The Mustangs endured some major turnover, but coach Nate Held has this program soaring. The key to maintaining “Blue Pride” will be to get through the
always-tough Principals Athletic Conference relatively unscathed, and
that won’t be easy. Of course beating Tuslaw won’t be either.
Massillon Tuslaw (10-2)
* Players To Watch – QB Justin Erfurth (6-1, 180, Sr.), TB Mason Miller (5-11, 185, Jr.), TE/DE Jarrod Combs (6-2, 215, Sr.), OT Andrew Mease (5-11, 250, Sr.), DE/OLB Treg Grubb (6-4, 205, Sr.), DL Tyler Alban (5-9, 165, Sr.), DL Charlie Martin (5-11, 225, Sr.).
* Outlook – The Mustangs endured some major turnover, but coach Nate Held has this program soaring.
The key to maintaining “Blue Pride” will be to get through the always-tough Principals Athletic Conference relatively unscathed, and that won’t be easy with the loss of four-year starting quarterback Shelby Combs, most of the top runners from last season, much of the team’s offensive line and several skill players on both sides of the ball.
Tuslaw took out Leavittsburg LaBrae in the 2008 postseason but couldn’t get by Perry in the second round of the Region 13 playoffs. After earning the No. 2 seed in the region and finishing at 10-2, the Mustangs are now in a rebuilding mode of sorts with the loss of 17 seniors.
But don’t feel too sorry for Held, who enters his fourth season with some key players, including one of the best defensive lines you will find.
“Basically we return our entire front five up there,” Held said. “We actually use a multitude of fronts where we vary between using four and five at the line and even will mix in a three-man (look) from time to time. But our defense is pretty much built off a 50 look and we think we can be very effective again with those guys back.”
A key to that complexity is Jarrod Combs, a talented and versatile defender who is expected to double as a tight end this fall.
“Jarrod is a solid kid,” Held said. “He’s been a three-year starter on the defensive side of the ball and we can move him around and line him up in a variety of ways. Also, he’s got a good set of hands and does a real good job blocking up front so we hope he can lead our offensive line and really be a force up there.”
The offense is expected to lean on Miller in terms of the run game while Erfurth should be ready to run the spread with aplomb.
“Justin started five games for us last year including a couple big ones,” Held said. “He does a good job of controlling the offense and he understands what we need. He’s not afraid to throw or run the ball, believe me. Most of the time the quarterback is the heart and soul of the offense, and that’s what I expect him to be. He knows this offense well and he’s going to make a lot of plays for us.”
However, it will take more than a big year from Erfurth for the Mustangs to return to a position of power in Division IV, especially with a loaded schedule.
“I really think the biggest thing for us this year is we have to have our young kids come up and take one more of a leadership role,” said Held, who is entering his fourth season at the school.
Tuslaw was 9-2 in Held’s initial season of 2006 and the Mustangs captured their first league title since 1981. The following season the team was a solid 7-3 but just missed out on the postseason. Last year’s 10-2 mark moved Held’s record to 26-7 and solidified the program as formidable.
Region 13 is now without the likes of Steubenville – last year’s state runner-up in D-IV – as well as Youngstown Cardinal Mooney and Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary. However, there is still plenty of firepower with teams such as Martins Ferry, Chagrin Falls, Perry, Belmont Union Local, Youngstown Liberty, Akron Manchester, St. Clairsville and Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy.
“The region is what it is,” Held said. “We know we have a tough nonleague schedule and league schedule. It’s an old cliché but we are going to have to take things one week at a time. I think we can do that.
“And what’s great is that the kids who have been here for a few years have accepted the challenge and done what we’ve asked them to do. It’s great to see kids rise up and meet expectations.”
Clearly, the Mustangs have more obstacles to overcome this season.
Want to see a tough month of a schedule? Check out Tuslaw’s second-half ledger, which begins Oct. 2 at CVCA, a team that won nine ballgames last season. The October trepidation continues with a homestand against Division II Canton Timken and Region 13 foe Akron Manchester and closes on the road against Wooster Triway and Navarre Fairless.
Also, the 2009 season begins with a supreme challenge as well. Next week, the Mustangs will host North Lima South Range, a Division V power that has won 57 games in the last six seasons.
Aug. 28 – North Lima South Range
Sept. 4 – Dalton
Sept. 11 – at Doylestown Chippewa
Sept. 18 – Gnadenhutten Indian Valley
Sept. 25 – at Zoarville Tuscarawas Valley
Oct. 2 – at Cuyahoga Falls Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy
Oct. 9 – Canton Timken
Oct. 16 – Akron Manchester
Oct. 23 – at Wooster Triway
Oct. 30 – at Navarre Fairless