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Young Falcons hoping to flourish in 2018

August 8, 2018
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

Remarkably, Phil Annarella will be starting his 12th season (38th overall) as head coach at Austintown Fitch this fall.

Annarella enters 2018 with 75 career wins at the school, but making it to 80 this year may be difficult. This may be one of the veteran coach's biggest challenges of his tenure. The main reason will be the youth of his squad.

"Inexperience is a big issue," said Annarella.

The Falcons only have nine starters back this year with four on offense and five on defense. That number seems gigantic when you realize that Fitch only has ten returning lettermen. The two Falcons who have lettered twice are lineman and co-captain Tommy Leskovac and quarterback/linebacker Dom Montalbano. Leskovac is a 6-foot-3, 240-pound senior who should be an anchor on a young offensive and defensive line. Fellow senior Montalbano earned his letter last year as a run plugging inside linebacker. His role will expand this year because the six-foot senior is one of two Falcons vying to be Annarella's starting signal caller.

"It'll be a battle between Dom Montalbano and Bobby Cavalier at quarterback," said Annarella at the start of summer practice. "It should be good competition."

Cavalier is slightly taller than Montalbano, but a tad thinner. Both are short on varsity starting quarterback reps. Cavalier, a senior, will also get a chance to start in Fitch's defensive backfield.

There are eight Fitch kids who return as one-time letter winners led by speedy playmaker Ralph Fitzgerald. The 5-foot-9 senior excelled on both offense and defense a year ago and is Fitch's leading returning pass catcher. Seniors Roddell Bebbs and Maleek Cheatham have huge shoes to fill at running back as both leading rushers from a year ago, Randy Smith and Jakari Lumsden, graduated last summer. The two would-be running backs will also play together at linebacker. Co-captain Noah James is another senior who will see plenty of time at both running back and linebacker. Cory Vernon and Deondre McKeever return for their senior seasons to help at receiver and defensive back. Senior Nate Goleno and junior Christian Armstrong are lettermen that will need to help Leskovac along the offensive and defensive lines. Armstrong is one of the biggest Fitch blockers at 283 pounds.

Other seniors that should be fighting for starting playing time for Fitch include linebackers Maeson Green and Eddie Odom, receiver/defensive back Deonte McKeever and linemen Nick Bezzarro, Tyler Short, Collin Smith, Brock Kimble and Jason Valentine. Brock at 260 pounds and Valentine, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 300, should be favorites for their spots on pure size alone.

It's been three years since the Falcons last made it into the postseason. Last year's 6-4 team was huge on effort, but short on playoff points. If Fitch is to have a game in November it'll need to find a way to navigate through another daunting regular season schedule. Fitch kicks off the campaign on August 24 at Hudson then plays two more out of conference tilts before hosting Warren Harding in its first All American Conference game on September 14. Another Red Tier rumble with Youngstown East follows the showdown with the Raiders, and then the annual affair with Massillon Washington will be played at Paul Brown Stadium a week later. If past performance is any indication, that tussle with the Tigers should be a doozy. The two annual bookend battles with Boardman and Cardinal Mooney conclude the season on October 19 and 26 respectively. Both of those games will be played in Austintown. The Falcons split those two rivalry contests a season ago beating Boardman, but falling to Mooney in the finale to end any hope of reaching the playoffs. Surely, they'll need a season-ending sweep this October if the Falcons have any aspirations of playing a game in Week 11.



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