After putting together one of the best seasons in program history in 2008, which included an unbeaten regular season and a playoff run to the regional championship, the Eagles stumbled to a 6-4 season — 4-3 in the West Shore Conference — last year.
But at least those were two winning records.
“People have come up to me and said, ‘You guys were just a win (against Rocky River) away from winning the conference and going back to the playoffs last year,’” Eagles coach Mike Elder said. “I have to remind them that we were just a few losses from being 3-7, too.”
The Eagles were particularly exposed as having defensive issues last season, giving up 229 points (22.9 per game) which put them next-to-last in the league.
But 10 defensive starters are returning and they aren’t green rookies anymore.
“We may not be much better (on defense), time will tell,” Elder said. “But there’s a major difference in high school football when you have an 18-year-old player going up against a 15-year-old kid … that’s what happened to us last year.”
The Eagles also were without the services of senior linebacker Patrick Furnas, who broke his ankle during training camp, for the first half of the season. Furnas — one of five senior captains and the only starter left from the 2008 team — helped bolster an Eagles team that won four of its last five games to salvage the 2009 season and give the program a boost before heading into the offseason.
“I think there was such a big momentum change, especially after that final game,” Furnas said of the Eagles’ 14-7 win over WSC co-champ Bay in Week 10. “We normally have around eight guys show up for voluntary weight lifting sessions during the first week of the offseason. This year, we had 20 to 25 guys every day showing up.”
With nearly its entire defense back and 21 lettermen returning, Avon has reason to be optimistic heading into the 2010 season. Not that the Eagles or Elder need any motivation heading into each season, where the team’s two annual goals continue to be winning the WSC title and earning a postseason berth.
“Expectations have changed around here and that’s why nobody was happy with the results of last year,” Elder said. “I was proud of the way the seniors held the team together. They faced a ton of adversity (injuries, targets on their backs, etc.) and they never quit. As a result, we finished 6-4 instead of 2-8.
“But we wanted to make it to the playoffs. Anything short of that, everyone in this program will be disappointed.”
Leading the large group of returning players will be Furnas and the other captains — which include senior wide receiver and defensive back Conner Friss, senior offensive and defensive lineman Alex Isaac, senior wide receiver and safety Chris Zeh and senior wide receiver and defensive back Kevin Krakora.
The offense will once again be led by the two-pronged quarterback attack of senior Cody Schroeder and junior Justin O’Rourke. The pair switched every other series last season, but Elder said Schroeder will be the outright starter this year.
“We’re going to go with the senior as the starter and he’ll probably see more time this year,” Elder said. “But they are both definitely going to play. We’ve got to find that good balance and find a way to run the ball effectively.”
Furnas said that won’t be a problem. He believes that Avon is loaded with offensive weapons this season and the Eagles biggest issue will be trying to find the right ones to use at the right times.
“We have depth like crazy,” he said. “We don’t have a star player, we have multiple guys we can go to. There isn’t that one guy that we have to go deep to or that we have to put the ball in their hands.”
The Eagles are one of many area teams with interesting schedules this season. They will face backyard rival Avon Lake — the schools met a few years ago when Elder first took over the program — in the season opener, battle Wellington in Week 2 and face newly consolidated Lorain High in the non-conference finale.
“We have to find a way to get out of our non-conference schedule with a winning record, and that’s going to be tough,” Elder said. “Those games will set the pace for the rest of the season and if don’t win at least two, we probably are going to have a tough time making the playoffs.”
It will also be Avon’s last meetings with Fairview and Firelands as WSC members, and the Eagles will have tough battles against defending league champs North Ridgeville, Bay and Rocky River to look forward to.
“Any one of four or five schools can win the championship this year,” Elder said. “Just look at what happened last year (with three schools sharing the title with two league losses each). It’s hard to believe that someone can win our league with an undefeated record any more. That speaks volumes as to how far this league has come.”
But when it comes to the biggest reason fans and players should feel the Eagles have a shot at accomplishing their goals — this season and beyond — starts with the man who’s put it all together.
“Coach Elder is the best coach I’ve ever had,” Furnas said. “Even when we’re behind, he knows exactly what to do to get us back in the game. He can change the direction of any game in the blink of an eye.”
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 Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or email@example.com.