WELLINGTON — It’s the dawn of a new era for Wellington football as Sean Arno returns to the area to take over as head coach of the Dukes.
Arno’s football coaching career started in 1998 with a successful six-year run as freshman coach under Dick Kerschbaum at Elyria High. After a stint in southern Ohio, Arno welcomed the opportunity to come back as coach and assistant principal at Wellington High school. His wife, Anne, will be a teacher at McCormick. They have two sons, the oldest a freshman at Wellington.
“We’re back here with our family,” Arno said. “We’ve been gone 10 years. It was a big deal. Wellington being this size allows (the boys) to participate in more than one sport. That’s very important to me. I think it’s very important in the overall experience for a student. I want to see kids play as many sports as possible.”
Arno has some huge shoes to fill in replacing Matt Stoll, who won 149 games in 24 seasons at Wellington and 195 overall in 30 seasons, six at Black River. Stoll, whose teams were in the playoffs six times — five at Wellington — was inducted into the Lorain County Football County Coaches Association Hall of Fame this summer.
Wellington was 2-8 last year but won its last two games with a pair of 35-0 shutouts over Firelands and Brookside.
“If we can play like that,” said returning senior quarterback Joe Holliday, “we realize we can compete with anyone.”
“Those two games gave us a lot of confidence for the offseason,” tailback Bobby Nestor said.
“It’s not really a rebuild (at Wellington), maybe a remodel,” Arno said. “I have all the respect in the world for (Stoll). When I was up here coaching, I knew Wellington was always very, very good. They made several playoff appearances and I have a lot of respect for him and what he accomplished here. For anybody to stay in one place for that many years, it’s tough to do.”
Arno, an Ohio University grad, is fresh off a nine-year run at Division V Alexander, located in Albany in Athens County, where he went 40-52.
That record may be a little deceiving because Alexander had only two winning seasons until Arno took over, taking the Spartans to playoff appearances in 2009 and ’10 and three consecutive winning seasons for the first time in school history.
Alexander slipped to 4-6 and 1-9 the past two seasons.
“Wellington is a football town,” Arno said. “It has a history. It’s one of the reasons I wanted the opportunity. Because of their coach, there is a football IQ established by Matt. They were stewards of the program and that’s all I am now. Hopefully it will be a good time period.”
Arno will change the offense to more of a spread, passing attack, but said he believes the kids are learning quickly. The Dukes have a good nucleus coming back and a solid senior class.
“It’s a big difference,” said senior guard Bryce Gibbs, who moved to right guard from left tackle a year ago. “We’re going to be more balanced. Our offensive line is going to be good. We’ve worked harder this offseason and we have a lot of senior motivation to do well.”
“We’ve done well in our seven-on-sevens,” Arno said. “We performed very well, gradually getting better each week. They’re learning an entirely different system. Some of it’s under center, some of it’s not under center. We’ll be throwing the ball part of the time.”
Gibbs heads an experienced line and with Holliday at quarterback and Nestor at tailback, Wellington should have a solid offense.
“We lost a couple kids up front but we bring back most of the kids on the line,” Arno said. “We bring back the quarterback (Holiday), Bobby Nestor, Jacob Kakos (running backs) and Collin Kmitt (receiver).”
“There’s quite a bit of experience on both sides of the ball.”
“We want to get back to the way Wellington football used to be,” Holiday said. “It’s a personal goal of mine to have a winning team. We’ve lifted harder, worked harder and have been more intense this year. We’ve got some young (sophomore) receivers (Trey Bealer and Max Carevic) that are very athletic. I’m very excited.”
“I like our offense,” Nestor said. “We’ll throw the ball a little more and we’ll have one less running back in the backfield. We’re all working real hard.”
Arno originally was a basketball coach but thinks his experience with Kershbaum at Elyria may have changed his career.
“Football — guys are huge, small, short — a lot of guys can play football,” Arno said. “I really like that aspect of it. I really like reaching out to the kids that way. Hopefully, teaching kids something about life through football — work, effort, teamwork. You get more kids in a game. I’ve always loved the game.”
Wellington’s schedule is not easy. The Dukes open with three good non-conference opponents before starting play in the Patriot Athletic Conference at defending Stripes Division champion Columbia.
“It’s a tough schedule but there’s no reason not to believe we can compete,” Arno said. “Norwayne, Rocky River and Edison will certainly get us ready for the PAC.”
Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CONFERENCE: Patriot Athletic Conference, Stars Division
2013 RECORD: 2-8, 2-5
COACH: Sean Arno, 1st year (40-52 in nine seasons at Albany Alexander)
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 15
RETURNING STARTERS: 12 (seven offense, 5 defense)
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 8
LAST TIME IN PLAYOFFS: 2011
NUMBERS GAME: 15 — seniors on the roster
PLAYER TO WATCH: Quarterback Joe Holliday hopes his final game last year bodes well for this year. Holliday was 9-of-12 passing for 142 yards and a touchdown in a 35-0 romp over Brookside. He also ran for a touchdown.
Aug. 29 Norwayne
Sept. 5 Rocky River
Sept. 12 at Edison
Sept. 19 Fairview*
Sept. 26 at Columbia*
Oct. 3 Black River*
Oct. 10 at Keystone*
Oct. 17 at Buckeye*
Oct. 24 Firelands*
Oct. 31 at Brookside*
All games 7 p.m.
* Patriot Athletic Conference game