2017 FEDERAL LEAGUE FOOTBALL PREVIEW
Calling the 2016 season a success for the Polar Bears might be the understatement of the century. Jackson's 7-4 record was good enough for its first playoff berth since 2004 and began perhaps the most storied year in the purple army's athletic history. Third year coach Tim Budd is hoping that momentum will carry over to 2017, where replacements must be found for a number of graduated players who were instrumental in last season's success. Six of the Polar Bears 10 regular season contests are at home in 2017, and that total includes five of Jackson's first six games.
Playing in familiar surroundings early will help a young Polar Bear defense that lost its top three safeties and top four linebackers to graduation, and that total includes the team's top six tacklers. Moreover, Friday's season opener with Akron East won't be close to a cakewalk. The Dragons reached the second round of the Division III playoffs last year, and their 8-4 record included an opening round playoff triumph over previously unbeaten Marlington.
One caveat in Budd's favor is the return of senior quarterback Jaret Pallotta, who recently announced his commitment to play Division I football at Massachusetts next fall. Pallotta, who chose Umass over Western Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky, Davidson and Georgetown, led Jackson to its first playoff berth since 2004 by throwing for a school record 2,041 yards and 18 touchdowns during his junior season in 2016. Those totals earned him honorable mention All Ohio honors, and he was a starter on Jackson's Division I State Championship basketball team. Pallotta become the fifth athlete from that squad to sign at the Division I level, joining teammates Kyle Young (Butler basketball), Logan Hill (Toledo basketball), Kyle Nicolas (Ball State baseball) and Dillon Dingler (Ohio State baseball).
Budd will allow Pallotta to call the shots in the team's new no huddle offense, which the third year coach believes will increase tempo and keep opposing defenses on the move. Pallotta's main target will be senior Zach Beaulieu, who had 34 catches for 415 yards and six touchdowns last season. Other receives include seniors Nick Shatrich and Brandon O'Quinn along with junior tight end Hayden Junker. Joe Childers moves from receiver to running back in 2017.
Veteran coach Keith Wakefield has restored the Panther program to its glory days is his second stint on the sideline. Wakefield enters his 35 season as a head coach, and 27 of those campaigns have been a Perry. The Panthers were 0-10 in his first year back with the program in 2013 before a 6-5 mark earned a playoff berth in 2015. Perry has posted 12-3 records the past two seasons, and that was good for consecutive appearances in the Division II State Championship game. Don't expect to see Perry in the Division II playoff this year, however, as the program has moved up to Division I with the implementation of the OHSAA's competitive balance program.
What will the Panthers do for an encore in 2017. The answer to that question depends largely on how well they replace senior captains Matt Carick, Evan Douglas and Tevion Cleveland. Carick(now at Michigan State) and Douglas anchored the Panther offensive line, while Cleveland was responsible for 1,324 yards of offense in 2016.
Quarterback Max Baker returns for his senior season under center, and that's good news for the Panther offense. Baker averaged five yards per carry with eight touchdowns by rushing for 786 yards on 151 attempts in Perry's wing T formation, and he also completed 51 of 94 passes for 637 yards with seven touchdowns against eight interceptions. Senior Zach Blackiston earned first team all Ohio honors as a defensive end last season, and he'll also contribute heavily as a tight end. Senior cornerbacks Dominick Bowman and Robbie Kirchner also return along with linebacker Sir Elliot, a three year starter. Junior Jarin Curtis earned varsity playing time during his sophomore season and will play fullback and linebacker. Other players expected to contribute include junior tailback Richard Coleman, sophomore linemen Vinny Sclury and Max Millin along with wide receiver T. J. Stokes, a basketball player who is playing football for the first time.
The Vikings had an up and down season in 2016, going 5-5 overall and 2-4 in league play. Hoover did have its share of quality wins, however, including a come from behind road win over arch rival Jackson in its season finale. A similar season with slight improvement could mean a playoff appearance for the program, which drops to Division II and should benefit from its usual challenging schedule. Coach Brian Baum will also have the veteran leadership of quarterback John Keller, who returns for his third season as the team's starter. Keller has a combine 3,355 yards and 24 touchdowns in two years at the controls. Senior Luke Reicosky recovered from off season knee surgery to rush for 725 yards and 11 touchdowns, and 134 of those came in the Jackson contest. Junior offensive tackle Luke Vannest is a player to watch up front, while senior linebacker Ben Smith and junior defensive tackle Simon Schott are the two returning starters on defense, where senior linebacker Michael Gallagher and junior defensive back David Forrest are expected to contribute heavily. Seniors Cord Haubert and Brady Nist will compete to fill voids in the receiving corps and secondary along with juniors Sam Bird and A. J. Vega.
Coach Dan Reardon is 13-9 in two years on the Bulldogs sideline, and McKinley has advanced to the Division I playoff in both campaigns under Reardon's leadership. McKinley, which suffered consecutive regular season defeats to the state's best team in two time defending Division III state champion Hoban, isn't playing an easy schedule now that the Knights are off the slate, but Reardon's squad will return to its home field now that Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium is ready for action. Seven of the Bulldogs 10 games are at home in 2017, and that list includes consecutive season opening non conference contests against Warren Harding, Wayne Hills (NJ) and Hudson. McKinley will also end the regular season against arch rival Massillon on its home turf.
Senior running back/linebacker Josh Chandler is headed to West Virginia next fall, which is understandable given his production last season. Although he only played six games because of an injury in 2016, Chandler still earned second team all Ohio honors by averaging 9.1 yards per carry with six touchdown. On defense, Chandler posted a remarkable 11 tackles per game with a team high 12 tackles for loss.
Senior cornerback Xavier Smith, who will play at the University of Albany in 2018, intercepted five passes last season and will also play receiver this year. Classmate Javon Lewis returns at tailback after rushing for 828 yards in 2016, while junior Alijah Curtis takes over at quarterback. Senior Prayer Wise, who wast part on McKinley's state qualifying 800 meter relay team, returns at wide receiver. Senior Daryl Daniels has started at linebacker since his sophomore season.
Golden Eagles coach Scott Garcia has the longest tenure of any current Stark County head coach. He's patrolled the sidelines at Glenoak for 11 seasons, and the Golden Eagles have reached the playoffs in eight of those campaigns. One big reason for the program's success is the difficulty of it's non conference schedule. This year's non league slate includes a traditional week two battle with Massillon (now on Friday) as well as Friday's opener against Toledo Whitmer and a late season contest with St. Ignatius. Golden Eagle fans can expect some spread offense and passing along with the program's traditional run oriented attack in 2017.
Senior quarterback Tate Rhoads, who anchored Glenoak's state placing 400 and 800 relays squads, is back under center after missing most of last season with a collar bone injury. Rhoads will have arguably the county's best athlete, senior tight end Andrew White, as a down field offensive weapon. White, who stands 6'4”, 240, won the Division I discus title in June and sports 12 Division I football scholarship offers. Junior defensive tackle Travis Stout will also play on the offensive line for Garcia, who isn't shy about using his best players on both sides of the ball. Defensive end Alex Oaks and safety Nick Gliatta return along with linebackers Mike Rekstis and Tyson Binius, and all four players are seniors.
One factor in Glenoak's 2017 success will be the development of its offensive line, where no starters return. Garcia must also find a replacement for 1,000 yard rusher Elijah Landon. The Eagles do have plenty of speed in their wide receiving corps, which includes seniors Darius Stokes, Devin Fleming and Michael Contrucci.
The good news for Blue Streaks coach Dan DeGeorge is that the program has 41 players in its freshman class. Those players won't be able to help at the varsity level this year, however, which is bad news for a team that has advanced to the first round of the Division II playoffs in consecutive seasons. Depth will be an issue for the first time in recent memory at Lake, particularly up front on both sides of the ball. No starters return on the offensive line, end just one player is back on the defensive line.
Fortunately for DeGeorge, that player is senior Robert Harris, who earned special mention all Ohio honors in 2016 and will also play wide receiver this year. Harris, who is 6'6”, 235, is looking to become the school's first Division I football recruit since Jameson Konz, who signed with Kent State in 2004.
Harris will serve as one of three team captains along with fellow seniors Alex Keith and Ryan Dadich. Keith, who started every game at inside linebacker in 2016, has moved to the defensive line and will also contribute up front on offense. Dadich, who stands 6'3”, will start at wide receiver and safety.
Junior running back Cameron Martin, who also plays linebacker, rust for 600 yards and 10 touchdowns in a part time role last season. Junior Paul Troyer, who also pitches for the Lake baseball squad, takes over at the quarterback position, and senior Rayshawn Brooks is looking to add depth in the backfield. Other players expected to contribute heavily include Senior Dlyan Reeves and Junior Noah Collins, a pair of linebackers, along with senior cornerback/wide receiver Austin Schrock and junior tight end/linebacker Cam Boarman.
The Bulldogs are still adjusting to Federal League play, where coach Jon Wallace and company have just one win since becoming the newest addition to the loop in 2015. Green was often more competitive than its 2016 record would indicate, suffering narrow losses to Lake and Perry in league action. The Bulldogs did have the league's top rusher and passer last season, but they allowed at least 30 points in all six of their league contests.
Senior quarterback Nate Dunaway will finally take his turn after waiting two years behind program record setting upperclassmen. Unfortunately, he'll take over the reins in a season where Wallace is charged with replacing four of his top five starters on the offensive line. Senior Jake Veney is the only returning starter on that unit, but Cordon Harris, a first year starter, expects to contribute on both lines. Sophomore Porter Flynn will look to step into the backfield, and the team's top returning skill player is senior Devin Limerick, who rushed for 350 yards last season in addition to catching 74 passes for 732 yards and four touchdowns. Junior Matt Amison, a two ear starter at linebacker, will anchor the defense. Senior Corey Oswald, who saw time on offense, defense and special tems, returns along with kicker Thiago Nardi.