COLUMBIA TWP. — There’s no doubt about it, Columbia has built itself back up from the ground up.
From 1-9 in 2008 to 5-5 last year, the Raiders hope this is the season that brings a Patriot Athletic Conference Stripes Division championship to the school.
With 23 returning letterwinners, 15 seniors and nine starters on both the sides of the ball, it’s a hope that may be a reality come the end of October.
“We are definitely excited about the possibilities that this year brings,” senior center Matt Malone said. “I’m looking forward to making my senior year something special for myself, my team and the community.
“We’ve worked hard this summer and have some goals in mind. However, we know that we are going to have to earn every win that comes our way. Nobody is going to give us anything in this conference. It’s going to be a battle.”
Listen to coach Jason Ward talk about the season with WEOL’s Jim Allen:
It’s a battle Columbia is poised to face with a veteran squad that has earned it stripes the hard way. Junior quarterback John Banyasz is back for his third year, having started eight games as a freshman and 10 as a sophomore. His experience and leadership have earned him a spot as one of four team captains this season.
“We expect a lot from ourselves this season,” said Banyasz, who threw for 1,300 yards last season. “We also know that the community has been patiently waiting for us to put a winning product on the field. They’ve supported us as we’ve worked our way back to being a competitive football team.
“Now it’s time to go from being competitive to being a winning program.”
Banyasz won’t be the only veteran returning to the backfield. Junior tailback Brandon Heidinger, who rushed for 1,005 yards last season, returns along with senior Matt Frye. The two give the Raiders a 1-2 punch that should keep defenses honest so Banyasz can air out the ball when called upon.
Banyasz gets his top two targets back from last season in tight end Anthony Jaeger (27 receptions, 500 yards) and receiver Brandon Clark (29 receptions, 350 yards).
“This is my third year in the offense and we have all our weapons back,” Banyasz said. “As a quarterback, it’s a great position to be in. We’re familiar with one another and we have great chemistry. It’s going to be an exciting season.”
Head coach Jason Ward agrees.
“We have talked about the opportunities in front of us,” said Ward, who is entering his fifth year. “We have a lot of experience and leadership back. We have a determined mind-set on what we want to accomplish.
“Now we have to take all of that and apply it onto the football field. Nobody is going to roll over for us and the guys are focused on working for what they want.”
With so much coming back on offense, it’s easy to forget that the defense is just as loaded.
Among the notable returnees are senior linebacker Nick Cooper, who is back after missing his junior year with an ACL tear. He will line up next to Nick Glass, whose 87 tackles topped the team a year ago. Frye is a 2009 all-district and honorable mention all-state linebacker.
Nose tackle Colin Ross anchors the 3-4 defense while All-PAC honorees Brandon Clark and Ryan Severo will lead the secondary. Throw in junior strong safety Zach Bican, who returned two interceptions for touchdowns last season, and it becomes clear why the Raiders can’t wait to start playing games that count.
“Week 1 can’t come soon enough,” said Malone, who is also a captain. “We’ve put in the time and effort during the offseason and we’re looking forward to seeing what we can do on the field. We expect this season to be special and we are ready to get it started.”
More high school football previews
- Elyria ready to chase playoffs
- EC has plenty to be excited about
- Midview has depth, confidence, too
- Rangers staying hungry
- Keystone counting on defense
- Wellington plans to throw more
- Avon Lake needs a runner
- Amherst expects to be even better this year
- Oberlin staying positive despite heavy graduation losses
- Lorain has high hopes for Titans
- Clippers feel new guys are prepared
- Columbia thinks this season could be a special one
- Brookside’s comfort level rising
- Are Sailors on the way back up?
- Olmsted Falls relying on excellent senior class
- Firelands’ focus on present, not future
- Avon looks to return to playoffs
- Pay-to-pay hasn’t derailed North Olmsted’s optimism
- Black River loaded with talent
- Lutheran West hoping to stay healthy this season
- Coach thinks Westlake will have big year
Contact Hans Schneider at 329-7135 or email@example.com.