LAGRANGE — Trying to determine how the Keystone Wildcats will fare on the football field starts and ends with defense.
The 2009 edition gave up 31.7 points per game and had games in which it gave up 33, 34, 41, 56 and 57 points. Their record in those games was 1-4, as opposed to 4-1 when they gave up fewer than 28 points.
“It didn’t seem like we were able to stop anybody last year,” Keystone coach Rob Clarico said. “We have eight returners on defense this year so we expect that our defense is going to be an asset and not a liability this season.”
It better be.
The Wildcats will run the same 4-4 defense they have in years past, although Clarico is going to let his defensive line be a little more aggressive than in previous years. An experienced front line and eight returning lettermen are itching to prove last season was more fluke than fact.
With Clarico loosening the reins a little bit, the players are excited for the opportunity to turn things up a notch.
Listen to coach Rob Clarico talk about the season with WEOL's Jim Allen:
“We are pretty anxious to start the season,” said senior linebacker Tim McMullen, who was first-team All-Lorain County last season. “We have a lot of guys who can flat-out play. We are a senior-heavy squad with significant varsity experience and we have a lot to prove after last season.
“The coaches are letting us attack a bit more instead of having us react. I think it’s really going to pay off for us during the season.”
Joining McMullen in the linebacking corps are seniors Caleb Staller, James Gerken and Caleb Wagner.
The front line returns three of four starters in defensive tackles Andrew Johnson (6-foot-1, 260 pounds) and Matt Rector (6-1, 225), along with defensive end Cody Daniel. Senior Kyle Ternes is the other defensive end.
The secondary will be led by returning senior free safety Jake Cooper, who will be aided by cornerback Steve Renfro on one side while a pair of juniors, Brandon Grieve and Ryan Clement, battle for the other starting spot.
Cooper believes the secondary will be just as strong as the rest of the defense.
“We have a pretty good group,” he said. “As a whole, we don’t have as much experience as the rest of the defense but we all play together well. We have a good understanding of what each of us is going to do.”
While Clarico doesn’t expect the second coming of the famed Steel Curtain defenses of the 1970s, limiting teams to around 20 points a game would be a welcome start. It’s a number that’s been brought up in conversation with his defensive coordinator.
“My dad (Don) is my defensive coordinator so we have had a lot of conversations about the defense,” Clarico said. “I’ve told him that if we can keep opponents right around the 20-point plateau then we should be able to generate the points offensively that we need to win.”
Keystone’s experience and senior leadership offer hope that defense can help lead the way this season.
“I think we have a chance to be a really special defense,” Clarico said. “Everything is in place that if the guys can pull together as one and avoid injuries we can erase the bad memories of last season.”
More high school football previews
- Elyria ready to chase playoffs
- EC has plenty to be excited about
- Midview has depth, confidence, too
- Rangers staying hungry
- Keystone counting on defense
- Wellington plans to throw more
- Avon Lake needs a runner
- Amherst expects to be even better this year
- Oberlin staying positive despite heavy graduation losses
- Lorain has high hopes for Titans
- Clippers feel new guys are prepared
- Columbia thinks this season could be a special one
- Brookside’s comfort level rising
- Are Sailors on the way back up?
- Olmsted Falls relying on excellent senior class
- Firelands’ focus on present, not future
- Avon looks to return to playoffs
- Pay-to-pay hasn’t derailed North Olmsted’s optimism
- Black River loaded with talent
- Lutheran West hoping to stay healthy this season
- Coach thinks Westlake will have big year
Contact Hans Schneider at 329-7135 or email@example.com.