West Shore Conference football preview
By Joe Ostrica and Ryan Kaczmarski
The Avon High School varsity football team lost a lot of outstanding seniors to graduation from last year’s regional runner-up team – 12 to be exact. But with a dozen starters returning to the lineup, and after putting in the hard work in the offseason, the Eagles are expecting to defend their West Shore Conference title as they aim for their fourth-straight league championship this fall.
“We look forward to watching young players step into varsity roles this season,” Avon head coach Mike Elder, now in his seventh season with the Eagles, said. “We look to be balanced with passing and running on offense and run a 3-4 defense. Our team’s strengths are our wide receivers, offensive line, linebackers and safeties. We lack experience at the defensive line, and quarterback and running back spots.”
The Eagles will be led by senior wide receivers Braeden Friss and Rhys Ratino. Friss was an All-West Shore Conference and All-Lorain County selection last year after hauling in 29 receptions for 315 yards and five touchdowns. Ratino racked up four touchdowns on 25 receptions for 432 yards, or 17.3 yards per catch. They will be joined by fellow senior Walter Rauterkus, a 6-foot-seven-inch, 290-pound offensive tackle who has already committed to play at West Virginia University.
Other key returning players on offense include junior tight end Chris Maxwell and lineman Shaun Traine. Maxwell had 12 catches for 235 yards last year, racking up 19.6 yards per catch and two touchdowns. Traine is a 6-foot-two-inch, 250-pound force on the line and co-captain. Joining him as a co-captain are Friss, Ratino, Kevin Maloney (senior tight end/linebacker), Dominic Bodnar (senior lineman) and Paul Yeager (lineman).
Maloney racked up 77 tackles, including 12 for loss and 5.5 sacks last year, landing All-WSC and All-County awards. Bodnar had 63 tackles (12 for loss) and 4.5 sacks. He was an All-Ohio second team pick. They will be joined by junior inside linebacker Cory Ohradzansky, who had 83 tackles, including 16 for loss, and 4.5 sacks, earning All-WSC and All-County honors.
Other key returning players on defense include senior center Antonio Orr (41 tackles, 14 pass deflections), senior outside linebacker Ryan Steinmetz (40 tackles, six for loss), senior free safety Logan Juhl (60 tackles, four interceptions) and junior strong safety Zach Torbert (45 tackles, five pass deflections).
Elder believes several other seniors show promise this season, including quarterback Tommy Glenn, running back and linebacker Tyler Vaccerella, outside linebacker Alex Habeeb and linemen Yeager and Vince Orlando.
The Rocky River High School football team is looking to recover from losing 25 seniors from the 2012 team, which finished with an overall record of 6-4.
“We are more athletic in our skilled positions than last year,” sixth-year Pirates head coach Rick Adams said. “But we lost a lot of seniors, so we are inexperienced.”
The Pirates are replacing starters in six offensive positions and nine key defensive positions, and according to Adams, the team lacks depth in key areas.
The key returning offensive players are senior Billy Pelger (center), junior Cam Kysella (offensive guard), senior Alex Theiling (wide receiver/punter), and juniors Matt Lowry (quarterback) and Pat Conors (wide receiver).
“Pelger is a three-year starter, Kysela is strong, Lowry is very athletic and Theiling is our biggest target,” Adams stated.
Conors will be key for Rocky River on both sides of the ball, as he is also a starting defensive back.
“He has great speed on offense and breaks well on the pass routes on defense,” Adams said.
The key newcomers to varsity this season are junior Travis Smith (running back), senior Dave Lizanich (full back), and sophomores Eric Jones (wide receiver/defensive back) and Evin Nugent (wide receiver/free safety).
“Jones and Nugent are very athletic, with great speed,” Adams said. “This is the best group of receivers that I ever coached.”
According to Adams, Avon and Midview will be the teams to beat if Rocky River will contend for a WSC championship.
Lakewood High School is competing in the WSC for the final season this year, and after finishing with a 4-6 record in 2012, sixth-year head coach Ron Lewis would like to make 2013 a memorable season for the Rangers.
The Rangers have two returning second-year lettermen, in seniors Matt Shestina (linebacker) and Alex Wemyss (offensive lineman), and nine returning first-year letter winners, including seniors Anthony Ferrone (wide receiver), John Kidd (outside linebacker), Aaron Morit (tight end), Maleke Norton (outside linebacker) and Justin Yocabet (offensive lineman); and juniors James Kidd (defensive lineman), Casimier Mitchell (running back), Matt Schultz (offensive lineman) and Karon Wenson (defensive lineman).
“Mitchell rushed for 1,197 yards on 192 carries and 8 touchdowns last year as a sophomore,” Lewis said. “He will be the focal point of our offense this year.
“Aaron Morit will be a primary target for us this year in the passing game,” he added. “He is being recruited by numerous Division II colleges, because of his play on the field and his outstanding grades and test scores.”
Morit visited Duquesne, Ashland and Wayne State this summer.
Junior Peyton Graham will take over at quarterback this season. He is the son of former Lakewood quarterback Ed Graham, who took the snaps for the Rangers in the mid-’80s.
The Bay High School team is looking to improve on its record of 3-7 from 2012, and after losing 17 lettermen, including 10 starters, fourth-year head coach Ryan Gorius is still trying to figure out his current squad’s identity.
“It’s difficult to judge right now,” Gorius said. “We will have a lot of new players on the field this season, after graduating a senior-dominant team from last year. Game experience may be an issue early on.”
The key returning players for the Rockets are Jake Best, Jake Fowler, James Dudek, Tyler Campbell, Sam Notarberardino, Danny Heidelhoff, Cody Wright, Alec White, Jacob MacMillan, Joe Perrault, Peter Sullivan, Matt Beniard and Tyler Shank.
The top newcomers to varsity include Will Wilson, John Koz, Rex Sunahara, John Hunger, Jacob McMiller, Cole Gergye, Nick Best, Danny Hoke, Joe Bitonti, Keenan Accorti, Cole Kaucheck, Tom Olson, Will Talbott, Evan Chmielewski, Ryan Sinnema, Aaron Bellack, Kyle Thompson and Luke Kish.
“Our strengths will be our work ethic, attitude and commitment to excellence,” Gorius explained. “We will need to improve on responding to in-game adversity, and learn how to finish off a team when we have the late lead.”
After going 1-9 last season, the North Ridgeville High School football team is looking to back to its winning ways under the guidance of head coach Jeff Riesen.
“We have a positive outlook with a difficult schedule this season,” Riesen said. “Our team unity has improved. We have team experience playing in varsity games. We must be ready right away to face a difficult independent schedule before the league games.”
Riesen is counting on returning offensive starters Willy Hedberg (tackle), Mike Esler (guard), Nick Bailey (tackle), Bailey Gannon (wide receiver), Jason Lucas (quarterback), C.J. Osbourne (tailback), Demario McCall (tailback) and Gabe Vega (guard) to lead the way.
Defensive starters Mike Esler (tight end), Jonah Bowden (linebacker), Ben Rankin (linebacker), Jacob Ruoff (linebacker), Jason Lucas (safety), Bailey Gannon (cornerback) and Gabe Vega (linebacker) are back for another round of action this fall. On the kicking front, placekicker Jonah Bowden and punter Jason Lucas will be starters.
Riesen said he expects Demario McCall (running back), Shawn Stumpf (receiver/corner), Ryan Blagojevic (placekicker), Zack Barno (defensive line), Chad Ferrara (center) and Devon Johnson (receiver) to be among key newcomers.
“The commitment of the team in offseason lifting and running in preseason has been terrific,” Riesen said. “Attending college camp as a team and the experience our players gained in 2012 should also benefit it this season.
“Our key questions going into the season is developing depth on both sides of the ball and getting players into the best position to help the team.”