2008 was a big season for the Kirtland football team. Having
never previously had a season with more than nine wins, the Hornets
broke through in a big way by posting a 12-0 mark before narrowly
falling in the Region 17 finals to eventual state champion Youngstown
Ursuline. With just five starters back can they maintain momentum?
* Players To Watch – TE/LB Anthony Ritossa (6-5, 220, Sr.), QB/DB Paul Guhde (6-1, 200, Jr.), WR/DB L.J. Solinsky (6-0, 175, Sr.), OL/DE Lino Desapri (6-1, 205, Sr.), LB/RB Royal Brettrager (6-0, 190, Sr.)
* Outlook – 2008 was a big season for the Kirtland Hornets football team. Having never previously had a season with more than nine wins, the Hornets broke through in a big way by posting a 12-0 mark before narrowly falling in the Region 17 finals to eventual state champion Youngstown Ursuline.
Kirtland proved to be one of the very best teams in Division V last season, and it was a season that the team, the school, and the town won’t soon forget.
“The town is very much behind football,” head coach Tiger LaVerde said. “They love their football and they’re behind their team. It was a heck of a lot of fun and it was a great experience. Obviously, the kids would like to try to do it again.”
The 2008 season was the third as Kirtland head coach for LaVerde, and the team was one that had been in the making since he arrived.
“When I took over, my first year I started seven sophomores, and they were seniors (last year), so I knew we’d have a pretty decent team,” LaVerde said. “That was their third year playing in the system. We had some good linemen, some good skill guys… we were pretty solid all the way around. We didn’t have a whole lot of weaknesses. We had some experienced kids that had a lot of playing time and started a lot of games, and I figured we had a chance to be good. You never know, but we had a chance to be good and it turned out real well.”
Needless to say, the seniors lost from last year’s team will be missed.
“I have nine kids that are going to play college football from that team,” LaVerde said. “As a small school, to lose that many kids into the next level… this is the reason we had a pretty good team. The main thing is they were great leaders and they worked hard. They taught these younger kids how to work and what it takes, so hopefully the young kids learned a lot from them over the last three years.”
This year’s team returns just two starters on offense and three on defense, but the goal is to once again make a trip to the postseason.
“A lot of young kids played special teams, and if we get there again, it’ll be kind of a ho-hum thing because we’ve been there before,” LaVerde said. “We’ve made the playoffs three straight years. That’s the goal; the goal is to get in the playoffs and go from there. When I first got to Kirtland it was kind of a shock to make the playoffs, but now we’re expecting to make the playoffs.”
The success of this year’s team could depend on the development of the offensive and defensive lines.
“Last year, one of our big strengths was up front,” LaVerde said. “We had a great group on the offensive and defensive line, and they’re all gone. We still have some pretty good skill positions; we have a pretty good quarterback. But really the key’s going to be how well we do on the line of scrimmage.”
One of the key players for this year’s team will be senior tight end/linebacker Anthony Ritossa, who verbally committed to the University of Akron earlier this year. Ritossa caught 26 passes for 480 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior.
“He doesn’t talk much, but he works extremely hard,” LaVerde said. “He’s a nice kid, which is the main thing. He’s a good, smart, hard-working kid that’s very quiet, so I’d say he leads by example. He doesn’t let his emotions get away from him. He’s a terrific player. He made a lot of really important big catches for us last year.”
The team also learned some very important lessons during last year’s playoff run that should carry over into this season.
“I think the kids see what it takes to get to the next level,” LaVerde said. “They saw the kind of athletes (Youngstown Ursuline has). These kids, every time they step out there it’s a great experience. That was another great one, and hopefully they learn something from every time they go out on the field.”
The offseason has been a success as well.
“We just got a brand new weight room and the kids are real excited,” LaVerde said. “I’m excited. The success obviously helps with numbers; my first year, we had 37 kids and my second year we had 47 and last year we had like 53 kids. So far, so good.”
The Hornets’ schedule will consist of several challenges, including non-conference games against much bigger schools and a conference showdown with what should be a very tough Cuyahoga Heights squad.
“It’s much harder than it has been because last year we played all Division IV, V and VI teams,” LaVerde said. “This year, we open up on the road against a D-II and then play two D-III’s. So we open up with II, III, III right out of the gate, and we haven’t played any team that big in my first three years. Our first three non-conference games are all very big schools.”
With three straight postseason appearances, a winning tradition is well on its way to being established in Kirtland. LaVerde has been very pleased with how things have worked out since taking over the head coaching job.
“I’m from Pennsylvania so I didn’t know a whole lot about Kirtland, but the people that I work for and the people that I work with and the community has been extremely nice and supportive,” he said. “I have four little kids and I’m excited that they’re going to go to Kirtland.
“We like it. It’s a great, great place to get an education.”
8/28 @ GENEVA
9/4 @ JEFFERSON AREA
9/11 HARVEY (PAINESVILLE)
9/17 HAWKEN (GATES MILLS)
9/24 CUYAHOGA HEIGHTS
10/2 @ BERKSHIRE (BURTON)
10/9 CARDINAL (MIDDLEFIELD)
10/16 @ WICKLIFFE
10/23 @ FAIRPORT HARDING