Team To Beat
*Youngstown Mooney (10-5, Region 11 champion, state runner-up): A year after missing the playoffs and failing to earn an opportunity to defend their 2011 state title with a 3-6 record, the Cardinals made it back to the postseason last year and advanced all the way to the program’s 12th state final (lost to Clinton-Massie 27-21). Key senior returners include RB C.J. Amill (5-9, 165), K Zak Kennedy (6-0, 150), LB Jordan Jones (6-2, 200) and QB Jon Saadey (6-0, 200). Jones has committed to Kentucky, while Amill (1,813 all-purpose yards and 13 TDs) holds offers from Kentucky and Akron. Kennedy has been offered by Youngstown State. Saadey threw for 1,871 yards and 14 TDs last season (ran for eight more).
Teams To Watch
*Chagrin Falls (9-3, Region 11 semifinalist): The Tigers are 60-9 the last five years reached the regional finals four times over that span. That being said, there are some holes to fill from that run. Senior LB/RB Sean Mackin (6-2, 215) is a good building block and holds offers from Toledo, Bowling Green, Western Michigan, Kent State, Miami (Oh.) and Air Force. He had 88 tackles last year after making 72 as a sophomore. Mackin also ran for 509 yards and nine TDs last season. Head coach Mark Iammarino is 152-65 entering his 20th season at CF.
*Cleveland Benedictine (9-4, Region 11 finalist): The Bengals made the program’s 18th postseason appearance last year and are poised to add No. 19. Senior RB Jerome Baker is one of the state’s top senior prospects and holds offers from Ohio State, Florida, Louisville, Penn State, Tennessee, Michigan State, Michigan, West Virginia, Illinois, Georgia Tech and Georgia. Senior DL LaMarr Davis Jr. (6-2, 300) has committed to Toledo. Other key returners include senior DL Collin Pecoraro (6-1, 228/79 tackles, three FR, three sacks), junior DB Dontez Rash (5-7, 168) and junior WR Justin Layne (6-3, 173).
*Cleveland John Hay (8-3, Region 11 quarterfinalist): The Hornets are coming off the program’s first playoff appearances in school history (and back-to-back 8-3 records). Now they’d like to get the school’s first postseason win. Senior QB Mylik Mitchell (6-4, 186) holds offers from Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan and Akron. Mitchell threw for 1,463 yards and 31 TDs last year and 1,732 yards and 20 TDs as a sophomore. He’s thrown just nine INTs in two years.
*Cortland Lakeview (7-4, Region 11 quarterfinalist): The defending AAC National Division champions return 15 starters, including nine on offense. Junior QB Angelo Marino (6-0, 195) accounted for over 2,000 total yards last year, while senior RB Michael Mannella will be a three-year starter and four-year letter winner. Senior WR Ryan Pishotti (6-2, 180) is a three-year starter and leads a deep and talented receiving corps. Look for senior kicker Matt Pasternak (5-7, 150) to make an impact. Head coach Tom Pavalansky (96-63 in 16 years) said the reigning district soccer player of the year “has the best leg of any placekicker we’ve had.” A tough non-conference slate of Hubbard, Struthers and Howland awaits in weeks 1-3, respectively.
*Streetsboro (5-5): The Rockets return eight All-Portage Trail Conference County Division selections including four first teamers in sophomore WR/DB Dakari Carter (5-8, 140), senior DL Tyler Rowland, senior DB Prince Franklin and junior P Jerry Judd. Other All-PTC returners include senior OL Nick Fazio, senior OL Thomas Benson, senior LB Josh Reyes and senior DB Ethan Flick.
*Struthers (9-3, Region 11 semifinalist): The Wildcats reached the postseason for the first time sicne 1999 last year and expectations are high for a return trip. Struthers returns its entire defensive line – seniors Cameron Suchora (70 tackles, 4 sacks), Jay King (49 tackles, 3 sacks), Austin Yemma (51 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and Shemer Gilmore (23 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries) – from a unit that forced 28 turnovers last season. Senior RB Luke Witkowski ran for 1,383 yards last year.
Keep An Eye On
*Ashtabula Edgewood (4-6): The Warriors have a good one in sophomore RB/LB Alex Sturgill (6-1, 211) who had 91 tackles and ran for six TDs last season.
*Canal Fulton Northwest (4-6): The Indians and veteran head coach Vic Whiting (207-85 career record in 27 years) have some holes to fill. Northwest graduated its QB, leading rusher, top three receivers and three offensive linemen. The good news? 18 letter winners return.
*Cleveland Central Catholic (8-3, Region 11 quarterfinalist): The Ironmen made the program’s second playoff berth ever and first since 1982 last year. Senior WR Brandon Brown (5-7, 165) is a good one.
*Conneaut (5-4): After going winless (0-10) in 2012, the Spartans ripped off six wins last year (one against non-OHSAA program Cleveland Knights). Senior QB Troy Colucci (5-6, 170) and senior OL J.J. Lower (5-10, 208) return.
*Minerva (6-4): The Lions were painfully close to the playoffs last year (finished ninth by .05 points). Senior RB/LB Dalton Hartshorn (5-8, 165) returns after rushing for 1,065 yards and 11 TDs. He also made 44 tackles and had five INTs.
*Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin (4-6): The Lions return a standout senior duo in WR Aaron Hammer (5-11, 170) and LB/OL Nick Wagner (6-1, 210).
*Pepper Pike Orange (5-5): The Lions are looking for their first winning season this century and are poised to breakthrough. “We are a program that is improving every year,” head coach Adam Bechlem (20-30 in five years) said. “The expectations, culture, and attitude regarding football have changed. We are no where near complete but we are moving in the right direction… Football is becoming a priority. It has been a long climb but we have moved further and further from losing and closer to Orange’s first winning season since 1999.” The most prolific passer in school history is back with the return of senior QB Stephen Borgman (6-1, 210). Borgman, who has thrown for 4,943 yards and 50 TDs the last two years, already owns every school season and career passing record. He also carries a 4.0 GPA. Orange returns another record-setter in senior WR Chris Von Hendrix (6-1, 215) who is the program’s receptions leader with 66 in a season (last year) and 85 in a career. Last season he had 741 receiving yards and nine TDs. The defense will be stout and features senior DL Michael Henderson (5-10, 330; 49 tackles, three blocked kicks) and senior DB Frank Regalbuto (5-11, 165; 57 tackles).
*Perry (4-6): The Pirates have two of the state’s top defenders in LB/RB Kyle Kremiller (5-9, 210) and junior DL/TE Luke Farrell (6-6, 240).
*Woodridge (8-3, Region 11 quarterfinalist): The Bulldogs return standout senior LB Brandon Williams (6-0, 212).
Also In This Region
Ravenna Southeast (5-5); Beaver (2-8); East Liverpool (5-5); Salem (3-7); Bay Village Bay (1-9); Parma Heights Holy Name (4-6); West Branch (1-9); Field (3-7); Minerva (3-7); Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy (5-5); Ashtabula Jefferson (3-7); Fairview Park Fairview (8-2); Mantua Crestwood (5-5)