All of the Lorain County high schools have been eliminated from the football postseason, but several Lorain County football players still have their sights set on a state championship at St. Edward.
The Eagles (11-1) are the No. 1 seed in Division I, Region 1, and will face No. 2 seed Mentor (12-1) on Saturday at 7 p.m. for the regional championship — also considered a state semifinal in Division I — at the University of Akron’s Summa Field. And seven of the team’s 11 offensive starters and four defensive starters hail from Lorain County.
“I think it shows the different background that people come from in Lorain County,” said junior wide receiver David Dowell, a North Ridgeville resident. “There’s a lot of hard-nosed athletes from around here. Football players have a physical background in Lorain County, and I think that’s a pretty good thing.”
David and twin brother Andrew Dowell — the Eagles’ standout tailback — make up two of the four Lorain County starters at the offensive skill positions, joining wide receiver Alex Stump (Avon) and running back Brad Shaver (Grafton).
Along the offensive line, three of the five starters — all along the interior — are from Lorain County: right guard Tyler King (Lorain), center Ben Gaal (Sheffield Lake) and left guard Gage Blair (Elyria).
All three are seniors.
But the majority of the starters didn’t realize they had so many Lorain Countians among their ranks until a reporter asked them about it.
“I think it’s definitely unique and it’s kind of cool, especially when you go to school and realizing how many kids live in same area that also drive 20-30 minutes to school (in Lakewood) every day,” Gaal said. “But to be honest, I never really thought of it that way. I think it’s definitely more of a team thing. No one thinks of the team as groups by where they live.
“I think, especially with us three specifically being on the line, we’ve gotten closer. I’ve been to Gage’s and Tyler’s houses and we’ve gone paintballing. It’s easier hanging out outside of football or outside of school because they only live a short distance away, but I don’t think it changes that much.”
On the defensive side, Shaver (linebacker), David Dowell (cornerback) and Avon’s Ryan King (nose tackle) and Matt Carandang (linebacker) make up the Lorain County starting contingent.
“You can find talent anywhere,” said King, the grandson of former Lorain High School football coach Terry King and son of former St. Ed’s standout Dan King. “It’s around in every city. It depends on the type of coach you have and type of players around you that makes a player even better than he already is.
“With that environment, you can get the most out of yourself as a player, and that’s what truly happens at St. Ed’s.”
David Dowell said that it’s not just the Lorain County starters that make St. Edward so unique.
“All of us come from different backgrounds and different places, but we all kind of came together here to win a state championship,” he said. “It feels great to be in this position. We put a lot of hard work in throughout the season and we’ve just got to finish it out.
“We have a great offensive line. This is the second year of all of them starting. They have a great chemistry. Two or three of them are from Lorain (County), and that just makes even more chemistry for them.”
For the Eagles, they’ll have revenge on their minds Saturday night against Mentor. Last season, they were the top-seed in Division I, Region 1, but were upset by the Cardinals in a wild 63-56 regional semifinal.
“Mentor’s always been a school that we’ve had a mini-rivalry against,” Gaal said. “We’ve always played hard against each other and had very competitive games. I guess you can say that playing Mentor is different than playing some other teams.
“But at same time, we keep in our mind the pain that our loss to them carried. But that’s not our motivating force. We’re thinking about us and where we want to go. Our main focus going into this game is on us and what we’re trying to do.”
This season, the only loss St. Edward suffered was to archrival St. Ignatius, 23-17, on Oct. 19. Since then, the Eagles have gone 5-0 over the two final regular-season games and the three playoff games, outscoring their opponents 205-89. In the three playoff games, they’ve outscored their opponents 119-7.
“Everything has prepared us for this,” said King, a Bowling Green recruit. “From being around all the excellence in the program for four years, from the morning workouts from the preseason on, from the bonding that we all have made from July to now, that all prepares for what we’re experiencing now.
“Last year, as a team, we learned that we all have to realize that every game could be our last in an Ed’s uniform and we can never take anything for granted. That’s been our main focus this week.”
For seniors like King and Gaal, they got the chance to experience being a part of a state football championship when, as freshmen, they were allowed to suit up with the varsity during the five weeks of the postseason.
“My freshman year was when we won the school’s first-ever state championship and I was lucky enough to be one of the freshmen who practiced with the varsity in the playoffs,” Gaal said. “Unfortunately, since then, we haven’t been able to replicate that kind of success.
“It really means the world to me to do it as a senior because I felt a bit of what it was like as a freshman. But now that I’ve been through the program and put forth all the time and effort for four years, it would mean a lot more, mostly because of everything I’ve poured into it.”