Coach Matt Rosati arrived from West Geauga three years ago and promptly guided Perry to the postseason in his first year at the helm. Last year the Pirates made the regional finals. What’s next? The goal is a state championship.
* Players To Watch – QB/FS Mitch Hovakar (6-3, 195, Jr.); TE/OLB Anthony Kukawa (6-4, 205, Jr.); OT Rich Zalanka (6-5, 255, Sr.); WR Mickey Parker (6-0, 175, Jr.); LB David Wallie (5-11, 195, Sr.); DE Chad West (6-5, 215, Jr.).
* Outlook – Coach Matt Rosati arrived from West Geauga three years ago and promptly guided the Pirates to the postseason in his first year at the helm, although they were run off the field by Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in the regional quarterfinals. Last season, the program made progress by playing in three playoff games before being overcome by Steubenville 35-17 in the regional finals.
“We have experience and we have a lot of kids who have played in big football games,” Rosati said. “Really, there is not much that has to be said now. We played deep into the playoffs and we also played Aurora, the Division III state champs, and we felt we should have won that game.
“In the loss to Steubenville, we earned respect from a lot of people by playing them pretty close. They pulled away from us but our kids were not surprised we competed because we feel we can play with anybody. We want to compete for the state championship. That’s our goal. We have a pretty low-key group here but we know what’s at stake.”
Perry no doubt will miss running back/free safety Mike Hanhauser, who scored a whopping 40 touchdowns last season. He now toils for Lehigh. However, Rosati has expressed a belief in tailback Ben Perko (6-2, 185), who broke his wrist last year but is back to carry the load.
Still, the Pirates are going to do more than just pound the running game, much more. Hovakar is a first-year starter and takes over the quarterback duties from his departed older brother, Vinny, but he arrives with high expectations.
He started at free safety last year as a sophomore, but saw time under center, including 20 snaps at QB in the regional final. He threw 31 passes last season and completed 21 for 300 yards.
“Mitch is a vertical thrower and we’re definitely going to get the ball downfield with him,” Rosati said. “He’s going to be a pretty special player. He’s got a rocket of an arm and he’s a great athlete.”
Hovakar is a college prospect already, especially after benching 300 pounds and running a 4.7 at a recent camp.
Speaking of workout warriors, Kukawa has 4.6 speed, a 305 bench and a 29-inch vertical leap. Last season he had 31 receptions for 470 yards and seven TDs. He also picked off five passes from his outside linebacker spot.
Not only can Kukawa provide a target and help block up front, the Pirates are blessed with an outstanding tackle in Zalanka, who also excels in the sports of baseball and basketball.
“He’s very athletic,” Rosati said. “He’s got great technique and he’s that ideal pass protector you like to have out there.”
The defense should be anchored by Wallie, who is a blur when in pursuit and registered nine sacks in 2008. He is one of four returning starters on defense while five return on offense.
The schedule will be challenging and includes an Oct. 15 rematch at home with Aurora, a game that is ticketed for broadcast on Sports Time Ohio. The Pirates close the regular season Oct. 30 at Chagrin Falls in what should be one of the premier D-IV matchups of the entire season.
The Pirates open the campaign against Division I Painesville Riverside and go on to face five Division II opponents and two more from the Division III ranks.
Perry lost 38-24 to Aurora in midseason last year but carried a 9-1 record and some healthy momentum into the postseason. In the regional tournament the Pirates earned the No. 3 seed in Region 13 and clobbered a very good Wooster Triway squad 41-7 at home. The following week they walloped Massillon Tuslaw 47-0.
That set up the regional championship game with Steubenville, which is no longer in Division IV. If Rosati gets enough unproven players to step up this fall, there may be no limit on how far Perry can go this year.
Aug. 28 – Painseville Riverside
Sept. 4 – at Painesville Harvey
Sept. 11 – Madison
Sept. 17 – at Pepper Pike Orange
Sept. 25 – Chesterland West Geauga
Oct. 2 – at Jefferson Area
Oct. 9 – Chagrin Falls Kenston
Oct. 15 – Aurora
Oct. 23 – Wickliffe
Oct. 30 – at Chagrin Falls