November 29, 2014

Elyria
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High school football 2011: Elyria has talent, but needs more experience on line

ELYRIA — Kevin Fell admits some of his longtime coaching friends probably thought he had jumped into the deep end when he applied for the Elyria football job following last season.

Fell had led Amherst to an 8-2 season and just missed qualifying for the Division I playoffs.

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In fact, in 32 years with five schools, Fell has won 237 games and a state championship. He’s also finished second in the state twice, qualified for the playoffs eight times, won 13 conference titles and had five undefeated teams.

Oh, and he was inducted into the Ohio Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 2008.

What more could he add to that already impressive resume?

“A lot of guys would have stayed in Amherst,” he said. “It’s a good job but I don’t think that’s what coaching is all about.

“What I really like about coaching is meeting new coaches, being around new coaches and being around new kids, getting new ideas and stuff.

“It just so happened Elyria was in the right place at the right time for me. I was impressed with them the past couple years. I saw improvement every year that we played them.”

Fell brought defensive guru Jim Slagle with him from Amherst. Slagle has worked with Fell for a couple of decades.

“Staff-wise, we’re pretty much intact from last year,” he said. “The transition’s been pretty smooth. The kids are responding real well. It’s something different. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Among the returning coaches is Steve Hamilton, the head coach the past three years and a longtime offensive line coach prior to that.

Hamilton’s return was huge. For years, he’s turned ordinary-looking offensive lines into positions of strength. He may have to work his magic again this year.

“I was extremely honored he wanted to come back here and not go somewhere else,” Fell said. “Steve’s a premier offensive line coach. I don’t have to say a word. We just don’t have very many (experienced) linemen here. We’ve got a lot of good skill kids. You need both to have a good football team.”

Fell plans to run two-platoons — something the Pioneers have wanted to do over the years but simply lacked the necessary depth. With 85 sophomores, juniors and seniors out for the team, Fell wants to develop the depth the Pioneers will need to be successful in the Northeast Ohio Conference’s River Division.

Elyria returns a good nucleus from last year’s team that finished 4-6 overall and 3-2 in the River. Tad France, a 6-foot-4, 255-pound senior tackle and Kent State recruit, heads the list. With 6-4, 275-pound junior Tracy Sprinkle and seniors Jared Williams (5-10, 205) and Holden Vazur (5-9, 215), Fell figures he has anchors on both sides of the ball.

Gone, of course, is Ohio State-bound Chase Farris and his 95 tackles and 11½ sacks.

At the top of the skill charts are senior quarterback Dustin Stolarski (1,233 yards passing, seven touchdowns and only five interceptions), senior receiver Demetrius Walton (40 receptions, 688 yards) and sophomore tailback Jamurr Lewis (766 yards rushing). Lewis started last year on the freshman team but made a good enough impression to be pressed into varsity action due to injuries and a lack of depth at tailback.

“You know, you don’t win games with your good guys,” Fell said. “You win games with your second guys. Everybody’s got good guys. Everybody’s got a dozen good guys — maybe six or seven good guys. The teams that win games are the teams with those next 15 to 20 guys that come through. That’s what we’re looking for right now.”

Elyria returns 22 lettermen from a year ago and 14 starters. Senior Bryce Ziegman is back to handle the placekicking and punting. Possible starters from a year ago include senior linebacker/tight end Malik Merriweather, senior cornerback Khire Latiff, senior nose guard Jared Williams, junior fullback/receiver Dan Ratliff, junior tailback Keon Nealy, junior cornerback Dontae Dukes, senior safety Khorey Banks, senior defensive back Brenden Dickerson, senior linebacker A.J. Smith and senior linebacker Odell Brown.

Fell will utilize the spread offense similar to the one he ran at Amherst the past two seasons, but he expects the offense to be more balanced between the pass and the run.

The defense will be aggressive.

While the lack of experience up front is a concern, in Fell’s view, Elyria is getting a reputation for developing D-I linemen. Isaiah Byler (Bowling Green), Farris, France and more than likely Sprinkle will give Elyria four D-I recruits in four years.

“Very few schools can say that,” Fell said. “We’ve got a couple juniors who have that potential.”

Fell is impressed with his team’s work ethic and how it has reacted to his presence.

“Ninety-five percent of the guys are working real hard,” Fell said. “I’ve been real impressed with the attitude of everybody. They want to get after it.”

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Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or timothygeb@msn.com.