When Boardman opens the 2011 football season at Cleveland Benedictine on Aug. 27 it will do so with a new head coach.
D.J. Ogilvie has moved to Florida so the Boardman job now rests in the capable hands of 27-year assistant Mark D’Eramo. That transition should not be a problem for the Spartans as they try to make their third playoff trip in five years.
“The transition has been smooth,” said D’Eramo after a midweek practice. “The kids are adapting well. There have not been many changes. We have the same coaching staff we have had in years past.”
Besides the familiarity with the coaching staff, the Spartans will also have a familiar face behind center. Senior quarterback Ryan Pollifrone leads a group of 16 returning letterwinners and besides nearly 1,100 yards passing and six touchdowns, Pollifrone brings with him intangibles that far exceed statistics.
“Having (Ryan) at quarterback makes a world of difference,” admitted D’Eramo. “He is a quarterback playing quarterback. He has a great mind and feel for the game.”
Pollifrone also has a great arm and he will use that cannon to get the ball down the field whenever D’Eramo decides a pass is in order. Unfortunately, Pollifrone will have a young stable of receivers to work with. The most shocking news so far in Spartan camp was the decision by all-star receiver Dayne Hammond to leave the school. That will leave D’Eramo with a huge hole to fill at the wideout spot.
There will not be such a hole in the Boardman backfield though. Devin Campbell is a Spartan who should touch the pigskin plenty in 2011. The junior is Boardman’s best returning running back with 200 yards and five scores last season.
“We are counting on big things from Campbell at both running back and defensive back,” D’Eramo said. Campbell will be expected to carry the ball a lot because Boardman boasts one of the area’s finest offensive lines.
“We are physical up front,” mentioned D’Eramo. “We are strong and experienced (up front). We have (Zach) Zidian and (Zach) Machuga anchoring our interior line and John Kuczek will be a sleeper on the line.”
All three of those linemen are seniors and Zidian and Kuczek both tip the scales around 280 pounds. It will be a thrill just to watch Kuczek suit up since he is technically playing just his second full season of football due to past injuries. Those linemen will also see time along the defensive front where the Spartans should have one of the stingiest run defenses in the Federal League.
“We play with a lot of intensity on defense,” D’Eramo said excitedly. “We have a good run defense.”
Zidian, Machuga and Kuczek will be joined in the defensive front seven by seniors Dan Popio and Allen Starkey and junior Justin Babos.
Popio led the Spartans in tackles last season with 129, Babos has three sacks as a sophomore and Starkey had 64 tackles in 2010 with five of those going for loss making him a player to watch in Boardman.
“Starkey should have a big year for us at outside linebacker,” said D’Eramo.
One area on defense that may be lacking presently is pass defense. Coach D’Eramo is hoping that improves as the season draws nearer. The Spartans also have the luxury of using speedy Terrance Jones in the defensive backfield. The Boardman track star is one of the fastest Spartans and besides defensive back he can add another dimension to the Spartans’ rushing attack. All the power Boardman possesses is great, but coach D’Eramo knows that sometimes speed kills.
“Speed is another of our strengths,” said the rookie head coach. “This may be one of the fastest teams ever at Boardman and that’s exciting.”
It will also be exciting when the Spartans host Cardinal Mooney in week two of the season. A humungous crowd will be expected that Friday night in Spartan Stadium so D’Eramo is anticipating having his team at a high level by then.
“The Mooney game will be a great atmosphere,” he said. “Playing Benedictine then Mooney the first two games will be a big test. You are talking great tradition and the best of high school football. Having Hoban on the road in week three will not be easy either.”
If the Spartans survive the first three weeks they can then “relax” with their Federal League schedule. Getting by the likes of Canton McKinley, North Canton Hoover and Canton GlenOak is never easy and D’Eramo thinks it will be tougher due to Boardman’s overall lack of depth.
“We really don’t have anybody after Pollifrone at quarterback,” said D’Eramo, “and we have to play a lot of kids two ways. We will need some kids to step up and play hard each Friday for 48 minutes. Then the winning will take care of itself.”