VERMILION — Last year Vermilion did not have a losing season for the first time since it went 6-4 under Frank Horvath in 2008. The Sailors won five of their first six games under first-year coach Matt Kobal in 2017, but they lost their last four games to finish .500 at 5-5.
Kobal died Nov. 17th, a tragedy Vermilion is still dealing with. Brett Colahan, who joined Kobal last season as the team’s offensive coordinator, was promoted to continue the rebuilding process Kobal had started.
In the eight seasons prior to 2017, the Sailors averaged less than two wins. Now, in their third season in the Sandusky Bay Conference, there is optimism on Sailorway Drive.
Quarterback Seth Hurd is an all-conference candidate with plenty of weapons around him. Seniors Jacob Koleszar and Davis McDaniel saw playing time last season and will split carries out of the backfield in a spread offense.
Hurd is a dual-threat quarterback. Last year he completed 132 of 226 passes for 1,568 yards, 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed 92 times for a team-high 420 yards and five scores.
“Our expectations are to build from last year,” Hurd said. “The season before last year wasn’t so great and last year we definitely kicked off something good with coach Kobal. Now we have to keep building on that and get better.
“Our offense should look really good. We have a bunch of skills and our offensive line is a lot better than last year. If our skills just do what they need to do, then we should be good.”
Colahan likes the progress Hurd has exhibited in training camp.
“He’s seeing things now, in the second year of the offense, that last year he wasn’t quite seeing right away,” Colahan said. “In the scrimmage he was like, ‘Hey, we can do this.’ I love it, but we have to see things on film. He sees the bigger picture of everything that’s going on.”
The offensive line features three seniors and two sophomores. Sam McCurdy and Paul Wearsch are all-conference candidates while Levi Jamison, a converted running back, is an athletic guard.
Sophomores Chris Bennett and Lane German have shown promise in camp.
“We’ve been improving on the playbook we installed last year,” McCurdy said. “It’s another year of that development, having it in your brain and having that muscle memory. We got in the weight room hard this year so we’re stronger than we’ve ever been, strong at the point of attack.”
As for weapons outside, Hurd will have a slew of upperclassmen receivers to choose from. Senior Jonah Pfeil led the Sailors with 64 receptions for 745 yards and nine touchdowns last year. Senior Luke Pena added 25 catches for 321 yards and seven scores.
Seniors Hunter Hickman, Addison Painter and Ashton Bath, as well as junior Zach Kovach, all saw time last season.
With seven starters returning on offense compared to just three on defense, Kovach hopes to control the ball and keep his offense on the field.
“We’d love to control the ball for 48 minutes,” he said. “Obviously that’s not going to happen, but we’re going to do what we need to do. We can’t worry about (the opponent). If we execute our plays, we’ll be OK.”
Defensively the Sailors will have to grow up in a hurry. Hurd had five interceptions last year while Pfeil added three, but there are new players across the board in Vermilion’s 3-4 defense.
“A learning experience,” Colahan said when asked what he expected from his defense. “The first few games are really going to be getting game speed defensively with the schemes we’re going to run. Obviously the more we can hang onto the ball the nicer our defense is going to look if people don’t get time to pick them apart a little bit.
“I think it’ll be a learning curve, especially in the first couple of weeks with them just getting their feet under them and getting ready to hit.”
Vermilion is just two seasons removed from the long bus rides and inconsistent schedules that come from being a team without a conference. Three years ago the Sailors joined the Sandusky Bay Conference, and this will be their second year in the SBC-Bay Division.
SBC or independent, Colahan just wants to see his team perform. He hopes it learned from its struggles down the stretch last season.
“We’re remembering what happened last year when, at the end of the season, it got to be a grind,” he said. “We’re trying to get everybody prepared to be ready for that grind.
“We’re preparing to play the best team on our schedule…we don’t know who that is yet. We’re not looking forward to anybody but we understand that there are some tough teams we’re going to play.
“It might be week one, it might be week 10. Whenever it is we know we’ve got to prepare for the best.”
Sandusky Bay Conference – Bay Division
2017 record: 5-5, 1-5 SBC
Returning letterwinners: 14
Returning starters: seven on offense, three on defense
Playoff appearances: 4
Last time in playoffs: 1997
Numbers game: 41. This is how many points per game the Vermilion defense allowed in its four-game season-ending losing streak. It allowed 14.5 points per game in its first six contests.
Player to watch: Luke Pena, senior wide receiver. At 6-foot-6, 215 pounds, Pena is a big target outside. The starting power forward on the basketball team, he has good hands, is athletic and has a nasty streak.
Vermilion Sailors (all games kick off at 7 p.m.)
Aug. 24 at Oberlin
Aug. 31 Brookside
Sept. 7 Firelands
Sept. 14 Perkins*
Sept. 21 at Tiffin Columbian
Sept. 28 Oak Harbor*
Oct. 5 at Port Clinton*
Oct. 12 at Huron*
Oct. 19 at Edison*
Oct. 26 Clyde*
* Denotes Sandusky Bay Conference – Bay Division game