After making the D-II, Region 5 finals last year, Ashland has its sights set on another deep playoff run. There are holes to fill but there’s also talent coming back. Led by the senior combo of Marcus Fuller and Chris Thomas, the Arrows should light up plenty of scoreboards. Defensively they should be solid as well.
2009 Record: 11-2
* Players To Watch – QB Marcus Fuller (6-0, 205, Sr.), RB/WR Chris Thomas (6-1, 185, Sr.), OLB/DE AJ Peters (6-2, 215, Sr.), FS Jacob Dixon (5-11, 170, Sr.), CB Michael Bixler (5-9, 150, Sr.), C Cody Hickey (6-2, 250, Sr.)
* Outlook – Ashland entered the 2009 D-II playoffs as the No. 3 seed in Region 5. The Arrows won a pair of postseason games (28-7 over Chesterland West Geauga and 19-14 over second-seeded Warren Howland) before bowing out in the regional finals in a barnburner against Mentor Lake Catholic (45-42).
The Arrows did graduate a talented senior class, but they do have eight starters returning and should make another run for the playoffs.
“Every year our goals are to win our conference championship, make the playoffs and then win the state championship,” Ashland head coach Scott Valentine said.
It all starts with Fuller who is ranked as the No. 10 senior quarterback prospect in the state by Ohio High/Scouting Ohio. As a junior in 2009, Fuller threw for 3,122 yards with 30 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also had 194 rushing yards and nine TDs on the ground.
“A lot of MAC schools had him in camp and they are all taking a close look at him,” Valentine said. “And in addition to being a great football player, he’s a 4.0 student who got a 30 on his ACT.”
Another player that Valentine is excited about is Thomas who will have the ball in his hands a lot. As a junior, Thomas racked up 836 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, and added 365 rushing yards and three scores on the ground.
“He’s a good one,” Valentine said. “He’s flying under the radar in terms of recruiting because he didn’t go to any combines or anything like that. But MAC schools are starting to take a closer look at him.”
Leading the defensive charge will be Peters who was named second-team all-district last year when he had 89 tackles.
“We are really going to rely on AJ due to our lack of experience on defense,” Valentine said.
The Arrows also have a pair of very good defensive backs in Dixon and Bixler. Dixon is the leading returning tackler on the team (113 stops last year) and also had two interceptions.
“He is the quarterback of our defense and goes a good job of getting us in our defense,” Valentine said.
As for Bixler, he had 81 tackles and three interceptions a year ago.
“He is a lockdown corner,” Valentine said. “He’s small, but we’re going to put him on the other team’s best receiver every game.”
Leading the offensive line will be Hickey who Valentine describes as “a very strong kid who controls the inside for us.”
In terms of competing in Region 5, Valentine is confident his team will do well if they qualify for the playoffs, but he also showers praise on some of the other members of the region.
“Last year was our first year in Region 5 and there are a lot of teams that are going to be good this year like Howland, Canfield and Mentor Lake Catholic,” Valentine said. “And there are some other teams that are going to be much better this year like Walsh Jesuit. So, it’s going to be interesting, but we have to get there first and that’s never a given.”
* Schedule – Non-league games with Dover and Marion-Franklin will set the tone early. Like Ashland, both made deep playoff runs last year. The Arrows also spend three of the last five weeks on the road.
9/10 MARION-FRANKLIN (COLUMBUS)
9/17 @ WOOSTER
9/24 WEST HOLMES (MILLERSBURG)
10/1 @ MANSFIELD SENIOR (MANSFIELD)
10/15 @ CLEAR FORK (BELLVILLE)
10/22 @ MADISON COMPREHENSIVE (MANSFIELD)