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Cardinals hoping for a return to playoffs

August 20, 2015
By Nik Zirounis - Town Crier correspondent , The Town Crier

It is almost impossible to comprehend that the Canfield High School football team has not been to the state playoffs since 2009.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals' fans, that is exactly the case. Canfield captured two of its final three games in 2014 just to finish at .500.

With 12 returning starters and 19 returning letter winners this fall, there is a realistic chance that the Cardinals can climb out of their recent doldrums and get back into a playoff race.

The strength of this Canfield club is along both interior lines. Most of the team's letters set up shop on the offensive and defensive walls, which makes longtime head coach and smash-mouth advocate Mike Pavlansky very pleased.

''By far, our most experience is up front,'' said the coach, who is entering his 15th season. ''Those kids are comfortable. They're great leaders.''

The best of that bunch may be senior two-time letter winner Jaret Bunch. He will be joined on the defensive line by senior two-time letter Andrew Hallof. Other returning seniors who have gained two letters are defensive linemen Jack Pallante and Matt Minenok.

Senior returning starter Mason Giordano has great size for a lineman at 6-foot-2, 260 pounds. Seniors Joe Ferraro and Matt Orr also will be in the mix on the defensive line as will junior Austin Householder. All of these kids will double on the offensive line, too.

If any opposing offense can get past that solid front, it will run into a very good set of linebackers. Senior middle linebacker (and offensive guard) Jake Esarco stands 6-foot-3 and weighs nearly 240 pounds. Substantial size is just one of the reasons why Esarco has earned a pair of letters.

Lining up next to Esarco at linebacker is returning junior starter Cody Holland. Senior Kato Kim and junior R.J. Williams also will see time at backer.

The defensive backfield will mainly be made up of seniors Steven Quirk, Michael Rusu, Troy Williams, C.J. Frost and Anthony Mariani. Pavlansky is still searching for some bodies to step up in the secondary.

''We need to develop some defensive backs and wide receivers,'' said the coach.

Quirk stands 6-foot-3, so he may become a lethal weapon from the wideout spot. Rusu and a lot of younger kids also will vie for receiving chances, and Hallof is one heck of a tight end.

It doesn't really matter who is on the receiving end if Canfield's coaches can't come together on a starting quarterback. Right now there are a triumvirate of signal callers who are fighting for the number one position, and Pavlansky will use the upcoming double practices and scrimmages to see who stands out.

''We have a good battle going,'' said Pavlansky. ''Each brings something different.''

The Cardinals have players from three different classes competing at quarterback. Kim is the senior who has played QB off and on since he was a sophomore. Junior Jake Cummings did a nice job in his spot as a sophomore, and then there is current sophomore Paul Breinz, who has opened up eyes this summer.

''(Breinz) is very coachable,'' Pavlansky said. ''He is impressing his teammates.''

At this time, the veteran coach would not admit who is the leader in the quarterback clubhouse. There is still some time to name a starter before Aug. 28, when the Cardinals kick off the 2015 campaign at Louisville.

Other notable games is the home opener on Sept. 4 versus Alliance, Oct. 2 at Boardman, Oct.23 at Howland and Oct. 30 at archenemy Poland. Those back-to-back road games to end the season should make or break Canfield's season.

''(Poland and Howland) are out in front of the pack (in the All-American Conference),'' said Pavlansky. ''The rest of us are trying to catch up.''

Besides finding a first string quarterback and filling in the other skill spots, Pavlansky is also attempting to get his squad to show some steadiness.

''We are trying to develop more consistency,'' he said.

The Cardinals used to consistently make the post season. After a long break away from the tournament, this improved group of Redbirds looks poised to play themselves back in.



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