Mark D'Eramo will be entering his second season as Boardman head football coach after a rookie season that was nothing short of spectacular. After the Spartans lost their first two games by just eight points, they rallied back to win seven of their final eight games to finish 5-1 in the Federal League and get invited to the Division I playoffs. Due to that success, D'Eramo was named Federal League Coach of the Year. Although the Spartans did one heck of a job on the field in 2011, it is the things they are doing off the field to prepare for 2012 that has left an impression on the first-time field boss.
"A team is all about building relationships," said D'Eramo on a break from a morning practice. "I love to see the kids continue to come to work everyday. They work hard and bond in the weight room. It's great to see."
Unfortunately, coach D'Eramo will have to bond with a bunch of new Boardman players this season. Although the Spartans return 24 seniors, gone from last year's playoff participant are such stars as leading rusher Devin Campbell, leading receiver Dayne Hammond, stud linemen Zach Machuga and Zach Zidian and defensive demon Dan Popio. Oh yeah, Boardman will also need to replace 2,400-yard passer Ryan Pollifrone, too. D'Eramo is taking a unique approach to replacing the rifle arm of Pollifrone.
"(Senior) John Babos is 225 pounds so he is big and strong," said D'Eramo. "He is good at running the ball and brings a lot to the table."
It will be great if Babos can just bulldoze his way through opponents every game, but this is the 21st century where pinball machine numbers are rung up with high-flying passing games. So the question is, can Babos - who hasn't played quarterback since his freshman season - bring the heat with his arm as well as his legs? The second year coach is positive he can better as the season goes on.
"(Babos) is a lot better throwing," said D'Eramo. "He'll only improve with time."
With such a bruising quarterback one may think that Boardman may try to bully its way to a Federal League championship. With the speed the Spartans possess at the other offensive skill positions, that may not be the case. Senior running back Nathan Jones is a track star that will vie for a starting tailback spot. He is one guy who can take a handoff and blaze into the defensive backfield before anyone realizes what's happening.
"(Jones) brings speed like no other," said D'Eramo smiling.
Other speedsters who will get chances in the backfield are senior Les McIntosh and juniors Brian Bodrick and Turel Thompson. Junior Ivan Adu-Poku is a returning letter winner at fullback. hat stable of runners gives the Spartans the necessary quickness to combat the fast teams in the Federal.
"This may be the fastest team we've had since I've been here," said D'Eramo who acted as an assistant coach at Boardman before taking over the head coaching reigns. "Mix that speed with our strength up front and you have a good combination."
Most of that talent up front comes on defense, which coach D'Eramo admits is a little ahead of his offense right now. Senior outside linebacker Doug Brandt will return as will senior inside backer and fellow letter earner Justin Babos who led the Spartans in sacks and tackles in 2011. Senior defensive end Ryan Ebie will be back and will join John Babos on the defensive line. McIntosh led the team in interceptions last year from his defensive back spot and makes any opposing quarterback think twice before throwing his way.
Other returning letter winners on Boardman's roster are Chris Riwniak, Brock Hull, Ryan Savage, Mike Witte, Justin Humphreys, Ian Simmons, Justin Gardner and Nick Cordova. All of those Spartans make up a group that has been molded to compete against the Canton McKinleys, Canton GlenOaks and North Canton Hoovers of the world.
"We have tough, physical kids who love to work hard," D'Eramo insisted. "Our intensity has allowed us to compete. Those (other Federal League) teams have athleticism that sets them apart, but we have athletic kids too."
Boardman's schedule outside the Federal League is brutal with Cleveland Benedictine, Mooney and Akron Hoban in the first three weeks, but it's built to help the Spartans sustain their toughness. Even though coach D'Eramo thinks his team will use the rest of training camp to work on some technique and execution he is positive that they will bring a lunch pail mentality with them every time they step on the field on Friday nights.
"We have the only grass field in the Federal League and we are a tough Mahoning Valley type of a team," he said excitedly. "I expect these kids to limit their mistakes and compete for 48 minutes each week."
If the Spartans succeed at doing that then finishing at the top of the conference and advancing to the playoffs should once again be a strong possibility.