ELYRIA — It’s a new era for Elyria High’s football team.
The team will play in a new home for the first time in 90 years after the retirement and demolition of old Ely Stadium.
The new venue is just a few thousand feet south of the original one but the difference is drastic — artificial state-of-the-art turf, new locker facilities, new stands, new scoreboard and new press box. It’s Phase 1 of the development of the Ely Stadium area that eventually will have upgraded softball, baseball and tennis venues. The boys and girls soccer teams will also play on the new field.
“I’m excited. I’m looking forward to it,” senior wide receiver and cornerback Adrian Martin said. “The field that we had was old and now it’s torn down.”
“I’m glad our old stadium’s gone,” senior tight end and safety Noah France said. “My brothers (Tad and Seth) played on it and my dad, too. I’m sorry but I really like what they’re doing. It’s really nice. Everybody’s excited about the first game. Hopefully we’ll have a big crowd.”
“I’m excited for it to be done,” senior wide receiver Izaiah Thomas said. “We want to at least get to .500 and make the playoffs.”
Second-year coach Sean Arno is eager to see his team play on the new turf, as well. And he’s especially eager to put last season’s 1-9 record in the rear view mirror.
“We had a good offseason,” Arno said. “Kids worked hard in the weight room and we had good offseason attendance. It takes time to build that culture in that year-long process of being in the weight room and working together.”
Elyria finished with less than 1,000 total yards rushing last year but did throw for nearly 2,000. The Pioneers lost their leading rusher and passer in Dontae Beckett, as well as their leading receiver — Deviian Williams — to graduation. They also lost leading tackler and third-team All-Ohio linebacker Qwanda Woodson to non-football related issues but Arno is confident he has the personnel to take their place.
Elyria returns 11 starters — five on offense and six on defense.
“We were pretty undersized last year (on the line),” Arno said. “We had to be easily the smallest team in the league by 100 pounds. Once we get through our scrimmages (this week at Midview and Avon), we’ll know more of what we have to work on.”
“We feel pretty confident,” Martin said. “We have a new offense, new defense. We’ve been in the weight room all summer. We’re looking forward to it.”
“It takes time,” Arno said. “That old adage of it taking three to five years is true. I know there was success here before but to do what we’re trying to do — you’re starting to get some roots and the big thing is building relationships with the kids. As the middle school athletic director, it helps me build the bridge for these kids coming in. I know these kids by name. We’re really excited about what we’re doing because we have all the teams now combined to one seventh-grade and one eighth-grade (team).”
Arno knows it will take some growing pains and patience. The team bonded and stuck together over a tough offseason in which they had to deal with the death of junior wide receiver Brenden Rich-Beckett. It hasn’t been easy getting to this point.
Arno began his coaching career leading Elyria’s freshman team in 1998 under Dick Kerschbaum. He moved on from there to turn a couple of losing programs into winning ones. His last stint before Elyria was three years at Wellington where he improved the Dukes from 2-8 in his first season to 3-7 and 5-5. Offensively, Wellington averaged over 33 points a game in 2016.
France and Thomas believe this year’s team will be much better on both sides of the ball.
“We need to know our assignments,” France said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys that are really talented. I think they’ll help us a lot this year. We’re not too deep in seniors but the offense we’re running is really good. We’re aiming to be over .500 this year. We’re young but we’re talented. I’m really excited about this season.
“We’ve got a good, young running back (sophomore Jakeem Atkinson) and our offense is designed to really attack the defense,” Thomas said. “We’ll be more aggressive. Last year we kind of struggled with that. We couldn’t put the ball in the end zone.”
Arno said he has a reason for feeling good about this year.
“I wouldn’t be as confident if they hadn’t worked so hard in the offseason,” he said. “They put the time in.”
CONFERENCE: Greater Cleveland Conference
2017 RECORD: 1-9, 1-6
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 11
RETURNING STARTERS: 11 (5 offense, 6 defense)
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 4
LAST TIME IN PLAYOFFS: 2015 (Lost to Olentangy in first round)
NUMBERS GAME: 4 — Elyria High needs just four victories to reach 600 in school history.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Noah France, senior tight end and defensive back. France’s older brothers Seth and Tad were excellent players in their years at Elyria.
Aug. 24 Avon Lake
Aug. 31 at Bedford
Sept. 8 Lorain (1 p.m.)
Sept. 14 at Solon*
Sept. 21 Euclid*
Sept. 29 at Shaker Heights* (2 p.m.)
Oct. 5 Brunswick*
Oct. 12 at Medina*
Oct. 19 Strongsville*
Oct. 26 at Mentor*
* Greater Cleveland Conference
All games at 7 p.m. unless noted