AVON LAKE — There are a lot of changes and new faces in store for the Avon Lake football team, but that doesn’t mean the team’s perennial contention for a Southwestern Conference title and playoff berth will change.
The Shoremen have a new (old) head coach, a new (old) offensive coordinator and new-ish offensive and defensive schemes. They’re replacing two Division I players — Ben Oxley and Kyle Kuhar — quarterback David Winkel and fullback and middle linebacker Collin Lucas.
And yet optimism persists. The new head coach, Dave Dlugosz, just so happened to spend 21 years as the Shoremen head coach before stepping down for a year.
The offensive coordinator, Bill Albright, was an offensively innovative head coach at Midview for 28 years.
The quarterback, Jeremiah Campo, is a program veteran who played well in spot duty late in 2013.
The schemes — a shotgun-based attack on offense and a much more active approach on defense — should work themselves out.
“We don’t have a lot of varsity experience, and that’s why we’re taking our scrimmages so seriously to be ready out of the gate,” said Danny Disbrow, one of the returnees and an honorable mention All-State selection at linebacker. “It’s the seniors’ job to get the team ready.”
The new-look “power spread” offense will feature Campo, who spent the bulk of 2013 at receiver and safety, in the shotgun the majority of the time and is a happy medium between Albright’s spread offense background — recent Middies grad and current Bowling Green quarterback Cody Callaway thrived in the scheme the last four years — and Avon Lake’s more traditional power game.
With receiver speed and a strong arm — as evidenced in his fine performance in the Shoremen’s opening-round playoff loss to Medina Highland in October — Campo should be suited to play in the new format.
Meanwhile, 6-foot-2, 265-pound Matt Pechaitis will play left tackle and anchor the offensive line, but he’s the only returnee in a unit that is causing slight anxiety in Shoremen camp.
“Campo, Pechaitis and Disbrow are the leaders, the guys players look to,” said Dlugosz, now in his 22nd year and carrying a 200-44 career record. “We can put a competitive team on the field, but if we get a couple guys nicked up, we don’t have a lot of depth this year, especially on the offensive line.”
The defense will look different, too. Without Kuhar and Lucas, among others, in town to stand people up at the line, the defense will be more aggressive — stunting, blitzing more and generally trying to create havoc with multiple looks.
Pechaitis and Disbrow, along with linebackers Anthony Thielman and Sam Klimkowski all return, but the Shoremen secondary is new, and will be tested immediately against Avon in Week 1.
“We’re working hard, trying to be aggressive and get the best out of every practice and improve every day because we play our toughest opponents right out of the gate,” Pechaitis said.
Dlugosz doesn’t seem to be terribly worried about either new scheme. In fact, a fairly rare smile creeps across his face when discussing each. In the Shoremen’s first scrimmages — Highland on Tuesday and Medina on Friday — the team has made progress in each area to alleviate concern.
“We’ve done this before to a certain extent,” Dlugosz said. “It’s all about keeping the general concepts of your program, but melding it to meet the players you have.”
Despite the abundance of new faces and what appears to be a deep Southwestern Conference, the veteran coach is, as always, optimistic about his team’s chances at an 18th SWC title.
But that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. Dlugosz shares other league coaches’ concern over what Berea-Midpark might become, and despite Brecksville’s personnel losses, he figures the Bees will be hungry in their final year in the SWC.
“There’s not a team in our conference where you can take a game off,” Dlugosz said. “You have to have your ‘A’ game ready to go.”
Contact Joel Hammond at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Avon Lake Shoremen
Conference: Southwestern Conference
2013 RECORD: 8-3 (5-1)
COACH: Dave Dlugosz, 22nd year (200-44 overall)
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 12
RETURNING STARTERS: 8 (4 offense/4 defense)
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 18
LAST TIME IN PLAYOFFS: 2013, lost to Medina Highland in opening round
NUMBERS GAME: 95 — the percentage of plays Dlugosz estimates the Shoremen will operate out of the shotgun this season in the team’s new “power spread” offense — a departure from the team’s usual under-center operation.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Quarterback Jeremiah Campo, who played most of 2013 at receiver and safety but stepped in behind center in the Shoremen’s playoff loss. In that game, he threw for 161 yards and a touchdown and ran for 135 yards more. This year, he’s the starter in the new shotgun attack, and smiles when asked about the new formation installed by Dlugosz and new offensive coordinator (and longtime Midview coach) Bill Albright.
Aug. 29 … vs. Avon
Sept. 5 … at Bedford
Sept. 13 … at Shaker Heights
Sept. 19 … vs. North Ridgeville
Sept. 26 … at Berea-Midpark*
Oct. 3 … vs. Westlake*
Oct. 10 … at Brecksville*
Oct. 17 … vs. Olmsted Falls*
Oct. 24 … at North Olmsted*
Oct. 31 … vs. Amherst*
* — SWC game