Several teams in the Northeast Ohio Conference simply endured last season. It was a tough year, or for some it was just another tough year in a long line of frustrating seasons. And for all of them, 2013 is about taking a step forward without taking two steps back.
Stow is one those schools after going 3-7 (1-4 in the NOC) in coach Mark Nori's third season. The Bulldogs had to kick off 2012 against one of the Federal League’s tougher teams, North Canton Hoover, and took a beating. But 16 of the 22 players who started that game had never played a significant role before. They are all back, and the hope is that seven losses last year weren’t without some benefits.
“Now we have 16 kids who have 10 games under their belt and we’ll find out if the things we learned last year were worth it,” Nori said. “We’re hoping they took their lumps last year and learned some lessons.”
Stow’s offense will be led by bruising senior running back Matt Beech and junior quarterback Andy Wargo, who started half the season last year. Wargo has transformed into the film rat many coaches love to see out of their developing players.
“His attention to detail and knowledge of the offense has upgraded significantly,” Nori said. “He’s the type of guy who doesn’t miss anything. He sits in meetings with the linemen, he sits in meetings with the receivers, he wants to know it all.”
At Cuyahoga Falls, first-year coach Sean Flaherty takes over a program that had some good moments in 2012 but finished 3-7 and 0-5 in the league. The Black Tigers also lost quarterback Joe Repasky but Flaherty has liked what he has seen from his new team in camp.
“The kids have been working really hard, they’ve been doing what we’ve asked them to do and I feel pretty good about what we’ve done so far,” Flaherty said. “They’ve bought into the system and they’re hungry.”
Falls has three solid running backs to turn to, led by seniors Drake Reid, Bret Blevins (also a receiver) and Bucky Hendershot. Hendershot also leads a talented linebacking corps that Flaherty views as another team strength.
Medina won only two games in coach Dan Sutherland’s first year at the helm. In response, there are more changes coming than simply a new class of starters.
Sutherland has installed a new offense, a hybrid pistol/Wing T/spread that, just like the string of names suggests, should be a blending of schemes.
While that offense gets off the ground, Sutherland is relying on a seasoned defense to take a step forward. The secondary has as much experience as any with senior safeties Kenny Wilder and Dayln Herrmann and cornerback AJ Hoptry all returning.
Hudson is on the other end of that spectrum, winners of 11 and nine games the past two years, respectively. Though this season is about finding new faces to replace some big names.
Gone are the skill-position players that propelled Hudson into the playoffs last season. Running back Ben Gedeon and receivers Tim Kennedy and Leghton Antonio all graduated, leaving junior quarterback Mitchell Guadajni with the bill. The offense now rests squarely on Guadajni’s shoulders.
“Mitchell is returning and our expectations are better for him,” coach Ron Wright said. “But he’s got to be surrounded by guys who can catch the ball. We have some guys who are talented, but are they where we were last year at wideout? No. Do we need to get there in a hurry? Yeah. The competition is stiff and these young wideouts better grow up in a hurry.”
Twinsburg (6-4, 4-1 last season) is in a similar conundrum as Hudson but with the added uncertainty of a new quarterback.
The Tigers lost do-it-all quarterback Jalen Washington to graduation and are left searching for his replacement, not an easy task considering Washington's athleticism.
At the moment, slot receiver Mike Peelman is the leading candidate to replace him. Peelman caught 35 passes last year for 298 yards and three touchdowns but played quarterback at the JV level his first two years in high school. Peelman also plays baseball and hockey, so his toughness won’t be in question.
“We know he can take a hit,” Twinsburg coach Joe Schiavone said. “He’s a good enough athlete. He’s done well here in camp.”
Schiavone is entering his third season at Twinsburg. For the first time in his tenure, the team is enduring a higher rate of turnover around the roster, not just at quarterback. He sees a positive being in that situation.
“We have such, for the first time I’ve been here, a [big] number of slots to fill, especially offensively,” he said. “What I’ve told them is we have a lot of questions to fill but I’m actually pretty excited about the potential that this team has. The potential is there.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.