SULLIVAN TWP. — One would guess that as the favorites to win the Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division, things would be pretty much settled for the Black River Pirates. But one week before the season is set to begin, coach Al Young is still trying to solidify his starting lineup.
“We have 68 players out for football this year,” said Young. “That’s made the level of competition go up and players are really battling for spots right now. While the majority of starting spots have been settled, we still have some up in the air.
“It’s possible that players that started last season might not this season. It’s been that competitive.”
One of the positions that is locked down is quarterback, where senior Talon Wood finally takes over the spot. Wood (6-foot-3, 180 pounds) had a shot to start as a sophomore but suffered a concussion in the first game. Last season as a junior, he started but things didn’t work out. This season the job is all his.
“I’m looking to finally show what I can do,” Wood said. “I feel like I have disappointed some people a little and I want to make it up to them this season. I want to get in there, play well and help lead our team to the goals we want to achieve.”
Any pressure that Wood may feel will most likely be relieved by Matt Joppeck (5-10, 180). The senior running back returns and looks for his third straight 1,000-yard rushing season. Joppeck will be joined in the backfield by fellow senior and return specialist Jake O’Connor (5-11, 165). Junior Jake Sexton (5-10, 160), who Young describes as a “hard-working superstar,” and freshman Andrew Vaughn (5-9, 160), will help round out a position that Young terms “the strongest part of our team.”
Tight end Jon Sas (6-3, 210) and wide receiver John Guilford (6-4, 190) return, but a battle is brewing for spots on the offensive line. Seniors Jared Axford (6-0, 260) and Dan Freehling (5-10, 235), juniors Doug Church (6-0, 260), Marshall Mayhugh (6-3, 265) and Terry Sas (6-2, 230) all appeared to have spots locked up. But they have been pushed hard by senior Nate Lee (5-11, 195) and junior Andrew Hensel (5-11, 175), both of whom figure to see playing time if they aren’t starting.
“The offensive line battles have been helpful,” Young said. “Players are pushing each other to be better and that means good things for our football team.”
Defensively, the Pirates will run a 5-3 and will be led by Jon Sas, who received recognition as a Division IV second-team All-Ohio linebacker in 2009. Joppeck and junior Austin Jones (5-10, 190) will join Sas in the middle. O’Connor and Sexton will man the corners for what is expected to be a solid secondary.
Church, Axford, Mayhugh and sophomore Barrett Schmitz (5-10, 200) will assume positions on the line. They will be joined at some point by senior Bill Spooner, who has been absent all summer as an early enrollment recruit for the military.
“Defensively we should be OK,” Young said. “It’s been a process finding the right group of players to throw out there. They have worked hard this summer and they appear to be ahead of where we were last year at this point.”
“We have a solid group of guys out there on defense,” he said. “The leadership out there is different this year compared to last season and that has helped. Everyone is out there competing against one another in practice but also helping each other. It really feels like everyone wants each other to succeed no matter what.”
The Pirates will get a test right out of the gate when they face off against Western Reserve. Games against Northwestern and Akron Manchester will prep them for the always competitive PAC.
“The PAC has been a good conference for us,” said Young. “It’s got a nice mixture of schools in there for us. Some natural rivals, and it’s always a dogfight week in and week out. We’re looking forward to going out there and seeing how things turn out.”
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.