Can Ashland's high-octane offense rebound from the loss of several starters? Does Canfield have enough back to return to the postseason? Does Mentor Lake Catholic defend its regional title? Who might surprise?
Ashland (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 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, Fuller threw for 3,122 yards, 30 TDs and eight interceptions. He also ran for nine TDs .
“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 this season. As a junior, Thomas racked up 836 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, and added 365 rushing yards and three scores on the ground.
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.” Canfield (10-2) * Players To Watch – QB/SS Jordan Italiano (5-10, 190, Jr.), TB/ILB Blake Jackson (5-11, 190, Sr.), FB/ILB Jon Rogers (6-1, 215, Sr.), FB/OLB Dante DeLorenzo (6-0, 195, Sr.), TE/DL Jim Rousher (6-2, 240, Jr.) * Outlook – The Cardinals were the No. 4 seed in the Region 5 playoffs last year. They knocked off Aurora 31-14 in the first round and then fell to top-seeded Mentor Lake Catholic 31-24 in the regional semifinals.
“Our expectations are that we’re going to come out and compete hard and improve every day,” head coach Mike Pavlansky said. “We want to win our league championship and make the playoffs.”
Italiano led the team in tackles last year despite missing a game and then playing through a broken wrist. He will definitely start at safety again and might also be the team’s starting quarterback (although that decision won’t be made until preseason camp).
“We have Jordan and two other kids battling for that QB job,” Pavlansky said.
The other returning starters include Jackson, Rogers, DeLorenzo and Rousher. Mentor Lake Catholic (12-2) * Players To Watch – LB Joe Ribiero (6-1, 195, Sr.); OL/DL Chase Hounshell (6-5, 250, Sr.), ATH Richard Sanders (5-8, 180, Sr.), S Marty Gibbons (5-10, 175, Sr.); DB Connor Briggs (n/a); DB/WR/RB Tommy Michals (n/a); C Nate Lyons (n/a); LB Jimmy King (n/a); OT Jordan Andrews (n/a); TE Chris Kozlowski (n/a); DB/WR Adam Urbania (n/a); LB/RB Matt Fee (n/a) K Kresimir Ivkovic (n/a) * Outlook – The Cougars were just 4-6 in 2008, but rebounded with a huge season in ’09 and were crowned regional champions. They entered the postseason as the No. 1 seed in Region 5 and proceeded to beat Ravenna (34-16), Canfield (31-24) and Ashland (45-42) before bowing out in the state semifinals against Maple Heights, 21-17.
An even longer run could be in the cards this season.
Lake Catholic returns 16 starters and 10 players who earned all-district honors. The Cougars have six players back that earned All-Ohio honors.
Ribiero was the co-defensive player of the year in Ohio in D-II last year.
Hounshell is ranked as the No. 34 prospect in the state by Bill Kurelic of Bucknuts.com. He started at offensive tackle as a sophomore, then took on an iron man role last season and didn’t leave the field as he played on both sides of the ball. As a defensive tackle, he had 65 tackles, six sacks and 18 TFL. As of press time, he had scholarship offers from the likes of Central Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State, Vanderbilt and several MAC programs. Mark Porter of Scouting Ohio ranks Hounshell as the No. 8 senior offensive line prospect in the state.
Other top players for Lake Catholic include Sanders (ranked as the state’s 15th-best “athlete;” has 4.56 speed in the 40) and Gibbons (ranked as one of the state’s top 50 safeties). Warren Howland (10-2) * Players To Watch – DT Cody Reesman (6-2, 270, Sr.), WR/DB Andy Davis (5-11, 180, Sr.), WR/DB Kenny Pozica (5-11, 170, Jr.), DT Mike Bullers (6-2, 240, Sr.), OLB Tony Osborne (5-9, 175, Jr.), C Chuck Sayer (5-11, 230, Sr.), RT Anthony Stanko (6-5, 285, Jr.), TE Dan Moody (6-2, 230, Jr.), OL Don DeArment (6-0, 245), FB/OLB Brandon Neilan (5-11, 230, Sr.), RB Devion Smith (5-11, 205, So.) * Outlook – The Tigers were the No. 2 seed in the Region 5 playoffs last year. They beat Medina Highland 28-21 in the first round and were edged 19-14 in the regional semifinals by Ashland.
This season, head coach Dick Angle welcomes back several starters and Howland should be especially tough on its offensive line.
“Yeah, we feel good about the team we have this year,” Angle said. “We expect to win every year and this is no different. Guys are all about the team and they play with passion.”
Reesman is ranked as the No. 12 senior DT in the state by Ohio High/Scouting Ohio and is a tough matchup for any offensive lineman that lines up across from him.
“He’s the best defensive lineman I’ve coached,” Angle said. “He’s strong and plays with reckless abandon. He’s already been offered scholarships by a bunch of MAC schools.”
As for the aforementioned offensive line, Angle is very pleased about the situation.
“We have a good, solid offensive front,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have such a good line back.”
However, Angle is still not sure who will be lining up behind them at quarterback.
“No, we have three kids battling,” he said.
They include: Tim Parana (5-11, 170, Sr.), Zach Wilson (5-9, 170, Jr.) and Brendan Cape (6-2, 175, So.). Wilson will be a starting safety no matter what and Angle calls Cape “a real good athlete.”
Neilan rushed for 560 yards with 14 touchdowns last year. Smith leads the sophomore class and Angle calls him “the real deal.”
KEEP AN EYE ON
Aurora (8-3) – The Greenmen were the 2008 Division III state champions and made the playoffs last year in their first season of D-II. They finished with the No. 5 seed in this region and lost to Canfield 31-14 in the first round of the postseason.
Chesterland West Geauga (9-2) – The Wolverines might have an odd nickname for a team from Ohio, but they did make the playoffs last year as the No. 6 seed in this region (lost to Ashland 28-7).Become
this school's Quarterspondent
Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit (5-4) – Walsh missed out on the playoffs last year (No. 11 in this region) but nearly everyone expects the Warriors to return to the postseason in 2010. They are led by Connor Cook (6-5, 200, Sr.) who has verbally committed to Michigan State and is ranked as the No. 5 QB in the state by Ohio High/Scouting Ohio. Protecting him will be the state’s 10th-best senior OL, Adam Redmond (6-6, 225), and one of the state’s top 75 senior OL in Tim Shovlin (6-2, 230). DE Reed Remington (6-4, 230, Sr.) is ranked the No. 18 senior DE in the state, while K/P Drew Kaser (6-4, 195, Sr.) is one of Ohio’s top kicking prospects.