November 25, 2015


High school football: Special years for Firelands, Avon pay off in top awards

Good players, good teams, good coaches and good seasons pretty much go together.

Just ask Avon and Firelands, two of the top football teams in Lorain County this season and the teams that dominated the special awards in this year’s All-Lorain County voting.

Avon, which is 12-1 and playing in the Division II state semifinals Friday against Aurora at Byers Field in Parma, had two of the players of the year and the coach of the year in the big-school (Divisions I and II) category.

Firelands, which went undefeated during the regular season for the first time since 1973 and earned the school’s first postseason berth, also had two players of the year and the coach of the year in the small-school division.

Matt Eckhardt, a 5-foot-11 senior wide receiver, was named co-Most Valuable Offensive Back, while Jacob Mullins, another 5-11 senior, was named Most Valuable Defensive Back.

Mike Elder won the Tom Hoch Coach of the Year Award.

“Those two guys really deserve that, in my opinion,” Elder said of Eckhardt and Mullins. “I don’t know if I’d trade either one of them for anyone in the county, and there are some great players in the county. I’m proud of them.”

Eckhardt had 41 receptions for 795 yards and 11 touchdowns and eight carries for 80 yards and another TD during the regular season.

Mullins had 62 tackles (including two for losses), a sack and two fumble recoveries — one which he returned for a TD.

“To be honest with you, we’re a really good football team because we have really good players,” said Elder, who shared the coach of the year award last season after guiding the Eagles to an undefeated regular season and another trip to the playoffs. “We’re still playing in Week 14, and you can’t play in Week 14 without great players.”

Elyria quarterback Dustin Stolarski shared the Most Valuable Offensive Back award with Eckhardt. The 6-2 senior completed 201 of 335 passes for 2,805 yards and 26 TDs to go with just nine interceptions. He set five school and three county records along the way as he led the Pioneers to a 7-3 record.

His teammate Tad France, a 6-4, 255-pound tackle, was named Most Valuable Offensive Lineman. The Kent State recruit graded out at 94 percent in his blocking this season.

The Most Valuable Defensive Lineman award went to Midview senior Arlington McClinton. The 6-6, 230-pounder had 48 tackles, 11.5 for a loss, eight sacks and a fumble recovery. He’s had offers from Akron and Toledo.

Firelands quarterback Kyle Smith was co-Most Valuable Offensive Back of the Year in the small-school class after completing 84 of 156 passes for 1,568 yards and 19 TDs to go with just six interceptions during the regular season. But he was just as dangerous on the ground, carrying the ball 109 times for 705 yards and 10 TDs.

The Falcons’ Joe DeWitt, a 6-2, 245-pound senior, was named Most Valuable Defensive Lineman after piling up 83 tackles (nine for losses), 7.5 sacks, 14 quarterback pressures, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

“Those are well-deserved,” Firelands coach Mike Passerrello said of his players’ honors. “They worked hard to earn those awards.”

While Smith plays a high-visibility position and his contributions are out there for everyone to see, DeWitt doesn’t get the same attention toiling on the defensive line.

“Joe does a lot of things that are unnoticed,” Passerrello said. “Joe’s just so strong. Once he takes on double teams, he does a good job of getting off of them and making plays.”

Passerrello earned the Tom Hoch Coach of the Year Award for the small-school division in his first full year on the job, having taken over during the 2010 season. He said he’s had some time to think about the Falcons’ big year, and being the coach who turned the team around after a string of losing seasons.

“Yeah, I think about it every day,” he said. “It’s been a special season and something that not only myself, but the players are going to be thinking about forever. It was a great season and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Columbia senior John Banyasz shared the Most Valuable Offensive Back award with Smith. The 6-2 quarterback completed 125 of 202 passes for 2,150 yards and 18 TDs, while throwing just five interceptions. He also had 88 carries for 382 yards and six TDs.

Most Valuable Defensive Back went to Wellington senior Clay Wright, who helped the Dukes go 7-3 and make the Division IV playoffs despite opening the season 0-2. The 5-10, 200-pound linebacker had 120 tackles and a sack. He was also his team’s top offensive player, rushing for 1,450 yards and 25 TDs and even completing seven passes for 145 yards.

Elyria Catholic’s Alex Nielsen, a 6-5, 265-pound senior, was named the Most Valuable Offensive Lineman. The Kent State recruit graded out at 98 percent on his blocking and had 50 pancake blocks.

Big schools (Division I and II)


FIRST TEAM: Josh Bennett (Vermilion), senior; Mitch Bugala (North Ridgeville), senior; David Gilchrist (Midview), senior; Matt Cox (Lorain), senior; Tad France (Elyria), senior; T.K. Burk (Avon Lake), senior; Will Miller (Avon), senior.

HONORABLE MENTION: Frank Estep (Vermilion), junior; Ryan Byrne (Avon), senior.


FIRST TEAM: Tyler Lance (Avon), senior; Dan Ratliff (Elyria), junior; Patrick Linn (Midview), senior; Matt Dawson (North Ridgeville), senior.


FIRST TEAM: Christian Watkins (North Ridgeville), senior; Eric Lauer (Midview), junior; Ryan Mains (Midview), senior; Demetrius Walton (Elyria), senior; Matt Eckhardt (Avon), senior; Stephen Hause (Amherst), senior.

HONORABLE MENTION: Jim Hessel (Avon Lake), junior.


FIRST TEAM: Justin O’Rourke (Avon), senior; Dustin Stolarski (Elyria), senior; Collin Bryant (Lorain), senior; Cody Callaway (Midview), sophomore.


FIRST TEAM: Jason Anthony (Vermilion), senior; Jacob Bennett (Midview), senior; Christian Nogueras (Lorain), senior; Jumarr Lewis (Elyria), sophomore; Dontez Smith (Avon Lake), senior; Ross Douglas (Avon), junior.


FIRST TEAM: Brad Young (Avon), senior. HONORABLE MENTION: Brad Brill (Avon Lake), senior.


FIRST TEAM: Brendan Large (Midview), senior; Tracy Sprinkle (Elyria), junior; Greg Harrison (Avon), senior.

HONORABLE MENTION: Cedric Peyton (Lorain), senior; Cody Sheets (Amherst), senior.


FIRST TEAM: Jeremiah Burris (Avon), junior; Alex Kelly (Avon), junior; Zach Zamiska (Avon Lake), junior; Jake Young (Avon Lake), senior; Jared Williams (Elyria), senior; Arlington McClinton (Midview), senior; Eric Knoblauch (North Ridgeville), senior.


FIRST TEAM: David Riley (North Ridgeville), senior; Tate Smith (Midview), senior); Andrew Kovacs (Lorain), senior; Holden Vazur (Elyria), senior; Collin Lucas (Avon Lake), sophomore; Matt Tomlin (Avon), senior.

HONORABLE MENTION: Jason Anthony (Vermilion), senior; Cory Furnas (Avon), senior.


FIRST TEAM: Jacob Mullins (Avon), senior; Brett Bass (Avon Lake), senior; Brenden Dickerson (Elyria), senior; Brandon Davis (Lorain), senior; Brandon Blascak (Midview), senior; P.J. Bunevich (North Ridgeville), senior.

HONORABLE MENTION: Matt Holkenborg (Avon senior); Bradley Cole (Vermilion junior).


FIRST TEAM: Bryce Ziegman (Elyria), senior.

HONORABLE MENTION: Adam Horrocks (Avon), senior.


Co-Most Valuable Offensive Backs: Dustin Stolarski (Elyria) and Matt Eckhardt (Avon)

Most Valuable Offensive Lineman: Tad France (Elyria)

Most Valuable Defensive Back: Jacob Mullins (Avon)

Most Valuable Defensive Lineman: Arlington McClinton (Midview)

Tom Hoch Coach of the Year: Mike Elder (Avon)

Small schools

(Division III, IV and V)


FIRST TEAM: Nick Sutherland (Wellington), senior; Brando Enderby (Keystone), junior; Andy Thoms (Firelands), senior; Alex Nielsen (Elyria Catholic), senior; Foster Tucker (Columbia), junior; Quentin Horton (Clearview), junior. HONORABLE MENTION: Brady Jones (Oberlin), senior; Louis Francis (Brookside), senior.


FIRST TEAM: Zach Kirkwood (Brookside), senior; Josh Molina (Clearview), senior.


FIRST TEAM: Clifton Brown (Clearview), junior; Shane Lambert (Columbia), senior; Conner Riddell (Elyria Catholic), sophomore; Jordan Altpater (Elyria Catholic), junior; Joe Kudela (Firelands), senior; Zac Gilbert (Wellington), senior.

HONORABLE MENTION: Josh Zenkert (Brookside), senior; Cody Northeim (Firelands), senior.


FIRST TEAM: John Banyasz (Columbia), senior; Kyle Smith (Firelands), senior.


FIRST TEAM: Alex Rush (Wellington), junior; Kalif Townsel (Oberlin), junior; Nick Deichler (Firelands), senior; Brandon Heidinger (Columbia), senior; Matt Jordan (Clearview), senior; Arin Pruitt (Brookside), sophomore.


FIRST TEAM: Brandon Bellman (Brookside), sophomore.

HONORABLE MENTION: Vince Faraji (Elyria Catholic senior).


FIRST TEAM: Gio Taw (Brookside), senior; Deamond Ray (Clearview), senior; Cole Gorske (Elyria Catholic), senior.


FIRST TEAM: Aric Pruitt (Brookside), senior; Drew Hatcher (Clearview), sophomore; Joe DeWitt (Firelands), senior; Greg Howard (Keystone), junior; Ryan Alspach (Wellington), junior; Trey Brown (Wellington), junior.


FIRST TEAM: Clay Wright (Wellington), senior; Drew Randleman (Oberlin), senior; Zach Hofecker (Firelands), junior; Joe Dempsey (Elyria Catholic), senior; Chad Anderson (Clearview), junior; Chad Metcalf (Brookside), junior.

HONORABLE MENTION: Pierce Young (Keystone), sophomore; Matt Morgan (Elyria Catholic), senior.


FIRST TEAM: Nathan Gray (Wellington), senior; Jason Moore Jr. (Oberlin), junior; James Baker (Elyria Catholic), senior; Connor Jenny (Columbia), senior; Alonso Southard (Clearview), senior; Keyonte Francis (Brookside), senior.


FIRST TEAM: Ian Kovacs (Elyria Catholic), junior.


Co-Most Valuable Offensive Backs: Kyle Smith (Firelands) and John Banyasz (Columbia)

Most Valuable Offensive Lineman: Alex Nielsen (Elyria Catholic)

Most Valuable Defensive Back: Clay Wright (Wellington)

Most Valuable Defensive Lineman: Joe DeWitt (Firelands)

Tom Hoch Coach of the Year: Mike Passerrello (Firelands)

Chronicle-Telegram sportswriter Shaun Bennett contributed to this story. Contact Kevin Aprile at 329-7135 or