NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Luke Durbin is a first-time head football coach, but he comes to North Ridgeville with an impressive pedigree.
His father, Jeff Durbin, was the head football coach at Uniontown Lake for 23 years. Luke was the water boy, then played, then began his coaching career following college.
Durbin then went over to prestigious Massillon Washington, where he coached in two previous stints, including a three-year tenure as defensive coordinator prior to coming to North Ridgeville.
“My father won three state championships at Uniontown Lake and I spent most of my life observing him and learning from him how to run a successful program,” said Durbin, who hired his father to be his offensive coordinator at North Ridgeville. “A lot of him is reflected in our program. I think he’s always done things the right way. That’s the coach that I want to be and the program I want to have.
“Massillon is about the closest to coaching big-time college football at the high-school level. I think we prepared our kids, prepared gameplans and broke down opponents at a high level. It exposed me to a different thinking than what I played with for my father and at Baldwin-Wallace. It was a great experience to work with those kids and help build that program, and it served me well.”
The players he inherited at North Ridgeville have immediately embraced his philosophies and his mantras, which has them thinking big in the Rangers’ final year in the West Shore Conference.
“Everything’s totally different from last year,” said junior standout tailback Demario McCall, who will also play cornerback this season. “With the new coaching staff, the main difference is the leadership within the team. The new goals we have, what we’ve been doing. Everything’s been totally different. We’re running a totally different offense, and I’ve been able to pick it up pretty quickly.
“This year, the sky’s the limit for our team. Everything is different. The way we play, the team tempo, how we huddle, how we get to the line, how we run the next play. That will be the main difference – a change in the team tempo. We’re going to be a lot quicker in every aspect.”
While McCall is the standout and will be highlighted in Durbin’s Multiple-I formation offense, the coach is looking forward to seeing how his team throws the ball this year.
“With Jason Lucas graduated, the quarterback position is still undecided,” Durbin said. “We have three players – senior Logan Armaro, sophomore Collin Sullinger and junior Noah Whipkey – vying for that spot. It’s been an open competition and we’ll go with the best one, regardless of class.
“On both sides of ball, Demario is going to get the headlines, but we have a lot of guys that are good football players. In order to accomplish our goals, we have to be a more than a one-man show. Guys like (fullback/linebacker) Jonah Bowden, (cornerback/wide receiver) Shawn Stumpf and (tight end/defensive end) Ben Rankin, all seniors, just to name a few, we will count on. It’s nice to have some guys returning that we think we can count on and have been in battles before.”
Durbin said that McCall will be lined up in different spots to best exploit his natural abilities.
“The fun has been building an offense to bring out the best in him, but also to get the rest involved,” Durbin said. “We’re going to move him all around. He’ll be in the backfield, at receiver. At any given down, he can line up anywhere in the formation. We hope that will cause other teams some headaches.”
McCall and Bowden join senior linemen Willy Hedberg and Chad Ferrara as the returning starters on offense. Bowden, an inside linebacker in their Shade 50 scheme, will be joined by linebacker Charles Robbins, Stumpf, defensive back Armaro, Rankin and lineman Alex Leanza as the returning starters on defense.
“You can tell there’s something special in the air,” Bowden said. “I definitely felt (Durbin) had a mission for our program. He wasn’t going to make the newness of the staff change our goal, and we bought in to that. Everything’s been real positive. Our practices are always intense. There’s never a dull moment with our practices. I’m very excited.
“It’s not really a big adjustment for me. It’s different, but it’s exciting and I like that. I knew we had the players, we had the skill and everybody has weaknesses, but Coach utilizes our strengths so it works out for the best.”
Sullinger highlights a group of newcomers that Durbin is excited about. Junior wide receiver/defensive back Jordan Montgomery didn’t start last year, but he’ll be a two-way starter this season. Others include junior wideout Tyler Rowe, sophomore tight end/defensive Alex Lesniak, and sophomore offensive linemen Jordan King, Devin Blagg and Jaret Mullins.
“All of those guys have a legitimate chance to play and even start if they continue to work hard and earn it,” Durbin said. “They’ve been pleasant surprises in camp early on. There’s a group that surprised us and another group that didn’t start last year that we’re counting on to this year.”
Durbin said the community can expect to see a more disciplined team with a tough, physical defense and an athletic offense that can put up points this season.
“Everybody’s back to finish what we left off on the field,” McCall said. “There’s no more ‘We’re an inch away,’ we’re ready this year. I can tell by the way we practice, the way we work, that we’re ready.
“I didn’t play defense last year and I’m looking forward to giving out some hits. We actually call our defense the ‘No Fly Zone.’ We’re flying around everywhere, we’re really quick and fast this year. I’m excited about what we can do and what we’re capable of.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or email@example.com.
North Ridgeville Rangers
CONFERENCE: West Shore (Division II)
2013 RECORD: 6-4 (4-2)
COACH: Luke Durbin (1st year, 0-0)
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 16
RETURNING STARTERS: 10 (6 offense, 4 defense)
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: Unavailable
LAST TIME IN PLAYOFFS: Unavailable
NUMBERS GAME: 203 – The number of career victories accumulated by longtime head coach Jeff Riesen, who’s contract wasn’t renewed following 39 years of coaching.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Demario McCall – The junior tailback has made a name for himself running the football the past two years. However, he’ll add cornerback to his list of duties this season as he continues to field Division I college offers.
Aug. 29 … at Westlake (7 p.m.)
Sept. 5 … Parma (7 p.m.)
Sept. 12 … at North Olmsted (7 p.m.)
Sept. 19 … at Avon Lake (7 p.m.)
Sept. 26 … at Rocky River (7 p.m.)
Oct. 3 … Midview (7 p.m.)
Oct. 10 … at Avon (7 p.m.)
Oct. 17 … Bay (7 p.m.)
Oct. 24 … Elyria Catholic (7 p.m.)