QB Ryan Williams (5-11, 186, Sr.), OL/DL Ben Gerlatch (6-1, 255, Sr.), OL/DL Kurt Hutson (6-4, 245), LB Josh Hertel (5-10, 184, Sr.)
2006 Record: 10-3
The Columbiana Clippers are coming off back-to-back appearances in the Regional Championship game. However, Columbiana has yet to get over that hump and into the state final four. For the Clippers to make that next step this year there are many hurdles they will have to overcome.
After two long playoff runs, the Clippers will be faced with a rebuilding task in 2007. Only three starters return from last year’s playoff team, and only 8 players make up this year’s senior class. But if that’s the bad news, head coach Bob Spaite sees the good news that can hopefully make it more of a reloading, then rebuilding project.
“We knew this was coming, and the kids have been prepared for this year,” Spaite said. “The good news is this is the hardest working group we’ve ever had here. I’m really impressed with that. And we have an extremely talented group of freshman and sophomores so hopefully that will fill some of the void.”
While the senior group may be small, some key members have already stepped up to take on the leadership roles. Ben Gerlatch (6-1 255) is a three year starter and the anchor of both the offensive and defensive lines, along with Kurt Hutson (6-4 245). Also stepping up as a team leader has been Josh Hertel (5-10 184), who has been making a big impression on the coaching staff.
“Hertel is possessed right now. He’s going to be a really good linebacker,” Spaite said. “He really understands what the linebacker is in our system and what it needs to be. He’s done everything he can do to become the best football player possible.”
One place this team will have experience will be under center, as quarterback Ryan Williams (5-11 186) returns as the Clipper’s signal caller in their spread option attack. Williams took over the quarterback spot towards the end of last season, and helped guide Columbiana in its run through the playoffs. Spaite calls Williams a typical Columbiana quarterback by not being over 6-foot tall, but there’s nothing typical about his play.
“He is extremely intelligent, and he really understands this offense,” Spaite said. “He’s a more physical runner then anyone we’ve had since about 1994. He’s really got fullback like tendencies at the quarterback position. Ryan also throws the ball as well as any quarterback I’ve ever had.”
With such a young cast surrounding him, Spaite worries he may not be able to take advantage of all Williams’ talents.
“We have the biggest hole in our offense at wide receiver,” Spaite said. “We don’t have a single player on our roster that had a varsity catch last year. We gotta find a go-to-guy.”
The lack of experience at receiver could end up changing the way Columbiana runs its offense.
“If there’s any change in our offense, we may not throw as much as we’re used to. It’s going to depend on if we have anyone who can catch the ball,” Spaite said.
Despite earning No. 1 seeds in Division 6 Region 21, each of the past two seasons, neither of those years Columbiana has won a league title. The Clippers play in the upper tier of the Inter-Tri County League that also includes D-V playoff caliber teams, North Lima South Range, Columbiana Crestview and Mineral Ridge.
“We play good schools with good programs,” Spaite said. “It’s a tribute to how tough our league is, we’ve only won one league title, despite all our playoff success the past five years.”
With such a demanding conference schedule, the learning curve for the young starters will be quick.
“They gotta grow up quick,” Spaite said. “That’s what July and August are for, and what our non-conference schedule is for, we’ll find out quick what kind of players these kids can be.”
One of the hopes Spaite has for this year’s team, is that they’ve adopted the attitude of winning from the previous classes.
“I hope we’re to the point where we expect to win, and we expect to make the playoffs,” says Spaite. “No one is talking about a 10-game season, the kids are talking in terms of an 11, 12, 13, hopefully even a 15 game season. We’ve made the playoffs three out of the last four years and these kids don’t want to mess that up, but they also know we haven’t gotten the monkey off our back and gotten to the final four. The kids are hungry to break that streak.”
Columbiana 2007 Schedule
|9/7/2007||@ Berlin Center Western Reserve||6|
|9/21/2007||@ New Middletown Springfield||6|
|9/28/2007||@ Mineral Ridge||5|
|10/5/2007||Lisbon David Anderson||5|
|10/12/2007||North Lima South Range||5|
|10/19/2007||@ East Palestine||5|