August 23, 2014

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Undersized Kevin Skotko has become Avon’s top defender

If you pass Kevin Skotko while he isn’t wearing pads, you might be surprised to learn he’s a member of the Avon football team. Even in pads and told he plays defense, you’d probably guess he played cornerback or safety.

You certainly wouldn’t think the 5-foot-9, 175-pound senior leads the team in tackles at inside linebacker and serves as a fullback on offense.

“Kevin’s a very physical player,” said Avon cornerback Ross Douglas, who will play for Michigan in the Big Ten, a conference known for its physical play. “He might be small if you look at him, but he plays a lot bigger than his size. He’s probably the hardest hitter on our team’ and he’s full of intensity. He’s definitely the leader of our defense.”

Skotko began playing flag football in third grade, then strapped on the pads in fourth and the sport really sank its hooks into him. He played CYO ball until middle school, then played for Avon’s school teams the next six years.

“I was just raised on it,” Skotko said. “Me and my dad to this day, the best time we bond together is when we’re watching a game. My brother (Dan) played before me, and I always looked up to him. He’s one of my biggest role models. I went to every one of his games.”

Football seeped into Kevin’s veins and he soon realized he loved the contact aspect of the sport. Despite being a better fit sizewise to play tailback, Skotko thrived as the backfield player that blew through the defensive line and tried to knock opposing linebackers to the ground.

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On defense, he wanted to cut down runners and make big hits.

“I was never the fastest or could jump the highest or any of that, but I just liked the relentless grittiness of those positions, and that’s how I play to this day,” Skotko said. “I’m not the biggest guy, I’m not the fastest guy, but I’ll outplay the other guy. I’m the guy that’s trying to make the tackle the hardest out there. I give it my all.”

But it’s not just effort that has made Skotko one of the best players on the best defense in Lorain County. He holds a 4.0 gpa, and that intelligence has come in handy on the field.

“He studies film, and he’ll read off at the line,” Avon coach Mike Elder said. “He knows (opponents’) tendencies and studies their film. So when things happen in front of him he can react quickly. Because he’s smart, he became a great football player. He’s always in the right spot at the right time. You can make up for some of your lack of speed if you’re always taking the right first step based upon your reads.”

“Any position, if you’re a technician at that position you’re going to be good at it,” Skotko said. “That’s another thing I felt was part of my game … understanding angles and the technique it takes to get the job done.”

It’s paid off for Skotko and the team this season. He spent his first two high school seasons on junior varsity, was a backup linebacker during the Eagles’ run to the Division II state championship game last season and finally earned a starting spot this year.

Through 12 weeks, he leads the team with 97 tackles — 22 solo — and 16 tackles for a loss. He has 2.5 sacks, a pair of forced fumbles, an interception and a pass defensed. The performance landed him on the district first team, and will probably earn him All-Ohio recognition, too.

Elder is quick to point out that Skotko’s tackles are legitimate.

“I’ve seen kids before where you say, ‘Hey, he’s the leading tackler on the team, he has 120 tackles,’” Elder said. “Then you start looking at where the tackles occur and they’re 6, 7 yards downfield. That doesn’t do you any good. You need a guy that reacts quickly and plays downhill.

“A lot of (Skotko’s) tackles are at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield. He’s reading and diagnosing the offenses and flying downhill and making plays at the line of scrimmage. We feel like we’re a really good unit on defense and probably better than we’ve been on defense, and he’s a huge part of that.”

So good that Elder, the Eagles’ offensive coordinator, reluctantly admits that the defense is easily the best of the team’s units this season. Avon has surrendered just 153 points in 12 games — 12.75 points per game.

“I completely agree with that,” Skotko said of Elder’s assessment. “High school football is all about momentum and last year it seemed like the offense had a lot of big plays — and our offense still makes big plays — but I think the defense this year has provided those spark plays that really get the momentum going.”

The fact that the linebackers are leading the way is a bit of a surprise. All four linebackers from last year’s state runner-up team were seniors, and Skotko is the lone senior to step into the role this season. Sophomore Cory Ohradzansky — the other inside linebacker — is second on the team in tackles, while junior outside linebacker Kevin Maloney is third. The fourth linebacker, junior Ryan Steinmetz, is also in the top 10.

“(Skotko’s) one of our team captains, and I think his leadership has been tremendous,” Elder said. “We graduated every linebacker, so going into the year we had a unit that was inexperienced, and we needed leadership there. He’s done a great job of leading that group, and they’ve went from being one of our question marks to one of the strengths of our team.”

Unsung hero

Domonic Bodnar, jr., OL/DL

Bodnar

Avon coach Mike Elder prides himself on a program that usually has a two-name depth chart on both sides of the ball.
So when an Eagles player lines up on every offensive and defensive play, it’s no surprise that Elder refers to him as, “the toughest player on our team.”

“Domonic Bodnar is probably our biggest surprise,” Elder said. “Not that we didn’t think he was going to be a good player, but he became a really good player for us. He has a motor that doesn’t quit, he never gives up on a play. His energy and hustle is what makes him such a great player as opposed to those other guys who have that big size and stature.”

Bodnar has played bigger than his 5-foot-11, 220-pound frame would suggest. Besides standout blocking as a right guard on offense, he has compiled 58 tackles — fourth-best on the team — 12 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks — tied for the team lead — three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and an interception, which he returned for a touchdown, on the defensive line.

“He doesn’t tire,” Elder said. “We try not to play a lot of guys both ways, especially early on, but Domonic is a kid that we could tell early in the season that he could go wall to wall, and play both sides of the ball and never take a break. He’s just that kid.”

The Ironman play is just part of the reason Elder is impressed with the junior lineman. He said the physical play Bodnar brings to the trenches is inspiring, and even when an opponent gets the better of him on a play he bounces back and keeps fighting.

“We have a thing called ‘Tough Street’ where we give away T-shirts to our toughest kids in the program,” Elder said. “They kids laugh and joke all the time that they almost have to give up spleens, and legs and knees for the program, and they never get a Tough Street T-shirt.

“We only have six kids that are in that club and he’s one of them.”

Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.