September 16, 2014

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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL 2010: Are Sailors on the way back up?

VERMILION — Thrill-seekers know that a drop is usually followed by another quick climb on most roller coasters. The Vermilion Sailors hope that rings true after a couple of seasons that can best be described by the up-and-down amusement park staple.

Following a 2008 winning season in which their only defeats came at the hands of playoff teams, the Sailors plodded through a miserable 1-9 season last year. Everyone associated with the program is hoping that a hill is in the near future.

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“We lost a lot of players (after 2008) and last year it was a lot of people’s first time playing varsity football,” senior tight end and linebacker Clay Malin said. “Mostly everybody that’s going to start this year has varsity experience now, so that’s going to help a lot.

“I feel bad for the seniors that had (2009) as the last year of their high school football careers. I don’t want to end my career like that.”

Listen to coach Frank Horvath talk about the season with WEOL’s Jim Allen:

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That goes for the other four senior captains — Anthoney Budka, Tate Wilson, Alex Stanley and Aaron McCann — who gathered together early in the preseason to discuss what went wrong last season and what the five needed to do to make sure it didn’t happen again.

“We sat down and decided that we needed to play as a team this year,” said Budka, a starting linebacker and running back. “We were young last year and we’d argue when things didn’t go our way and we didn’t accomplish what we needed to accomplish to get back in the game … that was our downfall.

“It’s not going to be me, me, me anymore. If we try to play as individuals, we already know we’re going to fail.”

The Sailors seem ready to prove last season was the only dip on a ride that stays in the air most of the time. Thanks to a lot of substitutions last season, the Sailors have 17 returning starters this year.

“The way the season broke down last year, we had to move some people around,” Sailors coach Frank Horvath said. “Some guys started early, some started late and many only started for three or four games. But we consider them starters and we have a lot of experience returning, especially on the offensive and defensive lines.”

The foundations on both sides of the ball seem set, and now Horvath has to figure out how to fill the skill positions around them, and he doesn’t believe it will be an easy task.

“We have a good group of young players that are really pushing the upperclassmen for their positions,” Horvath said. “It’s made for competitive practices. We have some good skill players, they are just inexperienced right now. It’s going to come down to the scrimmages for us to decide who’s going to be filling out those roles.”

As long as the roster is set and ready to go by the season opener at Huron. The coach and the players list the first game and the last — against top rival Firelands — as the biggest on the schedule.

Vermilion and Huron are traditional rivals that began to face each other annually again when Horvath took over the program six years ago. Under Horvath’s reign, the Sailors have yet to win the “Oar” trophy the teams battle for each season.

“We haven’t won the oar, so it’s hard for our players to understand the meaning of that rivalry game,” said Horvath, who coached at Wellington, Greenville and Tri-County North before landing at Vermilion. “If they win it one time, they won’t want to give it up. They’ve got a lot of tradition over (at Huron) and usually have 100 players out for football each year. They are tough to prepare for because they play kind of vanilla in the scrimmages, but they always bring it in the opener.”

Even though none of the current players have hoisted the oar after a game versus Huron, the captains don’t believe they are any less motivated to snap the skid.

“I’m real hungry to win it,” Malin said. “I want to be the first team to win it back in a long time.”

The rivalry game with Firelands will be the last Week 10 battle between the schools as the Falcons will be leaving the West Shore Conference for the Patriot Athletic Conference next season. Firelands will become Vermilion’s Week 3 non-conference opponent.

“I think its going to be big this year, especially at our Sailors Stadium,” Budka said. “It came down to the wire last year and we’re hoping to knock that out of the way early this year and stay strong throughout the game.

“It’s an honor to have them as the final game during their last season in the conference in my senior year.”

More high school football previews

Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com.