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The Blitz

Shaun Bennett: For Avon and coach Mike Elder, homegrown success is the best kind


Two things were evident after Avon’s 42-7 loss to Akron Hoban in Friday night’s Division II state semifinal at Brunswick’s Auto Mart Stadium.

First, a team like Avon — a public school without open enrollment — will probably always struggle against a team like Hoban — a private school without a defined school district.

Second, the Eagles stick to the theme that has built them into a Division II state power over the last decade-plus — success won’t be measured by the numbers on the scoreboard.

Akron Hoban won a pair of Division III state championships in 2015-16, then won the Division II state title last season when it was moved up a division due to the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s rollout of its competitive balance process.

Competitive balance was the ruling organization’s attempt at evening the playing field when it comes to parochial schools — or public schools that utilize open enrollment — bringing in student-athletes from outside their feeder school system or school district.

The Knights clearly had athletes that wanted to be part of such a prestigious program — quarterback Shane Hamm, who went 7-for-7 for 132 yards and a touchdown passing against the Eagles on Friday, drives over 30 miles to school each day from Lake Milton — and Hoban has enjoyed the talents that the high-profile athletes bring.

The on-field stats are impressive enough, but then you look at another list of statistics:

** Wide receiver Caden Clark will be playing for Alabama.

** Offensive lineman Nolan Rumler is headed to the University of Michigan.

** Running back Tyris Dickerson has signed with Eastern Kentucky.

** The Mid-American Conference is getting a pair of Knights stars — fullback Quan Easterling to Akron, and defensive back Matt Salopek to Miami (Ohio).

** Junior defensive back DeaMonte Trayanum, who ran for a pair of touchdowns and came up with several big defensive plays, has Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame on his short list.

Avon has players headed to Division I college programs, too — Michael Bergen is going to Toledo and Jack Roesch is going to the Air Force Academy — but any potential powerful linemen, speedy skill players or tough all-around standouts who live in Lorain County and would like to take advantage of coach Mike Elder’s teachings and the spotlight that shines on the Eagles program simply don’t have that option.

Instead, Elder and his staff have to work with the youth that reside in Avon and sculpt them into those standout players … which isn’t really a bad thing.

“There’s an advantage on our side and that advantage is that these kids care deeply for one another,” Elder said. “They’ve been playing football together since third, fourth, fifth grade. So when I go in that locker room there’s going to be a lot of really sad kids because they’ve been doing this together for the last eight to 10 years.

“I believe that helps us be successful. They don’t want to let their brother down and they’ve grown up as childhood friends and to me that’s really special, and that’s what high school football is about and what it should be about. That’s something that we have that some other schools don’t, and that’s something we’re proud of.”

That may be the toughest choice for a high school football coach. Would they rather have a collection of studs that gather for the purpose of winning championships or would they rather have a collection of players who have learned the game together and play for the love of the game?

Elder hasn’t had to make that choice because Avon has no room for outside enrollees, but he has repeatedly shown that he prefers the latter option.

“I always say as a football coach that your true success is measured 10 years down the road,” he said. “How successful is Hoban? How successful are we? We’ll all find that out 10 years down the road with what these kids do after football.”

While Hoban is expected to win its fourth straight state championship next week, the Eagles will get back to the business of searching through their limited pool of players to pick the next group of standouts to replace 12 senior starters, including quarterback Ryan Maloy, linemen Bergen and Roesch and running back/linebacker Mark Steinmetz.

But it’s something Elder and the Eagles have been able to do year after year, and they keep finding ways to maintain their powerhouse status.

“We didn’t get that goal of winning a state championship, but 12 years ago everybody laughed at me when I said that was our goal,” Elder said. “Nobody’s laughing now because we have a bunch of kids and coaches who believe it. One of these days, if we keep knocking on the door, we’re going to get one and when we do every kid that was out here tonight, and every kid who’s ever played at Avon, will share in that.”

And they’ll all have begun their championship careers in Avon.

Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him @ShaunBennettct on Twitter.

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