Fall School Football Preview
HANNAN ERA BEGINS AT LAKEWOOD
The Lakewood Rangers football team enters the 2017 season under new Head Coach Tom Hannan, who brings an “old school” mentality to the program. He and his staff have seen an improvement in the team’s offseason conditioning and training. The players are in better shape than last year, and they are more disciplined. However, the program is still limited by a modest roster size and faces a tough Southwestern Conference schedule. After going winless last year, the players and coaches are all anxious to get into the win column. Here is an overview of the team:
Hannan brings a new offensive system to the Rangers. They will use both a “Wing T” and a spread offensive system, depending on situation. Senior quarterback Austin Mahar is expected to start, and his combination of running speed and arm are well suited for the system. Mahar threw for over 1,000 yards last year, but he also suffered 19 interceptions. “His job in the Wing T is to manage the offense and make good decisions,” says Hannan. Sophomore Albert Wilhelmy, starter for last year’s JV team, will be the backup.
The offensive backfield will consist of a fullback, a halfback, and a “wingback”. Senior Jared Naida, a hard runner, will start at fullback. Backups will include junior Nate Bilski and senior Eric Byous. Junior Will Adams will start at halfback, backed by junior Dwighski Jackson and sophomore Milan Jackson. The wingback position -- which is responsible for running the jet sweep or being a receiver in the spread – will be filled by Milan Jackson and senior Basho Khawam. Other offensive “skill” positions include the “X” receiver and Tight Ends. The X receiver position, which is also the “play runner” that brings in the plays from the sideline – will be filled by senior Jay Boyd, senior Dayvon Hanible, junior Kyren Jefferson, and senior Joe Byczek. Seniors Camryn Cole and Andres Garcia will play the tight end position.
The offensive line will include senior Joe Giffels as starting center. Giffels started all ten games last year at guard. Sophomore Spencer Reynolds will be his backup. Junior Alvin Musai, described as “very smart” by Hannan, will start at left guard. Junior Keegan Frear will start at left tackle; senior Jacob Brown, who started all ten games last year, will be at right tackle; the right guard starting spot is a four-way battle among Reynolds, sophomore Justin Steiner, senior Kyle Palmer, and junior Belal Snobar.
Senior Attila Nagy, who also plays on the LHS soccer team, is battling junior Justin Creslip for the starting spot as kicker. Kick return duties will be handled by Milan Jackson or junior Michael McCollum.
The Rangers gave up nearly 44 points per game last year. Hannan has made defensive improvement a high priority this offseason – so much so that starting quarterback Austin Mahar will also start at safety. Hannan believes athleticism is the strength of this unit. The key to improvement will be proper execution of alignment and assignment. Mahar will not be the only offensive player doing double duty – Byczek and Boyd will fill the cornerback position, with Milan Jackson and Jefferson in reserve.
The defensive line will include Naida, sophomore Yousef Awad and senior Anthony Mahoney as tackles. Defensive ends include Musai, Snobar, Brown, Palmer, as well as seniors Patrick Gilman and sophomore Will Rosenberger. Dwighski Jackson, described as a “very physical” player, will start at outside linebacker along with senior Dayvon Hannible. Starting inside linebackers will be Khawam -- last year’s leading tackler -- and Will Adams. Bilski, Byous, and Reynolds are also expected to play at the ILB position. Senior Dalton Pringle will handle the team’s punting duties.
TICKET AND SCHEDULE INFO
Varsity games will all be on Friday evenings at 7 p.m. Home games are at First Federal Lakewood Stadium. The home opener is September 1 against Amherst Steele. The homecoming game is September 29 vs. North Olmsted. Tickets to Ranger home games are still priced at $6 for adults; $4 for student presale; FREE for Lakewood senior citizens (60 and up); $4 for non-Lakewood senior citizens.
EAGLES HOPE TO GO FULL CIRCLE
The St. Edward football team had its first scrimmage against McKinley High School last week at the newly remodeled Tom Benson Stadium (formerly Fawcett Stadium) in Canton. Their hope is to make a return trip to the same place for the state championship game in early December. Head Coach Tom Lombardo has plenty of talent on the roster, but has many starting positions to fill from last year’s squad.
The Eagles offense was hardest hit by graduation – gone are last year’s starting quarterback, leading runner, and offensive line. Those holes should be filled by rising talent such as junior Jordan Castleberry, who showed great potential last year as backup running back. Many offensive players got some playing time last season, which will help them to adjust quickly to the starting role.
The team’s highest-profile players are on the defensive side of the ball, which returns most of the secondary. That group includes Michigan State recruit Michael Dowell at cornerback; Cincinnati commit Darnell Shields; and junior Caden Kolesar. Senior Omar Fattah will lead the linebacking group. The line will include Division 1 recruit William Henry, a senior.
As always, the Eagles face a rugged schedule. They will have six games at First Federal Stadium, including the “Holy War” matchup with St. Ignatius on October 28. Other opponents at FFL Stadium include Glenville, Akron Buchtel, and Cincinnati Moeller. Due to a scheduling conflict with the LHS Marching Band Festival, their September 16 “home” game with Cincinnati Elder will be at Bedford. All three of their road games are out of state – one each in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Indiana.
This season brings a new twist to the “Holy War” with west side rival St. Ignatius. In addition to its season ending varsity game, the two schools will play a varsity “B” game in October at Wasmer Field. Both teams have very large rosters this year, and have many senior players that will get little or no playing time in the normal ten game schedule. This “B” game is designed to give those players a chance to take the field. The event is akin to a soccer “friendly” – it will not count in the computer playoff rankings. However, based on experience, you can expect that each school’s fans will want to win anyway.
Mike Deneen has extensive experience covering sports and community stories for the Lakewood Observer. Mike has been a Senior Industry Analyst for the Freedonia Group in Cleveland, Ohio, since 1998. He has appeared on CNBC’s Closing Bell, NPR’s MarketPlace and has been quoted multiple times in The Wall Street Journal. He has made multiple guest appearances on ESPN Cleveland radio. Mike also writes for Inside Northwestern, a website that covers Northwestern Wildcat Athletics. You can reach him on Twitter at @MikeDeneen1