September 17, 2014

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High school football 2014: Firelands still young, but no longer inexperienced

Firelands running back Aaron Stevanus pushes through the Wellington defense for a gain last season. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

Firelands running back Aaron Stevanus pushes through the Wellington defense for a gain last season. The junior returns for the Falcons this year. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

HENRIETTA TWP. — Firelands had it rough in 2013.

Not only did the Falcons go winless, they scored fewer than two touchdowns per game on average, while giving up more than 44 points a game.

So why is Firelands so eager for this season to begin?

The Falcons, who were forced to play a significant number of freshmen and sophomores last year, often felt like it was the boys against the men.

While they have only eight seniors on this year’s team, it doesn’t matter as much since most of the returning sophomores and juniors were thrown right into the fire last year by coach Mike Passerrello, leaving the Falcons young but battle-tested.

“Our leadership program has been something that we have really improved on this year,” senior Jacob Rutkowski said. “We only had a few seniors in there last year, and this year the juniors have come along in development. Everyone is way more vocal and we’re getting after each other to improve.”

Rutkowski will be challenging returning quarterback Brad Thrasher after tearing his ACL in the final scrimmage last season. He was lost for the year, but is ready to go now, giving the Falcons added depth at QB and a versatile athlete at outside linebacker.

The Firelands offense will need a shot in the arm after scoring just 134 points and being shut out three times. Half of the points came in two games as the Falcons scored 35 against Oberlin (43-35) and Black River (73-35).

“We went through a lot of learning pains but the experience helped,” Rutkowski said. “It took a lot of the younger guys a long time to get used to the speed of the game and that can do nothing but help us get ready for this year.”

Firelands is also set at running back with junior and three-year starter Aaron Stevanus, who had 405 yards and eight touchdowns rushing last year.

The offensive woes, however, meant the defense spent too much time on the field last season and it showed.

The least amount of points the Falcons gave up was 28 in a 28-21 loss to Vermilion. Every other team on the schedule scored at least 35 points in wearing down the young Falcons.

“We’re a lot stronger up front than we were last year,” senior safety/running back Cole Ference said. “We’re working really hard on doing a better job of keeping everything in front of us to prevent the big plays that we gave up last year.

“We were in a lot of games in the first half, but for some reason we just couldn’t come out and keep the intensity in the second half. We have to find a way to carry over our intensity from the first half to the second half.”

It’s been three years since the Falcons’ magical 10-0 playoff season, but back then Passerrello knew that his team would take their lumps for a couple seasons before getting back on solid ground.

“Hopefully having to play such young guys (the last two years) will begin to show for the team this year,” Passerrello said. “We only have eight seniors on this team but we have a lot of juniors and sophomores with playing experience to complement what those seniors can do.”

Even with so many underclassmen expected to play, Firelands feels much more confident this season.

“When we talk about certain situations in practice, the kids were able to go into practices with more firepower and aggressiveness,” Passerrello said. “We aren’t worried about where the kids are going to be on the field, they all know what they’re doing and it’s making us a much better team.”

Contact James Brady at 329-7135 or jbrady_ct@yahoo.com.

Firelands Falcons

CONFERENCE: Patriot Athletic Conference, Stars Division
2013 RECORD: 0-10 (0-7)
COACH: Mike Passerrello, 4th year (13-18)
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 22
RETURNING STARTERS: 19 (Nine offense, 10 defense)
PLAYOFF APPREARANCES: 1
LAST TIME IN PLAYOFFS: 2011
NUMBERS GAME: 10 — straight losses for the Falcons, whose last win was 44-8 over Brookside in the final game of the 2012 season. It’s also the number of starters returning from last year’s defense.
PLAYER TO WATCH: At 6-foot 5, wide receiver Colin Myers will give whomever wins the starting QB job a huge target. His ability and size gives Firelands a mismatch wherever he lines up on the field.

Schedule

Aug. 29 Lutheran West
Sept. 5 New London
Sept. 12 at Vermilion
Sept. 19 at Columbia*
Sept. 26 at Oberlin*
Oct. 3 Keystone*
Oct. 10 Brookside*
Oct. 17 at Black River*
Oct. 24 at Wellington*
Oct. 31 Buckeye*
* Patriot Athletic Conference game
All games at 7 p.m.

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