Avon coach Mike Elder, his players, their parents and everyone within the program’s fanbase believe the Eagles will win every time they step onto the football field.
Those outside that group didn’t have the same expectations after Avon lost a handful of top-tier players last season, including quarterback Matt Kelly, offensive lineman Sam Gerak, linebacker Eric Steinmetz, defensive lineman Cameron Judge and running back Mason McLemore.
But the Eagles, who have a next-man-up mantra every season, showed the kind of depth rarely seen when it comes to a public high school football program.
Avon won 13 straight games to start the season and it didn’t do it on the backs of a handful of superstars, but with players across the board stepping up and performing at a level that wasn’t expected by anyone but themselves.
The wins kept piling up despite the loss of starting tight end Vlasi Pappas during a Week 2 win over Olmsted Falls and without the services of running back Nick Perusek, who missed half the regular season with a fractured hip.
The 14th win wasn’t to be, as Avon’s season ended Friday night with a 30-6 loss to Akron Hoban in the Division II state semifinals.
While it appears Avon may have overachieved this season — a statement that might seem ridiculous as the Eagles were ranked No. 1 in the state for most of the year and because they just capped their eighth straight postseason appearance — it will have much higher expectations next year.
Avon will have its starting quarterback, three starting offensive linemen, four starting defenders and nine underclassmen who weren’t starters but rotated frequently into the game returning with the familiarity of playing in the state tournament under their belts.
Not to mention the experience of traveling to Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando to battle one of the top high school football programs in Florida to kick off the season, going unblemished through a tough Southwestern Conference schedule and winning three challenging games to capture the program’s third regional championship.
One of the biggest reasons for heightened goals next year will be quarterback Ryan Maloy, who also saw heavy action during the Eagles’ 11 games in 2016.
Maloy has learned to beat opposing defenses with his arm and his legs. He has learned how to become a leader with his actions on the field. He has also learned how to inspire his teammates with his words off it.
“I’m very excited,” Maloy said. “I’m looking forward for the offseason and I’m going to be working hard. I’ll be working harder than I ever have just to try to avoid this feeling again.”
While it’s great to have any experienced players back for another season, having a guy who gives you a great shot at putting points on the scoreboard return is a huge advantage.
“He’s a fantastic football player,” Elder said. “Ryan Maloy coming back certainly gives us hope for the future.”
The Eagles will also be boosted by the return of two-way starting lineman Jack Roesch, starting linebackers and backup running backs Mark Steinmetz and Aaron Endrizal, and Perusek, who just completed his sophomore season and showed explosiveness and great field vision while filling in for ailing starter Tony Eberhardt during the regional semifinals and final.
“The next season starts tomorrow,” said Perusek, who plans on hitting the weight room and the buffet line. “I definitely want to gain some weight. I’m only 165 (pounds) right now, but I’d like to be 185 next year.”
But having a solid core of top performers return doesn’t guarantee success. The high expectations will be in place because of the experience those returnees have acquired and because Avon has a track record of success.
“I’m not going to give you some magical story about how we’re going to come back and win a state championship,” Elder said. “That’s not what we’re about at Avon. It’s a process, we do things the right way and the kids become young men and they’re better people for what they do here.
“If we happen to win a state championship some day that’s going to be a really awesome experience, but this team tied the school record for most wins at 13, they made it to the state final four and they lost to a team that’s really talented.
“We’ll look at next year and I’m pretty sure we’ll do the same things we do every single year at Avon and give ourselves the best chance to compete.”
Those outside the Avon program will be expecting it. Those within the program, even the ones that won’t be around next season, feel it’s inevitable.
“Watch out for the Avon Eagles in 2018,” senior receiver Chris Mullins said. “They’re a bunch of studs. I know that they’re coming back with a vengeance. I know they will. They’re going to hit the offseason hard, hit the weight room hard. Those guys are my brothers. I wish nothing but the best for them.”