COACH: Mike Elder, fifth year
2010 RECORD: 10-1, 7-0
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 24
STRENGTHS: An edge. Despite a 10-0 regular season last year, the Eagles no doubt will be hungry to avenge a bitter ending to the season - a first-round loss to Sandusky in the Division II playoffs, a game in which Avon committed seven turnovers. Quarterback Justin O'Rourke - who split time with Cody Schroeder in 2009 and saw some action last season - tailback Ross Douglas, All-Ohio receiver Matt Eckhardt and defensive anchor Greg Harrison lead a group of 14 returning starters.
WEAKNESSES: Depth concerns Elder, as it does most coaches. A gaggle of juniors, and some sophomores, saw action last season, but injuries and the team's inexperienced reserves worry him. Defensive end Bryan Cox, who was getting some Division I looks, moved out of Avon with his NFL coach father, and will be missed.
SCOUTING REPORT: Yes, the Eagles are bitter about the way last season ended, but Avon went 10-0 in the regular season and has 14 starters back, so they'll remain the favorite in Division II, Region 6 (especially with Avon Lake moving to Division I). "It's a lot easier to go from 6-4 (Avon's record in 2009) to 10-0 than to follow up a 10-0 season," Elder said. "Any time you're dealing with teenage kids, (overconfidence) is a concern. We're circled on everyone's calendars."
COACH: Ryan Gorius, second year
2010 RECORD: 3-7, 3-4
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 11
STRENGTHS: Team speed, athleticism, depth - especially at running back, wide receiver, defensive back and defensive line - and the kicking game. Senior Brian Woos and juniors Ryan Voiers, Steve Burns and Matt Bruno (the latter two fullbacks) will serve as the main ball carriers, while juniors Jack Blake, Luke Rohkle and Patrick Hoke and senior Evan Campbell (tight end) will be the primary pass catchers. All are returning lettermen.
WEAKNESSES: Lack of depth at linebacker and the offensive line. The Rockets will be young and lacking varsity game experience, which, coming off a three-win season, is not good.
SCOUTING REPORT: The Rockets, one of several WSC teams using some variation of the spread offense, return quarterback Ryan Kana (senior), who has a year of running Gorius' system under his belt. While all three of the Rockets' wins came in the league, two came against teams now in the PAC.
Elyria Catholic Panthers
COACH: Mike Polevacik, first year
2010 RECORD: 10-2, 4-0 North Coast League
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 11
STRENGTHS: The Panthers' offensive line should be their strength with seniors Luke Williams, Alex Neilson and junior Spencer George returning. Leading rusher Joe Dempsey is back for his senior season, which should bolster the running game. Senior Cole Gorske and junior David Smith return to the defensive line while linebacker Matt Morgan is also back. In the secondary, junior Joshua Pierce joins seniors Jake Lawler and Jeffrey Ross. Junior receivers Jordan Alpater and Tyler Riddell have also made a good early impression.
WEAKNESSES: The Panthers have to replace a ton of senior starters and leaders from last season's playoff team, including quarterback Danny Reaser and wide receiver Zach Rogers - both All-Ohio selections. Also gone are All-Ohio two-way player Cody Campbell, receiver Conor Voreis and defensive back Buddy Davila. They also have a new coach in Polevacik, who has never been a head coach at the high school level, but spent the last few seasons as Ben Malbasa's top assistant.
SCOUTING REPORT: The Panthers have a lot to replace, but have a lot returning as well - all 11 lettermen are returning starters, so the cupboard is not bare. They have 45 guys out, which includes a solid freshman class. "Our slogan this year is, 'All we have is all we need,'" Polevacik said. Sophomore Jeremy Holley (6-foot-5, 210 pounds) will replace Reaser at quarterback, and Polevacik will maintain the wide-open offense Malbasa ran.
COACH: Bill Albright, 26th year
2010 RECORD: 3-7, 2-5
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 18
STRENGTHS: The Middies have a ton of experience - eight starters on offense and seven on defense - returning from the previous two seasons. They also have a big senior class of 20, which includes several who have come back out for football after a few years of focusing on other sports such as basketball, wrestling and baseball. With a big senior class comes tremendous leadership, and the Middies have a group eager to lead and get back to their winning ways.
WEAKNESSES: Like every team, depth is a concern. Sophomore Cody Calloway, who started the final three games of the regular season at quarterback, will be handed the reins of this senior-laden bunch. While Calloway showed tremendous poise and ability during his trial, he's still relatively new at the job.
SCOUTING REPORT: The Middies will go with the spread offense full time, showcasing athletic receivers Patrick Linn, Ryan Mains, J.D. Myers and newcomer Justin Morris, who's out from the basketball team. Running back Jacob Bennett returns to anchor the ground game. Defensively, they'll go with a 3-4, showcasing returning inside linebackers Brett Bartone and Tait Smith and outside linebackers Brendan Large and Brandon Blascak. "At our level, you have to build around your personnel," Albright said. The Middies also have good numbers back in the trenches. They expect to contend in a balanced and deep WSC, with a goal of a conference title and playoff berth within their grasp.
North Ridgeville Rangers
COACH: Jeff Riesen, 29th year (15th at Ridgeville)
2010 RECORD: 7-3, 5-2
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 16
STRENGTHS: The Rangers have a ton of experience returning, especially on the offensive and defensive lines. They have a good, deep senior class making up the majority of their lettermen, giving them strong leadership at the top. They are also athletic at the skill positions.
WEAKNESSES: The Rangers will have to replace several key starters on offense. Depth at certain positions will be tested, especially with senior P.J. Bunevich starting at quarterback and safety.
SCOUTING REPORT: The Rangers reached the playoffs for the first time two seasons ago and have a deep senior class itching to make it back. Bunevich is an athletic quarterback and letterman David Bowden will be counted on heavily in the rushing game. The Rangers will mix the spread offense with the I-formation offensively, and returning seniors Josh Hudson and Christian Watkins will be counted on in the passing game. Defensively, they will go with a 4-4, with big defensive linemen Mitch Bulaga and Eric Knoblauch leading the way.
Rocky River Pirates
COACH: Rick Adams, eighth year
2010 RECORD: 7-3, 6-1
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 6
STRENGTHS: The Pirates should have a tough running game thanks to an experienced offensive line. Seniors Conor Milner (guard), Max Sawyer (guard), Michael Dickey (fullback) and Klinti Gjino (tight end) are the returning blockers who should pave the way for junior running back Andreas Tjotjos, who has looked good, according to Adams.
WEAKNESSES: The Pirates lost 26 seniors from their breakout 2010 season, so a lack of experience and depth are big concerns.
SCOUTING REPORT: The health of the offensive line will be the key to the season. If the line stays healthy, the Pirates believe they should have a solid running game. It's safe to say the Pirates will be a run first, pass second team. The program has made some positive strides in recent years, emerging as a darkhorse candidate for the top spot last season. With the amount of turnover, along with an improved conference, they may be hard-pressed to reach last season's mark.
COACH: Ben Ohlemacher, first year
2010 RECORD: 0-10, 0-7
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 10
STRENGTHS: With a new coach comes a renewed sense of optimism. Ohlemacher brings a fresh voice to a team that has needed one after going 1-19 the past two seasons. The Sailors have three returning starters on both lines, which should help anchor the team. They also have some players returning to the program as seniors after a few years away.
WEAKNESSES: The Sailors will miss "Mr. Everything" Anthoney Budka, who started at running back and linebacker and handled punting and kicking duties. The lack of wins the last few years means the team will have to learn how to win games and develop a winning attitude that's been lacking the past few seasons.
SCOUTING REPORT: "At this point, morale is more important than talent," Ohlemacher said. After going 0-10 last season, there is nowhere to go but up, and the Sailors are hoping to go up bit-by-bit this season. Vermilion will go with a 3-4 defense built around returning linemen Frank Estep (junior), Robby Lear and Josh Bennett (both seniors), and junior it will go with the multiple-I formation after a few years of running the spread.
THE TOP PLAYERS
Jacob Bennett, Midview
One of the area's top ground gainers last season for a 3-7 team. With a sophomore quarterback, teams may be gearing to stop him. However, the junior should still find some lanes behind his experienced offensive line.
P.J. Bunevich, North Ridgeville
The quarterback/safety made a name for himself as a top-notch defender for the Rangers last season. This year he'll also take over for Mike Mees under center. And because his value is so strong to the defense, the coaches will make him the rare two-way starting quarterback.
Joe Dempsey, Elyria Catholic
The leading rusher on a high-powered offense that reached the playoffs last season. With a new quarterback and several other new playmakers around him, the senior may be the focal point of the offense.
Matt Eckhardt, Avon
Emerged as one of the top playmaking wide receivers as the Eagles made their run at regular-season perfection and the postseason. The All-Ohio selection returns as a senior poised to build off his stellar junior year.
Jake Lawler, Elyria Catholic
The defensive back was one of EC's standouts last season as a junior. He returns as one of the Panthers' leaders.
Justin O'Rourke, Avon
After splitting snaps with Cody Schroeder the last two seasons, he finally has the quarterback job all to himself as a senior. Has plenty of returning weapons to utilize and could have a breakout season.
THE TOP GAMES
Thursday, Aug. 25, Avon Lake at Avon
The season kicks off with this FS Ohio televised clash of border rivals. Avon stunned the Shoremen last season at their place, en route to a 10-0 regular season.
Sept. 2, Amherst at Midview
Midview grad Chad DiFranco will return to his old stomping grounds and take on his mentor Bill Albright when the first-year coach brings his Comets to Adelsberg Stadium.
Sept. 23, Elyria Catholic at Avon
Arguably the two best teams in Lorain County last season meet as conference rivals for the first time in a highly anticipated clash.
Sept. 30, Elyria Catholic at North Ridgeville
Of all EC's games in the WSC, this one might be the most anticipated by the neighboring communities. The teams used to scrimmage annually, but never met in an actual game ... until now.
Avon is easily the favorite to repeat as champion. The Eagles have the numbers and the talent returning to justify that label.
The addition of Elyria Catholic, giving the WSC an uneven seven teams for the season, adds some intrigue. The Panthers rode some offensive fireworks to the postseason, where — unlike Avon — they won in the first round before falling in the second.
A Division IV team, EC is the smallest school in the WSC. However, it has the track record to make its first round of conference games must-watch affairs.
Standing in EC’s way will be traditional WSC heavyweights Midview and North Ridgeville. The Middies are coming off a disappointing 3-7 season. However, they believe they have the experience coming back and the mentality to get back into contention.
North Ridgeville reached the postseason two years ago and will have a big senior class returning that was part of that historic team. Coming off a 7-3 season, the Rangers are poised to continue their recent string of success.
Rocky River was the sleeper team last season that turned the WSC on its ear with a 7-3 record, 6-1 in the league. However, the Pirates lost 26 seniors and only return six lettermen. They may have trouble duplicating that season, but they should be competitive.
Bay may be a year or two away from competing for the top spot. It went 3-4 in conference play last season, but the Rockets’ wins were over Vermilion, Firelands and Fairview — the three bottom teams in the conference. Firelands and Fairview are gone to the Patriot Athletic Conference.
Vermilion has a new coach in Ben Ohlemacher, but the Sailors have an uphill climb in this ever-improving league. Winning at least a game this season and being competitive in most others would be considered progress.
BY THE NUMBERS
Teams in the conference this season. Lakewood is slated to join next season to make it an even number again.
TWins North Ridgeville coach Jeff Riesen needs to reach 200 for his career.
The combined years of coaching experience for Riesen and Midview's Bill Albright - two of the longest-tenured head football coaches in Lorain County.
Lettermen back from an Avon team that went 10-0 and landed the top-seed in the Division II, Region 6 playoffs last season.
Vermilion's win total over the last two seasons.
Team Conf. Total
Avon 7-0 10-1
Rocky River 6-1 7-3
North Ridgeville 5-2 7-3
Fairview* 4-3 5-5
Bay 3-4 3-7
Midview 2-5 3-7
Firelands* 1-6 2-8
Vermilion 0-7 0-10
Division II, Region 6
Sandusky 42, Avon 35
*Now in Patriot Athletic Conference
North Coast League 2010 standings
Team Conf. Total
Elyria Catholic* 4-1 10-2
Trinity 3-2 5-5
CCC 2-3 6-4
Chanel 0-5 2-7
Division IV, Region 14
Elyria Catholic 28, Huron 21
Orrville 22, Elyria Catholic 14
*Now in West Shore Conference