Last year’s squad won the Federal League championship by outscoring opponents by an average of 36-17. Unfortunately, the Falcons came up short in the Division I state playoffs when they were shot down by Solon, 41-0.
With a school record 82 kids coming out for this year’s team, Fitch head coach Phil Annarella will have oodles of options when it comes to filling out what Fitch faithful hope is a title contending roster. One sixth of that group are returning letterwinners and eight of those are returning starters so coach Annarella has a good feel for who the stars are. In the weeks leading up to the Aug. 26 season opener against Warren Harding, the longtime coach must find a few complimentary parts.
“It comes down to the supporting cast,” said Annarella who is entering his 30th season as a head coach. “We have a lot of young kids filling some holes for us. Finding kids to fill those other spots will be critical this year.”
Three spots Annarella will never have to worry about will be filled by superstar seniors Demitrious Davis, Chris Davis and Will Mahone. The Miami Heat may have their “Big Three,” but in Austintown the talents of this triumvirate may be just as terrific.
“I wouldn’t want to defend them,” laughed Annarella when asked about the Davis boys and Mahone. “They enhance our offense so well.”
Demitrious is the type of duel-threat quarterback that can flat out dominate an opposing defense. He combined for over 2,000 yards of total offense in 2010 with 28 total touchdowns. An injury to Demitrious in last year’s playoffs pushed the Falcons’ chances of winning out the door. His twin brother Chris was one of the wideouts on the receiving end of his passes and he returns as Fitch’s best receiver with a 13.5 yard per catch average. Both Davis kids will attend Pitt next school year.
Speaking of pits, that is exactly where Mahone leaves opposing tacklers during one of his amazing runs. In a shared role last season, Mahone rushed for 480 yards and five touchdowns. The senior will be the featured back in Annarella’s offense this year so look for those numbers to triple.
Also catching the ball from Demitrious will be a couple of returning letterwinning receivers in six-foot, one-inch Nick Williams and Lucas Haupt who had more than 300 yards receiving in 2010.
In order for Fitch’s spread to work successfully it will need superior play along the offensive line. With all star Steve Zaborsky headed off to Youngstown State, the main man along Fitch’s offensive front will now be six-foot, four-inch, 285-pound junior Billy Price. The heavily recruited Price will not only anchor the offensive line, but he will be one of the few Falcons who will have to play on the defensive side of the ball too.
“(Price) can’t come off the field,” Annarella insisted. “We will try to have as many one way starters as possible so we will have to be smart with substitutions.”
Another possible candidate for double duty is 270-pound senior letterwinner Lennie McGeachy. Seniors Kyle Betts and Mike Stiffler are two other kids who can play along the offensive or defensive front. Workhorse senior Chris Penson is a defending All-Federal League selection and should play center.
The center of the Fitch defense is where the largest landmine on the team occurs. The Falcons must fill three linebacker positions so Annarella has amped up the competition for those starting spots in practice.
“(The linebackers) are the heart of the defense,” said Annarella seriously. “This is a league that likes to run so we have to hold up on the defensive line and linebacker.”
Mahone could see some time at linebacker and he should be joined there by junior Bill Aaron. Most likely, the linebacker spots will be filled by a rotation of potential outstanding newcomers.
There will be nothing new in the defensive backfield as the two Davis boys and Williams have most of the secondary secure. Now if those veterans can mix in well with the newer varsity players then Annarella will have less to worry about.
“You need good team chemistry,” the coach mentioned. “We had it last year and we’ll need it again this year.”
One thing from last year that Annarella’s bunch cannot have again is the Federal League championship. Fitch does play all of the teams in the mostly Stark County conference, but are no longer affiliated with the Federal. One mention of that makes the veteran field boss venomous.
“It stinks that we play the schedule, but can’t play for a title or have any of our kids make All-League and that’s all I’m going to say about that,” Annarella said succinctly.
That’s OK coach, you don’t have to say another word. The way your team is expected to play in 2011, it will do all of the talking on the field for you.
Photos by Ryan McMasters, Town Crier correspondent
Quarterback Demetrious Davis sends a quick pass to Chris Davis as the Falcon football team works out in the August heat.