AVON LAKE — Avon Lake met its top annual goal in 2011, and narrowly missed its second. But the way the Shoremen figure, they have a perfect opportunity to rectify the latter early this season.
The Shoremen rolled to a 7-0 record in Southwestern Conference play last season to win their 14th SWC title in the last 15 years. But they needed a wakeup call in their nonconference schedule to do it: Avon whipped Avon Lake for the second year in a row, 38-7, and a loss to Massillon Jackson factored into the Shoremen narrowly missing the playoffs in their first year back in Division I, Region 2.
Another difficult nonconference schedule, though — Lorain joins Jackson and Avon, the latter first up on opening night for the third consecutive season — offers the Shoremen the chance to earn valuable early points toward a return to the postseason.
“Last year, one of our biggest problems against Avon was confidence,” said senior offensive tackle John Lancione, the only returning starter on the line. “We have some leaders who have returned and are helping out the new starters, and that’s changed our confidence level early this year, which we’ll need.”
Shoremen coach Dave Dlugosz said he anticipates the team returning to an offensive formula that it’s used in its most successful recent seasons, with a 60-40 run-pass ratio. Think 2010, when Trent Toy and Ronnie Willoughby wreaked havoc on opposing defenses expecting the run, with 18 touchdowns, many on play-action passes.
Last year, the Shoremen — paced by Dontez Smith and Collin Lucas — ran 83 percent of the time. Smith who rushed for 1,370 yards and 11 touchdowns, is gone, though Lucas, just a junior, returns and will carry a heavy load from his fullback spot. Tailbacks Jace Russell and Wyatt Ohm, both juniors, will split time at tailback.
This year, Avon Lake is deeper at the skill positions, with David Winkel taking over at quarterback for Chris Jedlicka and Jimmy Hessell — a senior whose 429 yards receiving landed him a spot on the All-SWC and All-Lorain County teams — anchoring a receiving corps which has Dlugosz excited. Joe Pappas, Matt Morrissette and Max Seipel join Hessell, while tight end Kyle Kuhar also will play a big role.
“When we’re really good, we’re able to pass the ball,” Dlugosz said. “Not only will our run game set up the pass, we think our pass game will help loosen up the run game.
“David played very well over the summer, and has the personality you want in a quarterback: confident, but not cocky. And we’re blessed with good things at wide receiver.”
The Shoremen do have some inexperience to contend with, as those skill positions surround a rebuilt offensive line anchored by Lancione. Tom Dixon will start at center, Sean Van Niel and Bill Hyland at guard and Steve Sabo with Lancione at tackle. All are seniors, but all have limited varsity experience.
That’ll play a role on defense, too: Lucas, Dlugosz said, should be one of the top linebackers in the state, while Kuhar, an end, Zach Zamiska, an All-SWC tackle, and Hessell, a defensive back, will provide stability.
Filling in around that quartet, though, will be tricky.
“We’ve been pushing those positions that have our younger guys really hard, to make them mature as quickly as they can,” Dlugosz said. “We’ve been holding their feet to the fire.”
Both Lancione and Hessell vowed that the team’s confidence early in the season won’t be a problem this time around. Lancione said the difficult beginning fueled the Shoremen’s 7-0 conference run, while Hessell said the team is not focusing on the missed playoff berth too much but rather using it as proper motivation.
“We’re telling the younger guys that this is your chance to fill the holes left by seniors and our time to fill our potential,” Hessell said. “We see the nonconference schedule this season as a chance to prove ourselves. We’re ready to go.”
The challenge, Dlugosz said, is translating that solid finish on the field to Aug. 24.
“We were pretty good at the end of the year last year, but weren’t very good at the start,” he said. “We must mature quickly. Our independent schedule is awfully good.”
Avon Lake Shoremen
- CONFERENCE: Southwestern
- 2011 RECORD: 8-2, 7-0
- COACH: Dave Dlugosz, 22nd year
- RETURNING LETTERMEN: 14
- RETURNING STARTERS: 11
- FAST FACT: Dlugosz has a new outlook on this coaching thing, having retired from his teaching position at Avon Lake and an adjunct faculty position at Lorain County Community College after last school year. He’s 192-41 at Avon Lake, and is wondering just how it’ll feel not to have to worry about classes. “I want to see what it’s like. No lesson plans, textbooks. It’ll almost be like coaching on the college level. All those (assistant) coaches are all going over to their classrooms to get them ready, and I say, ‘See ya.’”
- Aug. 24: Avon
- Aug. 31: at Lorain
- Sept. 7: Massillon Jackson
- Sept. 14: North Olmsted*
- Sept. 21: Midpark*
- Sept. 28: at Berea*
- Oct. 5: Westlake*
- Oct. 12: at Brecksville-Broadview Heights*
- Oct. 19: Olmsted Falls*
- Oct. 26: Amherst*
All games at 7 p.m.
*Southwestern Conference game
Contact Joel Hammond at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.