Youth will certainly be served as the Canfield football team embarks on its 2012 season.
One year after missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season with a super cast of seniors, the Cardinals return to the gridiron this August much more inexperienced. Canfield only has 13 twelfth-graders, 10 returning letter winners and eight repeat starters. That means that 44 of Canfield's 57 kids are either juniors or sophomores. If the Cardinals are to capture a playoff berth this season, it will need decisive direction from that small selection of seniors. Head coach Mike Pavlansky believes he has the right core of kids to do just that.
"I'm pleased with our senior leadership," said the veteran coach after a morning team workout. "You'd like to have more seniors, but we have 13 that want to be here and work hard. I'm impressed with how they are showing the younger kids how to be successful."
One senior who may play the biggest role this year is quarterback Johnny Foster. He is in an all-out. four-man battle royale for the starting spot behind center. Finding a starter who has the ability to run and pass as adeptly as the graduated Jordan Italiano will be one awesome chore for coach Pavlansky.
"It will be difficult to replace Jordan and his skill and leadership," the coach said.
Besides Foster, juniors Jake Cole and Kimu Kim and sophomore Drew Rogers all have a shot at starting at signal caller. Each player brings their own unique brand of quarterbacking to the team, but the eventual winner of the competition will certainly be the one who makes the fewest mistakes.
"We are looking at anyone of those four," said Pavlansky about the quarterbacking quartet. "We need them to learn the game, limit turnovers and manage the huddle."
Of course, passing is mostly done out of necessity in Pavlansky's offense so once again he will lean on a reliable running game and strong offensive line play.
Senior letter winning fullback Tommy Ciccolelli comes back in 2012 after averaging more than three yards a carry in 2011. Junior Carter Rhoads will carry some of the load in the backfield too. Only two letter-winning players return to the offensive front with senior Mark Blanco and junior Alex Buchenic getting starting nods. That leaves a lot of gaping holes for Pavlansky to fill.
"We need to replace almost everyone (on the offensive line)," Pavlansky said solemnly. "We lack a lot of experience on offense. The quicker these young kids come together the better off we'll be."
Returning senior lettermen Kyle Nagy, Nate Rusu and junior Jake Dawson will land at the receiver spots while senior letter winner Tommy Kaleel costars at tight end with junior Nick Debiec. Although that group has talent, they still lack varsity playing time.
"Those kids don't have that full-time game experience like we've had in the past," Pavlansky lamented.
Although the offense is made up of inexperienced athletes, at least it will be running the same system Canfield is used to. That same sentiment cannot be shared by the defense. New to Canfield this season is former Salem head coach Mike Kopachy who will join Pavlansky's staff as defensive coordinator. Kopachy was keen on running a 3-5-3 set at Salem and will make his new Cardinal kids learn that same alignment. Right now things are progressing slowly.
"We're taking baby steps," Pavlansky said honestly. "It's our first change in (defensive) philosophy in eight years. The kids are studying every day and we are seeing progress."
Progress is certainly something senior linebacker Connor Kesner has made since stepping onto the gridiron as a sophomore. Kesner is one of the leading tacklers returning to Canfield's defense and he will join with Rhoads and senior Hayden Smith to give Kopachy some solid play in the middle. Senior defensive lineman Domenic Reinthaler lettered on the line last year and will be in the up front rotation with juniors Alec Heidreth and Joe Durbin.
One last returning letter winner on the roster is senior kicker John Dellick who should not be overlooked because he was almost automatic a year ago and, using Pavlansky's philosophy, the kicker can be used as a major weapon.
Dellick's first kick off this season will come on Aug. 24 at home against 2011 playoff participant Louisville. From there, the schedule only gets more grueling for the Cardinals. Road games are next at Alliance then Dover whom Canfield beat in its most thrilling game of the season last September, 43-42. On Sept. 14, the Cards climb right into All American Red Tier action at Beaver Local and aside from a game against Youngstown East see no schools outside the conference the rest of the season. Two new teams to the Red Tier in 2012 will be Struthers and Hubbard, which has made Canfield's schedule sort of wacky. Canfield travels to Hubbard in Week 10, which means the traditional season closing game against archrival Poland will now be played in Week 5 (at home). The placement of the Poland game really doesn't concern coach Pav.
"It doesn't matter if that game was played right now in the middle of (route) 224, our kids will be ready," he said laughing.
If Pavlansky wants to still be laughing come Week 11 he will need his young team to bust their behinds every day to deal with their playoff caliber schedule.
"We need to see the kids improve every week," said Pavlansky. "An experienced team can afford to have a bad practice one day, but we cannot."