The consensus among Suburban League coaches is there is no clear-cut favorite this year.
Tallmadge has won the past three Suburban League championships, but was hit hard by graduation. Blue Devils coach Joe Vassalotti said he has two starters returning on offense (senior linemen Joe Lowery and Damon Gidley) and two back on defense (senior linebacker Davis Moore and junior defensive back Joseph Siesel).
“It looks like on paper, Nordonia and Highland have the most coming back,” Vassalotti said. “I would think Wadsworth will be with them. They have a strong running game and are well coached. Copley is athletic, Revere has a new coaching staff and I think them and Cloverleaf will be better. Green has so many kids, you can never count them out.
“The Suburban League is crazy. It is hard to predict year to year.”
Vassalotti has guided Tallmadge to eight playoff appearances and seven league titles since 2004. The Blue Devils went 8-3 overall and 6-1 in the league in 2012.
Senior Bobby Clark figures to be a key running back and defensive lineman, and Vassalotti’s son, junior Joseph Vassalotti, is set to start at quarterback.
Wadsworth will also have a father-son combination at coach and quarterback with Greg Dennison pacing the sidelines and junior Adam Dennison calling the signals on the field.
The Grizzlies went 6-4, 4-3 last year, and return seniors Martice Jackson and Nick Winkler. Jackson rushed for more than 1,000 yards and Winkler made more than 100 tackles. Winkler, junior Austin White and senior Jake Lamp all return after being Wadsworth’s top three tacklers last year. Seniors Scott Campbell and Ryan Looser are playmakers to watch, and senior Chandler Martinez is a key lineman.
“Our strength on offense is the skill positions,” Dennison said. “We have a lot of our running backs and wide receivers back. Our concern is that up front we lost four out of five to graduation. Defensively, experience is our strength. We return seven starters.
“With the experience we have on defense, that will keep us in games. The key for us is how long it takes for our offensive line to come together. We feel good about the kids we have there. It is just a matter of them getting experience.”
Nordonia coach Jeff Fox is intrigued by his team, which went 7-4, 5-2 a year ago. The Knights feature junior Alex Alders, senior tailback Jordan Nobles and senior linebacker Alex Woicehovich. Senior starters Brandon Rem and Sterling Brabson also return.
“We have got fast kids and we have got big kids,” Fox said. “We have the pieces and parts, but we did lose a lot of players from last year [who graduated]. There are a lot of unanswered questions, but the nice thing is we have certain kids who can be answers to those questions. Now it is just a matter of us putting it all together. We do have the potential to be a dynamic football team.”
Highland appears poised to challenge for the league title after going 7-3, 5-2 last year.
“A strength is definitely our quarterback, [senior] Bruce Kinsey, who set school records for passing yards and touchdown passes in a single season last year,” Highland coach Tom Lombardo said. “He has really come on and taken control of our offense. The core of our receivers are back [with senior Cory Moncol and junior Coltin Kinsey] and we have a good running back [in senior Alex Harris]. Our skill is there, but we did lose four of five lineman. We have one starter [senior Myles Houska], but have others guys who look promising. Our run defense is also a strength.”
Highland returns six defensive starters, senior linebacker James Friedl, linemen Houska and junior Nick Corvo and backs Moncol, Coltin Kinsey and senior Collin Paich.
Green returns two starters on offense (seniors Mitchell Kay and Andrew Ventura) and three on defense (seniors Keith Jarvis, Blake Suponcic and Billy Corpas) from a 6-4, 4-3 team. Coach Ed Cybak is hoping an inexperienced line on offense and defense will mature quickly.
“We have had very good senior leadership and they have really been working on the small things that will give us an opportunity to achieve our bigger goals, which is to win a league title and make the playoffs,” Cybak said. “We will have to get good offensive and defensive line play, we only have one returning starter on each side of the ball there. If they can gel as a unit then our skill players can really shine. If we do this then the Bulldogs will be there ready to play some big games that will have great meaning in the Suburban League title race.”
Copley has six starters back on offense and six back on defense. Seniors Oliver Johnson, Quincy Iverson, Will Thomas, Milton Greer and John Kromalic are returning, along with junior Johnny Karam. The Indians went 6-4, 3-4 in 2012.
“I think we are going to be a well-conditioned team, that is for sure,” Copley coach Ron Viscounte said. “I think we have a great deal of skill kids. We will able to attack teams in a variety of ways. We can be multi-dimensional as far as our attack goes. Hopefully that will keep our opponents off balance.”
Cloverleaf went 3-7, 0-7 a season ago, but Colts coach Bob Lake is optimistic with seven starters returning on offense and five back on defense.
“Our strength is our skill,” Lake said. “We have some outstanding skill. [Junior] Garrison Flora is playing very well at quarterback and is going to have a good season. [Senior] Devin Cunningham is a returning All-Ohio running back and a dynamic playmaker.
“Defensively, our strength is our secondary and our linebacking corps. We are paper thin on the line though. We need to develop linemen on both sides of the ball.”
Cunningham, Flora and seniors Austin Smith and Tom Wangler are captains.
Michael Murphey is in his first season as Revere’s coach and inherits a Minutemen squad that went 1-9, 1-6 last year. Seniors Carl Roman, Everett McGregor, Austin Hawkins and Drew Lewis will be counted on for leadership.
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.