By Joe Ostrica
The Avon Lake football squad has 21 seniors this year, but most of them will be learning on the job when they take the field. Dave Dlugosz, who returns to the head coaching spot after originally retiring in 2012, is back in that role after last year’s player caller, Larry Laird, took a position at Strongsville.
“We have a senior-laden team but we are a team that is relatively inexperienced on Friday nights,” Dlugosz said. “We’re hoping they mature very quickly because our schedule is loaded. Our first three games (Avon, Bedford and Shaker Heights) are against schools who qualified for the playoffs last year. We don’t have time for growth. We have to be ready starting with game one.”
The Shoremen may have just six returning starters, including two – Danny Disbrow and Matt Pechaitis – but they bring back a proven leader in Dlugosz, who has compiled one of the most storied coaching careers in the state. In his 21 seasons as Avon Lake’s head coach, Dlugosz’s teams put together a 200-44 record, 18 Southwestern Conference titles and 15 playoff appearances. He led the Shoremen to the 2003 Division II state championship, the first in the school’s history. The following year Avon Lake finished as the state runner-up.
After serving as an assistant coach under Laird last year, Dlugosz stepped back into his familiar role in March, saving the Shoremen a headache of a transition under a new head coach.
“I just appreciate the opportunity to coach again,” Dlugosz said. “I really enjoy coaching and the competition. When the coaching change occurred, I tried to think about what was best for the program, and the members of the administration asked me to come back. The players would have had a two-month wait while the school officials would have to search for a new coach. The decision was made for the good of the program and to give stability to the kids and the coaching staff.”
This year the Shoremen have the benefit of having Bill Albright on the sidelines as an assistant coach. Albright coached at Midview for 37 seasons, including 28 years as head coach. He compiled a 176-105 record and his Midview teams qualified for the playoffs seven times.
Senior tri-captains Jeremiah Campo (quarterback), Disbrow (tight end/outside linebacker) and Pechaitis (left tackle/defensive end) will look to lead the Shoremen this season, and hopefully improving on last year’s 8-3 record.
“Jeremiah is a very good leader and an outstanding athlete,” Dlugosz said. “He’s very versatile and runs and throws effectively. He’ll give a lot of stability to our offense. Danny Disbrow was a starter at outside linebacker last year and he’s also playing tight end this year, playing both sides of the football. He’s matured physically and emotionally as one of the leaders of our team.
“I think Matt Pechaitis is one of the outstanding offensive linemen in the county this year. Matt is a very intelligent football player and will bring steadiness to our offensive line. He gets people in the right blocking scheme. He likes the physical part of football as well.”
Another returning starter for Avon Lake’s offensive is senior wide receiver Quinn Cantleberry.
“Quinn was a rotating starter for us last year,” Dlugosz said. “He has very good size at 6’3” and 210 pounds and also plays well for us on the other side of the ball at outside linebacker.
Inside linebackers Anothony Thielman and Sam Klimkowski round out Avon Lake’s returning starters on defense.
Dlugosz said the Shoremen’s goals remain the same and he expects Berea-Midpark and Brecksville to be the teams to beat in SWC action this season .
“Because of the merger of Berea and Midpark, they are now one of the 10 biggest schools in the state. Just the body of people they have will give them an advantage. Brecksville should be a very good team also.
“Our team goals are always the same: to win our opener, to defend the home field, win the SWC and qualify for the playoffs. Those goals have never changed in 22 years. Just as in the past, we are going to play one game at a time and see how it goes week to week.”