NORTH RIDGEVILE — Jacob Mozny, the man in the middle of both lines for North Ridgeville this year, made no bones about it.
“I think we came out and kicked butt,” Mozny said of the Rangers’ first scrimmage against Padua. “Especially for them being a playoff team. Even though they’re D-III, it’s still a huge pick up for all of us. We hadn’t had a good week of practice and to come out here and win the scrimmage, if you can say that, it feels really good. We still have a lot we need to work on yet but they’re little things, things that we can fix.”
Mozny, North Ridgeville’s center and nose tackle, is one of 19 returning lettermen for coach Luke Durbin, who is in his fifth year.
He knows the kids, the kids know him.
“For two years, we’ve been young,” Durbin said.
“Two years ago we played a lot of sophomores. Last year we played a lot of sophomores and juniors. There’s not very many current seniors and juniors that have not started for us. We’ve gone from a team that played a lot of young guys to a team that’s pretty veteran.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve played big minutes, meaningful minutes, on both sides of the ball.”
Durbin figures if the Rangers stay healthy, they should be in the thick of the Southwestern Conference race and have a shot at a playoff berth. The SWC is challenging each week, starting right off the bat in Week 2.
Durbin knows the challenge but also knows the reward.
“It’s brutal,” he said. “But you know, if you’re in the top half of the league, you’ve got a chance to make the playoffs and win quite a few games. One of the concerns early on was how many teams (in the league) can make the playoffs? That concern has really been negated because we’ve had multiple teams in the playoffs every year of this league and we’ve had multiple teams winning playoff games.
“If you can compete in our league, you can compete with anybody in the state of Ohio.”
Last year Durbin watched two of his SWC rivals duke it out on North Ridgeville’s home field in the Division II regional semifinals.
“We were close,” Durbin said. “We’ve got Avon and Olmsted Falls playing in the (playoffs) against each other and, in my opinion, we could have easily beat both those teams. Right there, down to the very end. We just kind of ran out of gas.”
The Rangers took Falls to the wire before losing 42-35 and held Avon to its fewest points of the regular season before losing 19-14. A play here or there in either of those games, and North Ridgeville could have won.
Second-year quarterback Matthew Steinmetz learned a lot a year ago and spent the offseason working on his decision making.
“Last year, I made some poor decisions and it cost us some stuff but I’ve been working on it a lot,” he said. “We need to work better as a team. Last year, we were pretty divided as a team. We need to work together and get the job done.”
The start of the season has to be of primary concern for the Rangers. Last year, they dropped their first six games before getting past North Olmsted in overtime. The Rangers won three of their last four games with their only loss coming against Avon. The schedule is the same this year, starting at North Royalton.
“Last year we opened with a loss to a good North Royalton team and I think we lost a little belief that we could win football games,” Durbin said. “Shomari (Williams) went down with an injury Week One and he was already out Week Two coming off a loss. I think our kids went into Week Two with their heads down.”
Williams was an outstanding tailback and defensive back who will be missed but Durbin believes the team is ready for the next challenge.
“Reaction to setbacks, whether it’s getting beat on a play, getting beat on a block, losing a game — how do we respond?” he said. “That’s a big part of what we’ve been preaching.”
“We’re not about to recreate last year or the previous year,” Mozny said. “Three and seven two years in a row. We’re not going to do that again.”
The Rangers will have a different look on offense this season.
“The past two years, we’ve been a run-first team,” Steinmetz said. “We had Shomari last year and the year before. This year, I think it’s going to be more balanced — maybe more passing. We’re playing more of a spread offense this year. I like that.”
Cade Riley expects to pick up some of the slack in the backfield for the departed Williams, while also seeing time at linebacker.
“We’re leaning more toward a one-back play style,” Riley said. “I think we’ll see a lot more passing. We need to come out more aggressive and be smarter with our play. Winning the last two games last year really boosted our morale. I really like our chances this season. I really like our team.”
“Last year, we were a run-first team,” wide receiver Michael Richmond said. “This year we can swing it a little bit. We’ve got good receivers and we have depth in our lineups now. It’s our job (as seniors) to develop the young guys as varsity players.”
NORTH RIDGEVILLE RANGERS
CONFERENCE: Southwestern Conference
2017 RECORD: 3-7, 3-6
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 19
RETURNING STARTERS: 17
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 2
LAST TIME IN PLAYOFFS: 2015 (Lost to Perrysburg in first round)
NUMBERS GAME: 12 – Total points in losses to Avon (19-14) and Olmsted Falls (42-35) last year.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Senior center and nose tackle Jacob Mozny, who anchors what coach Luke Durbin calls the biggest and best line he’s had in his five years.
Aug. 24 at North Royalton
Aug. 31 Midview*
Sept. 7 Amherst*
Sept. 14 at Berea-Midpark*
Sept. 21 Olmsted Falls*
Sept. 28 at Avon Lake*
Oct. 5 North Olmsted*
Oct. 12 Avon*
Oct. 19 at Westlake*
Oct. 26 at Lakewood*
* Southwestern Conference
All games at 7 p.m.