It’s easy for outsiders — parents, fans, other schools — to take for granted what Avon has accomplished over the last decade or so.
The trickiest part for the Eagles coaches and players is to make sure they’re not in that group.
The Eagles are 89-12 since 2010 and have qualified for the playoffs each season — including four trips to the regional final and two to the state final four. The bar is set really high, yet Avon just keeps winning.
“Noise can create complacency,” said Eagles coach Mike Elder, who is 113-21 at Avon,entering his 13th season. “People in your community, they expect you to show up and win, but teenage kids, they listen and they forget (what it takes). Past success has nothing to do with the present. All it does is put a bigger target on your back. Our kids are up for the challenge.”
The Eagles enter this season as heavy favorites in the Southwestern Conference, but they’ll certainly have challengers once again. Of course, that didn’t matter last year: The Eagles steamrolled a league that featured two other playoff teams, outscoring opponents 381-146.
The Eagles lost a group of highly impactful players, but will look to continue their reloading pattern of the last few seasons. Gone are offensive tackle Jimmy McKenna (Purdue), running back Tony Eberhardt (Toledo), David Orlando (Tiffin), Max Torbert and Kyle Kudla (Hillsdale).
Avon returns only nine starters, but they include some of the best players in the county and league: Ryan Maloy would be a runaway All-SWC choice at quarterback if not for Berea-Midpark’s Trevor Bycznski, who has multiple Division I offers.
Maloy passed for over 2,600 yards and 21 touchdowns and ran for over 800 and scored 14 times.
Seniors Michael Bergen (Toledo) and Matt Schuler anchor the offensive line in McKenna’s absence, while running back Nick Perusek — who averaged nearly 8 yards a carry — and receiver Tommy Purcell (25 catches) will be Maloy’s top targets.
On defense, leading tackler and linebacker Mark Steinmetz (129 stops) and defensive end Jack Roesch — committed to Air Force — are back, while defensive backs Joey Lance and Ryan Jones and linebacker Aaron Endrizal (61 tackles last season) provide support.
“Making it to the state semifinals was a big deal and an even greater opportunity to see where we stood,” Roesch said. “However, that success opens doors for complacency and arrogance. Practices are mentally stressful for that reason. Our coaches want to see who will crack when the tides turn. In saying that, however, I think we have some dudes that won’t let that stuff fly. If we play for the guy next to us I have no doubt complacency will not affect our team mentality.”
As easy as the Eagles have made it look, though, it never is. Akron Buchtel, the team’s lone non-conference opponent, will be a tough matchup, while Avon opens SWC play with Olmsted Falls, a regional finalist last year, and Avon Lake, which Elder says has the most talent in the league.
The Eagles also got a reality check in their first scrimmage last week. They play Massillon Washington each preseason, and the Tigers, Elder said, took it to the Eagles. (Massillon played in the other Division II state semifinal last year, losing to Cincinnati Winton Woods, which lost to Hoban in the state title game.)
That may have helped Elder snap his crew into gear and refocus. Avon has spent some time this offseason talking about last year’s state semifinal against Akron Hoban, and what the team might do differently should they get another crack.
“It is a very tough challenge every week, we know that we’re going to get the best version of every team we play,” Endrizal said. “It’s our job to produce the best version of ourselves. We prepare for every Friday night by watching film every day. We also get a great look from our younger guys. We wouldn’t be as successful as we have been without the looks our younger kids give us.”
CONFERENCE: Southwestern Conference
2017 Record: 13-1, 9-0
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 17
RETURNING STARTERS: 9 (5 offense, 4 defense)
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 11
LAST TIME IN PLAYOFFS: 2017 (lost to Akron Hoban in state semifinal)
NUMBERS GAME: 144 — Points allowed in nine SWC games a year ago by the Eagles, who bring back their leading tackler (Aaron Endrizal), Jack Roesch (Air Force recruit) and a handful of other impact players. The 35 points they allowed to Berea-Midpark in Week 10 were the most they conceded all season, and that was below the Titans’ season average of 43.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Nick Perusek. The junior running back averaged nearly 8 yards per carry and scored seven times last year in limited action, due to injuries. He’ll be looked upon to carry a bigger load this season.
Aug. 24 Buchtel
Aug. 31 Olmsted Falls*
Sept. 7 at Avon Lake*
Sept. 14 North Olmsted*
Sept. 21 at Midview*
Sept. 28 Westlake*
Oct. 5 at Lakewood*
Oct. 12 at North Ridgeville*
Oct. 19 at Amherst*
Oct. 26 Berea-Midpark*
* SWC game
All games start at 7 p.m.