Though nearly perfect last season, Mathews still trying to improve

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Vienna Mathews Mustangs

2007 was an historic season for the Mathews Mustangs, reaching the 10-0 mark for the first time in school history. The Mustangs fell short in the playoffs and this year’s team must replace some quality players, including two 1,000-yard rushers but 11 starters remain, including a third 1,000-yard rusher in senior Brent Jackson (1,137 yards, 11 TD, 10.2 yards per carry).


PLAYERS TO WATCH

RB/DB Brent Jackson (5-7, 155, sr.), WR/DB Rick Sommers (6-1, 165, jr.), G/LB Ben Kaiser (5-11, 205, sr.), OT/DT Mike Gibbs (6-1, 260, sr.)

SEASON OUTLOOK

2007 was an historic season for the Mathews Mustangs, reaching the 10-0 mark for the first time in school history.

“I think we certainly felt that we were capable of that, but I don’t know that you ever expect that to happen,” head coach James Parry said. “So to be part of the first undefeated team in the history of our school, I think it was really a special season for everybody involved.”

The unbeaten season took everyone by storm, including the school and community.

“I think that’s what makes it so special,” Parry said. “In our area in general, when your football teams do well, I think everybody’s a little happier to be going to school. They had T-shirt sales, kids wearing the red and black and pep rallies… I don’t think you can measure all that success just on wins and losses. The environment that was created within the school was pretty special too.”

The Mustangs fell short in the playoffs, losing to Gates Mills Gilmour Academy by the score of 38-13. But Parry feels the game was a step forward from Mathews’ prior playoff appearance.

“We were there in ’05, and I think it was kind of like we were just happy to show up, whereas last year I think we had a legitimate chance to win that game,” Parry said. “Obviously we had a terrible third quarter where we turned it over three times and then we turned it over on the 7-yard line going into score earlier in the game, but it was a much different atmosphere. I think our kids were there expecting to win and were prepared to win, and we really for the first time got a true taste of what the playoffs were like. I think it set the table for this year in that they want to get back and see if they can do it again.”

This year’s team must replace some quality players, including two 1,000-yard rushers in Brad Hues and Eric Ocheltree. But 11 starters remain, including a third 1,000-yard rusher in senior Brent Jackson (1,137 yards, 11 TD, 10.2 yards per carry).

“I think we’re obviously losing some nice players, but at the same time, I think there’s enough there that if we have a few kids step up, we have a chance to be successful again,” Parry said. “Whether that happens or not, that’s part of the fun of coaching is to see if we can get those pieces together. I don’t think our goal’s changed much from last year to this year. We want to win our league, most importantly, and we want to go to the playoffs and win in the playoffs. Those are the three things that we talk about, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

With Jackson back, Mathews should be able to effectively run the football. However, things may still look a little different on offense this year.

“I think we’ll be a little more balanced with the run and pass, and I think that’s just because we have our leading rusher back but we lose two guys who ran for 1,000 yards,” Parry said. “So I think we need to be a little more diverse this season and get the ball in some other people’s hands. We do have most of our line back, but again, we’re losing a kid that was first-team All-Ohio. That’s still a big loss; there might only be one of him. We’re just going to try to find some ways to do things more creatively. We’re happy with our young skill players. We think they can add a unique twist for us, and then to have Brent Jackson back, we think he’ll be one of the better backs in the area, if not the whole state when it comes down to it.”

Five of the Mustangs’ returning starters are on the defensive side of the ball, but there will still be holes to fill.

“I think my biggest concern is we’re losing a couple key parts on our defense – both of our defensive ends and our 50, an inside linebacker that made a lot of plays for us,” Parry said. “Those are the positions that we want to fill first, and all three of those guys are gone, so I think that we’re going to need to have some guys step up in that situation and plug those holes right away.”

The Mustangs will enter 2008 with goals of returning to the playoffs, but Parry says the road to get there will be tougher than before.

“I think for us, it always starts in that first game with Western Reserve,” he said. “That sort of turned into a bit of a rivalry for us. We’ve gone back and forth with them since I’ve been here. Every other year, it seems like the other team’s winning. Last year, they had a young team, so I’m expecting them to be quite a challenge right out of the gate. Then Leetonia won the lower tier of the ICL, and we have them in Week 3. Conneaut’s a Division III school in Week 4. Then in my opinion, our league’s been getting better. Youngstown Christian and Pymatuning Valley I think are going to be strong contenders for the league. I think this is going to be our toughest schedule since we left the ICL, so I think we’ve got to be prepared.”

SCHEDULE

8/22 Berlin Center Western Reserve

8/30 at Cleveland Central Catholic

9/5 at Leetonia

9/12 Conneaut

9/19 at Youngstown Christian School

9/26 Andover Pymatuning Valley

10/4 at Ashtabula Sts. John & Paul

10/10 Cleveland Heights Luthern Heights

10/17 at Southington Chalker

10/24 Thompson Ledgemont

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