October 24, 2014

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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL 2010: Avon Lake needs a runner

AVON LAKE — It’s a typical August day at Avon Lake High School. Everywhere you look you see people working hard, straining muscles, pouring out sweat under the brutal late­summer sun. And that’s just the construc­tion workers, laboring to finish the new, improved Avon Lake Memorial Stadium in time for the Aug. 27 home opener for the new, improved (they hope) Shoremen.

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The football players are work­ing hard also. They almost always do. They have a lot of tra­ditions to uphold. “They know what’s expected of them,” coach Dave Dlugosz said.

Avon Lake tradition includes 16 conference championships over the last two decades, an average of 10 victories a season since 1994 and 13 playoff berths since then. The Shoremen have not suffered a losing season since ’91 and have been unde­feated in the regular season five times in the 18 years Dlugosz has been the head coach.

Listen to coach Dave Dlugosz talk about the season with WEOL’s Jim Allen:

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This season is typical. Avon Lake was Southwestern Confer­ence champion and a Region 6 playoff team in 2009. There are 14 letterwinners and eight starters returning to try to win a 26th SWC title since the confer­ence began in 1964.

Oddly, none of the returning lettermen is a ball carrier. That’s unusual for Avon Lake, which has a rich tradition of outstand­ing rushing teams and a star tailback waiting in the wings, it seems, every year.

But the rushing yardage, save for 169 by quarterbacks Trent Toy and Chris Jedlcka, has grad­uated.

Most notable among the departed is Mike Mansnerus, the SWC’s Most Valuable Player who gained 1,839 yards and rushed for 23 touchdowns in 2009. Mansnerus ended his career No. 2 on the school’s alltime rushing list.

So while the work crews hustle to get the stadium ready for the first Friday night, the football team concentrates on finding someone to give the people sitting in the new theater- style seats a reason to cheer that evening.

“We have very athletic kids,” Dlugosz explained. “We need to know who’s going to haul the leather, because he’ll get to do it 20-25 times a game, as usual. We want to (run the ball that often) because we think we have a real good offensive line.” The line is set. Two 2009 starters, left tackle Andrew Bohan and left guard Micah Charlton, return. Lettermen Zack Wootten, right guard Jon Warren and right tackle Mac Wightman complete the quintet.

Whoever does get to carry the ball will have the help of a strong, experienced passing game. Toy is back at quarterback after completing 66 of 121 passes for 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2009. He has two talented targets in 6-foot-5 wide receiver Ron Willoughby and 6-8 Brian Mihalic, his tight end.

Willoughby, who will play football for the University of Buffalo in 2011, caught 29 passes for 723 yards and nine touchdowns last year en route to being named to the All-SWC first team. Mihalic, who’ll play for Boston College next fall, is also a starting defensive end.

“It helps a lot to be able to throw to two guys with great size and great athletic ability,” Toy said. “Last year we hit teams with long touchdowns when they put everyone in the box to stop the run. Their defenses have to spread the field and respect the pass. That should help the running game a lot.”

“If the offensive line does what it should, whoever is back there (tailback and fullback) should do OK,” Mihalic said. “We’ll open holes.”

Alex Grunick, Austin Grossell and Mike Britt are battling for time at the other receiver spot.

Three starters return on defense. In addition to Mihalic, Bohan (nose tackle) and second- team All-SWC defensive end Brian Walborn are back. Wightman should have one defensive tackle job and Jake Young and Andrue Oglesby go after the other DT job. Nick Brady is expected to back up the ends.

Grunick and Pete Lancione are the likely starters at cornerback. Fighting for linebacker jobs are John Hegarty, Justin Arkey, Brad Brill (the returning kicker) and Tom Thogmartin. Competing for the safety assignments are Jedlicka, Grossell, Mike Karpinski, Brett Bass and Mike Butrey.

More high school football previews

Contact Steve Byrne at 329-7253 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.