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High school football 2017: Avon Lake not lacking tradition, just experience

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AVON LAKE — No one had to explain the tradition of the Maroon and Gold to Matt Kostelnik.

He’s lived it.

Kostelnik takes over as Avon Lake’ s coach, replacing the legendary Dave Dlugosz, who retired after last season’s successful run. Dlugosz originally retired after the 2012 season but was back on the job in 2014 when Larry Laird left after one season.

Dlugosz’s legacy includes a career mark of 214-54 with 16 playoff appearances and the 2003 Division II state title. Kostelnik played a key role as receiver on the state title team.

“I had no idea I’d be coming back here,” Kostelnik said. “After leaving Notre Dame College, I went on a few college interviews. Mike Gibbons (now coaching at Highland) was at Beachwood and said, ‘Hey, I need somebody.’ I loved it. Loved doing the high school thing.”

Eventually it led Kostelnik back to his hometown where he was an assistant under Dlugosz the past two years.

“I’m excited,” Kostelnik said. “A little overwhelmed at first — just little details now that Coach Dlugosz just took care of them. Thirty years as a head coach — these little tiny things that I never had to think about — now I have to. He bleeds Maroon and Gold. He’s a Shoreman through and through.”

So is Kostelnik.

“He put together such a rich tradition,” Kostelnik said of Dlugosz. “I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Why would I want to tear down a wall that’s just so strong? My goal is to just continue the legacy.”

Avon Lake finished 8-4 last year with a huge come-from-behind playoff win at Avon. The Shoremen rallied from a 26-7 deficit to win 27-26 then lost 14-6 to Anthony Wayne the following week.

The Shoremen lost a bevy of great playmakers from last year. Kostelnik will have to find a quarterback to replace Mark Pappas (3,300 yards passing and 33 touchdowns) and his top receiver, Carson Toy (1,200 yards, 16 TDs). Avon Lake’s offensive line will also need to develop quickly.

“Strengthwise, definitely up front for us on defense,” Kostenik said of what he has returning. “Offensively, we’re coming along. I was very happy with what we brought to the table (in the team’s first scrimmage at Highland). We’ll see how fast the offensive line develops. We’ve got some good kids as a whole. We have a bunch of unknowns on offense.”

Jack Mikolich, a junior, appears to be ready to take over at quarterback. His top receiver should be senior Caleb Burr.

“I’m the only returning skill guy,” said Burr, a wide receiver/cornerback. “We’re pretty young so I have to lead them. On the defensive side, we each have to lock it down in the secondary.”

Senior center Kyle Leitch (6-foot, 230 pounds) returns to help solidify the offensive line.

“We have different things we have to do for the O-line,” Leitch said. “I’m usually the one calling out who does what. I’m the only returning senior. We have one junior — Ryan Beckman — at left guard. We have one other senior and the rests are juniors.”

On defense, Avon Lake’s strong suit is the line, led by 225-pound defensive end Jake Marinelli and nose guard Max Wittman (6-2, 250).

“As a senior, we’ve got to mentor the younger guys and coach them up a little bit,” said Marinelli, who will also see time at tight end. “My role is to come off the edge, try to get in the quarterback’s face. Offense, just make as many plays as possible whether it’s blocking or receiving.”

In the secondary, senior strong safety Jake Sommers returns.

“A lot of people just try to flush the tackles to me,” he said. “Our defensive line, I think it’s the best in the conference. They make our job easier for us.”

Kostelnik has a strong staff of assistants. Most of them were on board with Dlugosz but he’s added Ray Lowe, former head coach at Open Door.

“Our goal is to beat the guys double-teaming and triple-teaming us,” Wittman said. “We want the linebackers to do their plays but we still want to get there first. I want to leave a legacy for other classes after us to look at. We want to be the class that won conference, beat Avon, made that big run in the playoffs. I want them to look at us and say, ‘That’s the goal.’”

Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or at timothygeb@msn.com.

AVON LAKE SHOREMEN

CONFERENCE: Southwestern Conference
2016 RECORD: 8-4, 6-3 SWC
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 17
RETURNING STARTERS: 10 (4 offense, 6 defense)
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 19
LAST TIME IN PLAYOFFS: 2016 (defeated Avon before losing to Anthony Wayne)
NUMBERS GAME: 22 — playoff wins for the Shoremen
PLAYER TO WATCH: Andrew Butrey, 6-foot-1, 170-pound senior safety. It was Butrey’s interception with 30 seconds left that sealed last year’s playoff win over Avon.

SCHEDULE

Aug. 25 Elyria

Sept. 1 at North OImsted*

Sept. 8 at Avon*

Sept. 15 Westlake*

Sept. 22 at Lakewood*

Sept. 29 at North Ridgeville*

Oct. 6 Amherst*

Oct. 13 at Berea-Midpark*

Oct. 20 Olmsted Falls*

Oct. 27 Midview*

* Southwestern Conference

All games at 7 p.m.

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