didn’t have a clue what was going to happen and it kind of happened quick,” Culicerto recalls. “Real fast and you’re kind of thinking, ‘do we have a check for this if this pops out?’ You just have a week to get ready. It’s a couple practices a day, but still yet, you know how long it takes to get a team ready.”

Six years later, the Shady Spring head coach finds himself back on the campus of West Virginia State with even more involvement this time around as head coach of the South, which will take on the North Bears at noon Saturday at South Charleston High School.

South Cardinals head coach Vince Culicerto. Photo by Greg Carey

“Having experience with upperclassmen helps making sure you have it all covered,” Culicerto said. “That first time I was here, some things might’ve popped off that caught you off guard.”

The South coaching staff also features two Tigers’ assistants in Culicerto’s brother, Phil Culicerto, and John Smith. River View’s Gary Roach is the third South assistant.

Spring Mills’ Marcus Law is head coach of the North in his first experience with the all-star event. Law, who took over the Cardinals on an interim basis in 2023 and has since been named the permanent head coach, will work closely throughout the week with Spring Mills assistant Buddy Hesen, North Marion’s Daran Hays and Lewis County’s Dustin Cogar to formulate the Bears’ game plan.

Hays has valuable experience having been North head coach in 2021.

“Coach Hays been in this game a few times as a head coach and assistant coach. Coach Hesen has been here as well. Kind of leaning on these guys and we’ve been able to put together a game plan moving forward,” Law said. “I think Saturday will be very competitive.”

North Bears head coach Marcus Law. Photo by Greg Carey

With teams practicing once in the morning and again in the afternoon daily on the campus of WVSU in the lead-up to Saturday’s matchup, Law has been impressed with how receptive Bears’ players have been to learning on the fly.

“You can explain something one time and it’s done crisp every single time,” Law said. “You go home and deal with your kids, you’re going to have upperclassmen and lower guys and instruction is going to be different. These guys run around and the talent offensively and defensively makes you happy and makes you look forward to going into this game Saturday.”

The South roster features 35 players and the North shows 36, with 71 of the state’s top senior football players having come together to represent their high school for one final time. 

The level of talent and surplus of experience ease concern among coaches, according to Culicerto.

“You coach your team at home and have your ups and down, good years and bad years, but this would be a good year every year with a bunch of kids like this,” Culicerto said. “Good size and we had a lot of good responses early. When we picked the team, a lot of those kids wanted to play, which has been big for us. Throw the ball, run the ball, we feel we can do it all, and on the defensive side, we’re going to be tough. A great bunch of kids that we’ve had here. They’ve been super workers, good kids and had a lot of fun and worked when they need to.”

While the South shows a 41-25-3 series advantage in the storied history of the event, the North has had the Cardinals’ number of late, winning six of the last seven contests.

“Most of these kids have reached this level because they are competitors,” Culicerto said. “The experience has been awesome. Getting to know them has been great. All the coaches are having a ball with them. I haven’t coached with coach Roach. I’ve coached against him and watched him, and I’m glad he’s come on with us. Getting to know these guys has been a good experience. But we want to win — no doubt.”

Law likes the balance North players have shown between displaying a competitive edge and easing back at times to help develop relationships and make the experience a more enjoyable one.

“At certain parts throughout practice, we are competitive and we want to get at each other a little bit, but there are times in between where you kind of get to know the kid a little bit,” Law said. “For me, that’s been the exciting piece of it. There’s a lot of different personalities and some of these guys are funny man. Once you get to know them, they’re great to be around, but at the same time, you see that competitive edge, so there’s a good balance as far as that.”

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