ELYRIA — In the old days, Elyria football could best be described as smashmouth on both sides of the ball.
Passing attack? It was unheard of in the heyday of the 1960s and ’70s and even as recently as the mid-2000s but that all changed under Kevin Fell — at least on the offensive side where a balanced attack simply means you throwing it short sometimes and throwing it long other times.
Last year, with the record-setting passing of Dustin Stolarski, who broke virtually all of Elyria High’s passing records with ease, the Pioneers threw the ball all over the lot — netting more than 2,800 yards passing and 27 touchdown passes.
Stolarski is gone, as is his favorite target — Demetrius Walton — but Fell feels he has enough skilled athletes returning to move the ball. He has three quality running backs, led by two-year junior starter Jumarr Lewis.
He also has five solid receivers, led by seniors Dan Ratliff (49 catches, 749 yards) and Da’Juan Glover (45, 570).
In fact, it was Fell’s switch to two-platoon football that enabled the Pioneers to build some depth. Elyria returns 14 starters and 27 players who saw substantial action from last year’s 7-3 team.
“We started quicker this year,” Fell said. “We knew who the kids were we could count on. In a big school, you sometimes get kids who you think can play and you find out they aren’t students or maybe they’re just not the kind of kid you want on the team and things like that.
“After a year here, we’ve got it whittled down to the kids who understand what Elyria football’s all about. That’s saved us a little time and energy.”
No more will you see the Pioneers simply line up in a full-house, tight formation and run over opponents — although they probably could with their strong backfield and experienced offensive line.
Still, with Stolarski having graduated, that idea had to be a temptation even for Fell.
“You don’t always look at it as quarterback,” said Fell, who is in his second year at Elyria but 33rd as a head coach. “You look at it as your offense being able to move and score points. There was no doubt last year we were a pass-oriented team, and we have been the last few years and we will be this year, too. It’ll just be different guys.”
Senior Chad Shaffer and sophomore Hunter Parsh are the top candidates to replace Stolarski and Fell believes Lewis could get some snaps as well.
“We lost some good players,” Lewis said, “but with the players we have, we’ll get the job done. We’ll be ready to play.”
“We’re blessed with a veteran offensive line and veteran receivers,” Fell said. “Our backs can catch the ball too. That makes quarterbacking a lot easier. I don’t know that we’ll start off with all the big plays we had early last year. We may have to work a little harder for some things but I think overall we’ll be a better offense.”
On the defensive side, under veteran defensive coordinator Jim Slagle, Ohio State defensive end recruit Tracy Sprinkle (eight sacks, 81 tackles) will get the attention of opposing offenses, as will senior linebacker Shawn Masterson (90 tackles).
“This is my senior year,” Sprinkle said. “I knew I’d have to take over that role — be a leader on the field and get after it a little bit and get the young guys ready for the season.”
“Tracy’s worth about three kids,” Fell said. “He has obvious skills. He’s a big, strong kid — he’s fast. The thing that I was impressed with him from the very first day is he’s hard. He comes every play — practice or game. He’s a leader on the field. If you were going to ask who’s in charge of this team — it’s Shawn Masterson and Tracy Sprinkle.
Fell has grown to appreciate Slagle’s defense, having worked together for years.
“If you ever watch us for a whole week, you’d think we didn’t have an offense,” Fell said. “We have days where we cannot do anything against the defense. But what it teaches us to do on offense is to do other things. We don’t see anything on Friday nights that’s as good as our defense.
“We’ve got young kids who have worked really hard this winter and in the spring. Coach Slagle and I both said the same thing. We were the only new coaches (at Elyria last year). It’s better for us to come in this year knowing what the skills of the kids are. Last year we went into two-a-days and even though I’d been around (Elyria) for six months lifting weights, we had no idea about their football abilities.”
Though some of last year’s top offensive weapons have graduated, Fell truly believes this year’s team could top last year’s record.
“I doubt very seriously if you look back at the history of Elyria football where you’d find more guys coming back to play than this team has,” he said. “We’re blessed with 30 seniors. I can remember not too many years ago when (Elyria) had 12 or 13 seniors. We’ve got 30 kids here who have been in the program for four years. I think they stick around because they have a chance to play.”
Elyria opens with Amherst and Elyria Catholic at home before making its appearance on the brand new turf at Adelsberg Stadium at Midview. The Pioneers will compete again in the River Division of the Northeast Ohio Conference.
“Elyria Catholic and Midview have very good quarterbacks coming back,” Fell said, “and I know our kids like playing the local teams. It’s hard for us to get excited about our league games because we just don’t have a natural rivalry with them, but I know Hudson and Mayfield are very good.
“We had that food poisoning week (Strongsville) last year and I think that threw us off when we played North Royalton (the following week). The weather (last year) didn’t cooperate with the way we play later in the year but hopefully we’ll have drier weather this year.”
“We’re going to be fine.”
- CONFERENCE: Northeast Ohio Conference, River Division
- 2011 RECORD: 7-3, 2-3
- COACH: Kevin Fell, 2nd Year (7-3 Elyria, 244-116-2 33-year career)
- RETURNING LETTERMEN: 27
- RETURNING STARTERS: 14
- FAST FACT: Senior Tracy Sprinkle is the fourth straight senior Pioneer lineman to commit to a Division I school following Tad France (Kent State), Chase Farris (Ohio State) and Isaiah Byler (Bowling Green).
- Aug. 24: Amherst
- Aug. 31: Elyria Catholic
- Sept. 7: at Midview
- Sept. 14: Strongsville
- Sept. 21: North Royalton*
- Sept. 27: Valley Forge (at Byers Field)
- Oct. 5: at Cuyahoga Falls*
- Oct. 12: Stow-Monroe*
- Oct. 19: at Hudson*
- Oct. 26: at Mayfield*
*Northeast Ohio Conference River Division
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Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.