Northeast Ohio Conference / Valley DivisionThere might not be much of a question which team is the favorite in the Valley Division of the newly formed Northeast Ohio Conference.
It’s considered the premier football division in the 18 school, three-division conference made up of teams from the old Pioneer and Western Reserve conferences, along with Lakewood and Garfield Heights of the Lake Erie League. Of the 18 schools, only three — Brush, North Royalton and Parma of the River Division — have never made it to postseason play.
Strongsville returns practically everything but the kitchen sink off its 6-4 team from a year ago. Tailback Eric Stoyanoff (1,349 yards, 10 touchdowns), quarterback Tim Kamczyk (1,339 yards passing, 14 TDs) and Nebraska recruit D.J. Woods (737 yards receiving, six TDs) are among the returnees veteran coach Russ Jacques has been developing over the past couple seasons. The Mustangs haven’t made the playoffs the past two years but that streak should end this October.
Solon, the Western Reserve champion, is looking to make the playoffs for the ninth straight time, but it faces a different schedule as it enters the NOC. Quarterback Zack Brillhart returns with 716 yards passing and six touchdowns under his belt from a year ago and Jim Getz (370 yards, one TD) hopes to replace All-Ohio tailback Deloreen Williams. Linebacker Steve Greer (128 tackles, two interceptions) heads the defense. Solon was 7-4 a year ago.
Brunswick, the champion of the PC, also has its quarterback returning. Sean Bedevelsky threw for 16 scores and 1,626 yards last year. Linebacker Garrett Mack heads the Blue Devils defense. Brunswick finished the year 11-1.
For Elyria, one of its best-ever football senior classes graduated last spring on the heels of a disappointing 6-4 finish after starting the year with four impressive victories, including a 28-0 whitewash of Avon Lake. The Pioneers dropped a heartbreaking 35-34 decision to Brunswick and never really recovered, losing three of their final four games, including their last two. Gone is coach Mark Solis — headed to Twinsburg of the NOC River Division.
But new coach Steve Hamilton is hopeful Elyria can get the season off to a good start before his young, inexperienced group delves into the teeth of the conference schedule.
“We have to start off strong.” Hamilton said. “Hopefully we can get some W’s early on and get those young guys some experience. As the season goes along, they’ll learn what Friday night lights are all about. At times we’ll have five or six sophomores on each side of the ball.”
Hamilton is hoping this group emulates the 2004 team that won its last three games to finish 5-5. That finish proved to be a springboard for the playoff-bound and PC co-champion 2005 team that finished 9-3.
“That’s kind of what I’ve been thinking,” Hamilton said. “It’s going to be a restructuring project. I only have one returning starter out of the starting seven up front. Adam Daniels is back. I have a couple good sophomores coming up. If we can get our sophomores firing on all engines, I think we’ll be OK.”
Daniels is the lone holdover from one of the strengths of last year’s team — the offensive line. The remaining players figure to be untested sophomores and juniors, but Hamilton has been impressed with the play of 6-foot-5, 305-pound sophomore tackle Isiah Byler.
One thing Hamilton does have is experience at quarterback. Senior Jon Yeoples threw for 874 yards and 11 touchdowns and had only four interceptions a year ago. Juniors Nolan Neuschaefer and Dan Poskocil also took snaps under center, but for the time being are being utilized in the defensive backfield.
“(Yeoples) put on an extra 10 pounds of muscle over the winter and spring,” Hamilton said of his 6-0, 180-pound signal-caller. “We really concentrated on lifting and conditioning. Jon was one of the kids in there pushing himself and pushing his teammates.”
In the backfield, senior tailback Greg Shotwell and junior fullback Greg Davidson lettered last year. Wide receivers Seryrell Davis and Demetrius Dalton should be Yeoples’ favorite target. Both were mainstays on last year’s basketball team. In addition, Indianapolis transfer Myke Martin, a member of Elyria’s track team last spring, joins the cast at receiver.
Senior Tyler Almeida returns for his third year as kicker and second as punter. Elyria’s defensive front and linebackers were all lost to graduation but the defensive backfield has experience.
“Strongsville played a lot of juniors and sophomores last year and they’re bringing them back,” Hamilton said. “Hopefully we can do what Strongsville did a year ago. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a senior, junior or sophomore. Everybody’s playing under the lights. We’re going to have a lot of sophomores and juniors playing. We’re a team. That’s what I’ve been preaching to the kids. We’re in it together.”
Medina (7-4 a year ago) qualified for the postseason for the first time in school history last year but does not return any offensive starters. Lakewood was 2-8 last year.
North Coast League / White Division
Mark Oct. 12 on the calendar. Not only should Elyria Catholic’s game against visiting St. Peter Chanel decide the championship of the North Coast League White Division, but it should be one of the more entertaining matchups of the season.
Both teams have talent to spare — the kind of talent that puts points on the scoreboard. There’s not a great deal of weakness in either team’s defense, either.
Chanel, the favorite, features possibly the NCL’s premier running back in Aaron Roberson, who gained almost 2,000 yards last season for the Firebirds’ 10-2 team. The offensive and defensive lines are anchored by
6-foot-2, 255-pound two-way tackle Mike McElligott and center-defensive end Nick Hunter.
Jordan Adams is the quarterback, and he has more to do than hand off to Roberson. Tight end Nick Womack and wide receivers Dan Gittenger and Damien Fuentes are inviting targets.
Cody Schuster, EC’s quarterback, has an even great number of targets at his disposal. Richie Baker and Patrick Flanagan are the wide receivers and Joe Fitch, an all-conference linebacker, is a superb tight end. Jacon Suetta and Cody’s twin, Jacob, can also come in for new head coach Ben Malbasa’s multiple-receiver sets.
EC and Chanel tied for the White Division crown with 4-1 records. The Panthers, however, failed to make it to the playoffs. EC lost in overtime to Trinity,
21-20 in overtime, prior to a
21-14 victory over the Firebirds.
Jayson Graham should do the bulk of the ball-carrying for the Panthers. He and Cody Schuster combined for more than 1,800 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns.
Hoping to crash the party are Villa Angela-St. Joseph and Trinity. VASJ has 18 starters back from a 3-7 team. Like EC and Chanel, the Vikings have a lot of talent in the offensive and defensive backfields. VASJ is young on both lines.
Trinity will rely on its linemen to improve on last year’s 6-5 record. Linebackers Rick Fielder, Devon Blackwell and Matt Nowak are among the best in the league. Mike O’Grady is a strong two-way lineman. Ryan Adams will handle the quarterback duties.
Lake Erie League / Erie Division
It took Mark Campo three years to reap the rewards of his hard work in turning around Admiral King’s football fortunes. Campo’s career mark at King is 8-22 but four of those victories closed out last season and earned the Admirals a slice of their first league co-championship since 1989.
King figures to be one of the favorites for this year’s Erie Division championship of the Lake Erie League.
“We’re excited,” said Campo. “Our seniors did a good job last year of weathering the storm and getting us over the hump and teaching what we have to do to be successful.”
King enters this year with a wealth of talent returning. Senior Tim Taylor should get the bulk of the carries at tailback and the Admirals have a pair of experienced quarterbacks in last year’s starter, senior Matt Toth, along with North Carolina transfer Terrance Atkinson.
“For the first time since I’ve been here, we have competition for positions,” Campo said. “We have a lot of depth. Nobody can get relaxed and think that they have a job. There’s somebody pushing somebody at every position. That’s the No. 1 thing I’m pleased about. The whole atmosphere at practice is completely different.”
Southview enters the season on the heels of a 21-game losing streak, but you wouldn’t know it talking to first-year coach Todd Auvil, a 1979 Lorain High graduate with a lot of pride in his hometown.
“You know what? It’s a challenge but I took over the (Admiral) King wrestling (program) and Brookside wrestling (program) when I was there,” Auvil said. “It was kind of down and I built it up. I’ve wanted to have a head football coaching job for a long time — seriously for the last five, six years. The nice thing is I get to do this thing in Lorain, where I grew up. These are our kids. This is the town I grew up in and live in. I was real happy to stay here.”
Auvil worked hard once the wrestling season ended. He’s got 90 kids out for football — grades nine through 12 — and 23 seniors.
John Rotsky, who revamped Maple Heights’ program into a winner, is now at Cleveland Heights of the Erie Division, but the Mustangs should remain one of the favorites for this year’s crown.
John Gibbons, the longtime Lakewood St. Edward coach, has taken over at Bedford and the Bearcats should be in the thick of things this year. Shaw and Warrensville Heights complete the Erie Division. Shaw was co-champion with King a year ago.