ELYRIA — A year ago, the Elyria Pioneers made the playoffs for just the second time in school history, but the run was short and not-so-sweet, ending in a 16-15 loss at Stow in the first round.
“We want to go back and we want to go deep,” senior cornerback Mike Church said. “That’s part of the goal. We want to win the conference in the last year.”
That would be the Northeast Ohio Conference, which is breaking up after this season with the Pioneers heading to a different version of the old Greater Cleveland Conference in 2015.
Coach Kevin Fell, in his fourth year at Elyria and his 36th overall — he’s 21-10 at Elyria and 258-121-2 for his career — is optimistic about the Pioneers’ chances.
“As far as pure talent goes, we’ve probably had a little less each year,” he said of his Pioneer teams. “In terms of regular talent, the first two years, we had tons. Last year we had good running backs. We really don’t have those things right now, but you can see the kids developing and getting better. We play 22 guys and you’re probably only as good as your last four, and I think overall our 22 are better than the 22 we’ve had the last three years.”
While Fell will be hard-pressed to replace Jumarr Lewis and Jordan Connell — his two 1,000-yard rushers and 100-point scorers — or Connor Kamczyc, his record-setting tackler and two-time All-Ohio middle linebacker who had 222 tackles, six sacks and two interceptions, he remains confident about his team’s outlook.
For starters, he has senior Hunter Parsh back for his third year at quarterback. Parsh has thrown for nearly 4,000 yards in his two years as the starter and is just 447 yards shy of Dustin Stolarski’s career mark of 4,418 yards and only seven short of Stolarski’s career-record 38 TD passes.
“He’s a little bigger, a little faster,” Fell said of Parsh. “He always was a good decision-maker and he’s always been pretty accurate. He’s stronger and I think he’s going to have a big year.”
“We looked really good in our summer seven-on-sevens,” Parsh said. “We definitely want to get back to the playoffs and get rid of the 7-3 record we’ve had the last couple years. Coach gave me the opportunity to start as a sophomore. I know the system. I’m looking for a pretty good season.”
Up front, Elyria returns four of five starters on the offensive line, headed by 6-foot-5, 312-pound senior tackle Seth Billings. Seniors Tony Schaefer, Colton Hess and Kevin Cloen are the other returnees. Last year’s only senior lineman — Darius Badford — is at Toledo.
“Everybody knows the plays,” said Billings, who is being scouted by Toledo, Bowling Green and West Virginia. “We’ve all worked hard in the weight room. I think it’ll be a great year.”
On the defensive side, sophomore Kevin Vough (four sacks in just five games) is fresh off an outstanding freshman wrestling season and should have a huge impact on the line along with Isaac Miller (six sacks). At linebacker, senior Mike Smosny (93 tackles, two sacks) will fill Kamczyc’s void with the speedy Church (four interceptions) leading the secondary.
“I think we’ll be pretty good,” Smosny said. “We’ve been playing together since seventh grade. I know I have to fill his (Kamczyc’s) shoes, but we’ve got a couple D-linemen back and seven returning starters. Mike (Church) and I will keep them positive and upbeat.”
“Michael (Smosny) kind of grew into the position,” Fell said. “He’s as good a linebacker as Connor was. He’s very smart. He’s very quick. He’s gotten to play the position for four years.”
“I think the defense is our strong point this year,” said Church, who has had looks from several MAC schools. “Smosny will call the signals. He’s kind of the leader on the field and I’m the leader off the field. I’m a gym rat. I keep the guys going in the weight room.”
Fell said this year’s team is intelligent.
“I’d say we’ve got six or seven of our kids on the National Honor Society,” he said. “Those guys kind of lead the way academically, but as a group, this is a very intelligent football team — not just book smart — the things they do on the field are intelligent. The way they act.
“A good example is when we had our team meeting last Friday. The last couple years there are helmets, book bags — all kinds of stuff they walked out and left. Then they come crawling back. Last Friday, I went up there and looked and there was nothing. I think it just shows they have a little more self-discipline, a little more inner-intelligence as a group.
“I read a lot about how the teams are around the area and how wonderful their kids are but I’d put our kids up there with any of them.”
While this may be the swan song for the Northeast Ohio Conference, there are a couple of familiar names on the schedule this year. Elyria will open at former Buckeye Conference rival Fremont Ross and host Lorain in the second week.
It’s the first time Elyria has played Fremont since 1986 and the first time a Lorain school’s been on the schedule since Southview in 2006.
Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or at email@example.com.
Aug. 29 ... at Fremont Ross
Sept. 5 ... Lorain
Sept. 12 … at Midview
Sept. 18 … at Valley Forge (Byers Field)
Sept. 26 … at Mayfield*
Oct. 3 … Brunswick
Oct. 10 … North Royalton*
Oct. 18 … at Shaker Heights* (1 p.m.)
Oct. 24… Stow*
Oct. 31 … at Medina*
* NOC River Division games
All games at 7 p.m. unless noted
CONFERENCE: Northeast Ohio Conference, River Division
2013 RECORD: 7-4 (3-2)
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 18
RETURNING STARTERS: 12 (five offensive, seven defensive)
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 2
LAST TIME IN PLAYOFFS: 2013 (lost in first round)
NUMBERS GAME: Elyria will have only four home games in this the 88th season at venerable Ely Stadium. In its 121 years of competitive football, Elyria High has 579 wins, 450 losses and 49 ties.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Hunter Parsh, senior quarterback. Needs just 448 passing yards and eight touchdown passes to become school’s career leader in both departments.