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James McCullough and Travis Nelson are still on an emotional high.
The recent East Canton High School graduates helped lead the Hornets to their first Division III state track and field championship last month. McCullough ran on two winning relay teams, while Nelson also earned All-Ohio honors.
"It was a great experience," Nelson said. "It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I'm glad that we did so well down there. Everyone performed great."
The state title was not the only highlight for McCullough and Nelson, who played for the East in last Saturday's Canton Repository-Malone University East-West All-Star Football Game. Their senior years picked up steam last fall with a rare playoff push by East Canton's football team.
McCullough and Nelson helped lead the Hornets to their first postseason appearance since 2008. They combined for almost 2,000 yards rushing as East Canton closed out the regular season with four straight wins after a 2-4 start.
Prior to John "Spider" Miller's arrival as head coach last year, East Canton's senior class had experienced a pair of 2-8 seasons and a 3-7 campaign.
"We got a new coaching staff, and they started off saying, 'Hey, we could do something with this talent,'" McCullough said. "They pushed forward in the summer, trying to get us into it."
The Hornets averaged just over 53 points and outscored their final four regular season opponents 213-40.
"We just started rolling over teams," McCullough said.
Nelson's arrival last year helped bolster East Canton's offense. He was a three-year letterman at Blanchester High School near Cincinnati. When his father, an East Canton graduate, took a job in Akron, the family moved to Northeast Ohio.
"It actually was really easy to fit in," Nelson said. "As soon as I got there, they accepted me as one of their own. It was nice to have a lot of family around, too, and see a lot of familiar faces."
Nelson proved to be a valuable addition early in the season when McCullough was out with an injury. He had a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the season opener against Lucas.
College will take the former East Canton running backs in different directions.
Nelson is a part of head coach Dan Pifer's first recruiting class at Walsh. He was originally recruited by former Baldwin Wallace assistant coach Mark Johnston, who is now on Pifer's staff.
McCullough will attend Akron and attempt to walk on the Zips track and field team. Saturday's East-West game was his final football game.
"When you finish your senior season, it's heartbreaking to know that it's all over," McCullough said. "It was pretty special to find out that you get to play one more football game with a ton of athletes who are on a higher level."