October 21, 2014

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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL 2010: Rangers staying hungry

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Longtime coach Jeff Riesen and the North Ridgeville Rangers made some history last season. Not only did the Rangers share the West Shore Confer­ence crown with Bay and Rocky River, but their 8-2 overall record was good enough to clinch the eighth spot in the Division II, Region 6 playoffs.

While their playoff run was brief, ending with a first-round loss to Toledo St. Francis DeSales, it was still a playoff run.

And that was a first in the long history of Rangers foot­ball.

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“Anytime you win a (confer­ence) championship and make the playoffs to boot, it makes for an exciting time for our kids,” said Riesen, who is beginning his 28th year as a head football coach and fourth in his current stint with the Rangers. “To go and play the game in Toledo against a qual­ity opponent in Toledo St. Francis, who then beat Avon Lake, was a great opportunity. It was a good opponent and our kids learned from it.

“They learned what the play­offs are all about and I’m sure they’re hungry to go back again this year.”

Listen to coach Jeff Riesen talk about the season with WEOL’s Jim Allen:

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Riesen knows a thing or two about the playoffs. Amherst made the postseason several times during his 12-year tenure there, the last time in 2003. But the 16 lettermen and 15 starters back from last year’s Rangers team want to learn more about the playoffs now that they’ve had that first taste.

“It’s going to carry over a lot this season,” said senior Mike Mees, who is entering his second season as the starting quarterback. “That gives us motivation on how to get there and wanting to get back there again this season.

“The main thing I took away from that experience was how intense it was, how much more critical all the plays can be. That’s what surprised me the most about the playoffs.”

Mees and fellow seniors Mark Szylakowski (receiver and free safety) and Justin Hobart (middle linebacker) will be counted on as the primary captains this year. Having that kind of experience and leadership in key positions gives Riesen a reason to smile.

“Mark is the starting point guard for the basketball team,” Riesen said, “which has had great success recently, and you like your point guard to have leadership ability. Justin is the catcher in baseball, and if you talk to the baseball coaches, they consider him their go-to guy for leadership. And Mike is an outstanding wrestler who served as team captain last year and just missed out on a trip to state.”

Mees, who followed his brother James as the starting quarterback, developed more confidence in his throwing ability as last season went on, and took advantage of playmakers such as Domonique Qualls, Dallas Burt and Szylakowski. This season, Mees attending several quarterback camps and feels is a much more complete player.

“They helped me out a lot,” Mees said of the camps. “Just being able to throw in the offseason and learn some more mechanics was a huge help in itself. It helped with my timing and having more confidence in myself. I’ve learned a lot of things to help me become a better quarterback.”

His big brother James, who is the starting quarterback at Division III Earlham, was a help, too.

“He’s been my role model for everything,” Mees said. “I’ve always had him to look up to and I knew I could count on him for help. He’s the reason why I’m the quarterback I am today.” Like any good team, Ridgeville will have to replace some talented graduates, such as Qualls, Burt, lineman Alex Lovasz, fullback Mo Jaber and lineman Chris Fule. But Riesen is confident he has players who can step in.

“We have a strong senior class with a team that understands what it takes to be successful in effort,” he said. “The main thing is coming together as a team, believing in each other and knowing that we’re not gonna sneak up on anybody.

“When you’re the champ and you qualify for the playoffs, it’s hard to be taken lightly by anybody. It’s a difficult task, but the kids are up for it. We’re very pleased through the first week of two-a-days. If we continue to build on that, I think we can have another successful year.”

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Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or dangilles73@gmail.com.