AVON LAKE — It sounds like a broken record, but it’s one Avon Lake football fans don’t mind hearing over and over.
The Shoremen are picked to win the Southwestern Conference championship almost every year and this season is no different. Avon Lake is, again, the favorite.
Tradition, needless to say, has a lot to do with the lofty expectations. Dave Dlugosz is entering his 18th season as head coach. His teams have never been worse than 7-3 and have won or shared 14 SWC titles and gone to the playoffs 12 times. Dlugosz has 149 regular-season victories.
It’s more than just history. In a year when all conference teams saw the majority of their starting players graduate or depart under other circumstances, Avon Lake has the most talent returning.
“Our biggest strength is we have five outstanding players who started the last two seasons,” Dlugosz said. “That’s a good nucleus and a good place to start building.”
Begin with Mike Mansnerus, a first-team all-conference running back and the only offensive backfield player who made either first- or second-team All-SWC in 2008. Mansnerus (6-foot, 185 pounds) rushed for 1,716 yards and 18 touchdowns in nine games a year ago.
He is No. 11 on the Avon Lake career rushing list and a strong season could lift him into second place.
Mansnerus was sorely missed in Week 4, having suffered a pulled hamstring in the second week of the season against Dover. The Shoremen lost two Fridays later, 11-6 to conference co-champ Brecksville.
But the returning talent doesn’t stop there. Christian Pace, a 6-4, 270-pound two-way tackle, was first team All-SWC last year and will attending the University of Michigan on a football scholarship in 2010.
Dan Schneider (6-4, 235), who’ll play football at the University of Pittsburgh next fall, is another two-year starter returning. Schneider led the Shoremen in receiving and receiving yardage in 2008 and was second team All-SWC last year. He also started at defensive end.
Nick Marinkov is back at linebacker and will also start at fullback, where Dlugosz predicts he will be at least as valuable as the man he replaces, Cody Bennington, who was plenty valuable. The coach says Marinkov has “really good hands” and should be a strong receiving threat out of the backfield.
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Rounding out the players looking to letter for a third straight season is Jordan Market, the Shoremen’s free safety the past two years. Market will be back at that spot and will compete with fellow seniors Craig Shaffer and Andrew Tablack and 6-4 junior Ron Willoughby for the second starting wide receiver position.
Avon Lake’s season ended in the Region 6 quarterfinal with a 35-23 loss to Highland. The challenge this season is to win the SWC outright and go beyond one playoff game.
“We felt bad for the seniors,” Market said. “It certainly wasn’t the ending we had hoped. But when it wore off we knew we’d have to step up, and it all came into perspective. We’re a pretty tight class, a tight group of guys, and we knew we had to work hard for each other.”
Other Shoremen who started as juniors include Kevin Morissette at wide receiver and cornerback and Nate Clapp (5-9, 260) at nose tackle.
Almost everything else is up for grabs.
Seniors T.J. Thompson and Josh Spirnak and junior Trent Toy are battling to be the starting quarterback. The offensive line is fairly set with Pace at left tackle and either Paul Prendergast or Andrew Bohan at right tackle. Micah Charlton and Rob Nedrich will likely start at guard and Andrew Wisler will be the center.
Joining Pace, Clapp and Schneider on the defensive line are Jon Rogers and Brain Mihalek. Competing for the other linebacker job are Austin Detzel, Mike Alflen and John Hegarty. The other cornerback job could go to Shaffer or Zach O’Connor. Thompson and Spirnak are after the starting free safety nod.
“You need 22 guys, not five,” Dlugosz said. “We have good athletes, but most of them haven’t been tested under the lights.”
It’s that way almost every year at Avon Lake, but tradition has always dictated that when a player is a senior he’s expected to segue smoothly into the lineup and not allow the Shoremen to miss a beat.
And that could be more imperative this season. The Shoremen have beefed up their non-conference schedule by dropping faraway Dover and picking up Cuyahoga County Division I powerhouse Brunswick, which has lost only one regular-season game in three years and has a 73-7 regular-season record since 2000.
“We might not have so much patience with them,” Dlugosz said of his players. “They need to start pulling the trigger early.”
Avon Lake Shoremen
- Coach: Dave Dlugosz, 18th year
- Conference: Southwestern
- 2008 record: 8-3, 6-1
- Fast fact: Avon Lake has played Brunswick only once, in 1980. Brunswick won.
- Aug. 28: Maple Heights
- Sept. 4: at Brunswick
- Sept. 11: Elyria
- Sept. 18: at Olmsted Falls
- Sept. 25: North Olmsted
- Oct. 2: at Midpark
- Oct. 9: Berea
- Oct. 16: at Westlake
- Oct. 23: Brecksville
- Oct. 29: at Amherst
Contact Steve Byrne at 3297135 or email@example.com.