High school gridders usually have to punch a ticket to the playoffs before gaining an hour of sleep with the conclusion of daylight saving time coming in November. With darkness arriving earlier, the lights seem to shine a little brighter on Friday nights in Ohio.
Of course, that wasn’t George Hudson’s intent when the British-born New Zealand entomologist came up with the modern concept of daylight saving in 1895. Hudson, who worked a day job, was all about collecting insects in his spare time and valued his after-hours sunshine.
But over in Chester Township, the West Geauga gridders aren’t out on a bug hunt this fall season. The Wolverines are turning back the clock and going old school with a one-rep mentality as they just work toward that first snap of the season. Then hopefully a second snap, a third snap and so on.
“It’s kind of crazy, because we’re kind of turning back the clock a little bit to what our coaches used to tell us, to take everything one rep at a time,” said West Geauga third-year head coach Adam Sopkovich, who has a 9-11 record at the helm. “And we’ve been telling our kids to take every moment in, because usually in football you don’t know when your last play is. Now we’re not 100 percent sure when our first play is.”
When the Wolverines returned to the gridiron for official practices in the first week of August, they were under the impression they’d forgo their non-league schedule and wouldn’t play their first game until week four after district administrators announced a hold on contact sports until Sept. 14.
But then the Ohio High School Athletic Association announced a shortened six-week season and that all schedules would be null and void. The Chagrin Valley Conference decided to go with an all-league schedule, and now the West G gridders are ready to hit the road for week-one action against Lakeside at 7 p.m. Friday in Ashtabula – granted there’s no last-minute pandemic hiccups.
“We’ve kind of narrowed it down to super tunnel vision to focus on today, because tomorrow we might not be able to play,” Sopkovich said. “So, our kids have focused in on that. And those are things we always say in football. Take what they’re giving us. Focus on the one rep. You can only control things that you can control.
“So, a lot of those old football cliches or football knowledges that our coaches gave us back in the day kind of came to fruition this year with our guys. I’m just really happy that our guys are going to be able to play, even if it’s one game, or even if it’s one snap.”
Taking over quarterback duties this fall is 5-foot-8, 165-pound junior Danny Stewart, whom Sopkovich lauded as a high-IQ, film-guru gunslinger. He’s not a guy who needs a spark to light his fire, because his just loves the game, Sopkovich said.
Returning as top playmakers for the Wolverines, meanwhile, are 6-foot-1, 175-pound senior running back Trae Zimmermann and 5-foot-10, 160-pound wide receiver Nick Henry.
Zimmermann had 84 carries for 692 yards with seven touchdowns in 2019, but he tore his ACL and missed the last four games of the season.
Henry, who runs a 4.47-second 40-yard dash, is one of the fastest guys in Ohio – he was in the Division II state finals of the 100-meter dash during his sophomore track season – but he broke his collarbone and missed all of last year’s football season. Then his junior track season was canceled because of the coronavirus.
“When you have those types of injuries to guys everyone else is trying to stop, it was a hard turnaround for both of them,” Sopkovich said. “But neither one of them has missed a practice or shown any signs of fatigue playing both ways for us. I know this season means a lot to them, because there’s some concerns from college coaches in terms of durability, and they both want to play college football.”
Joining Zimmermann in the backfield is 6-foot, 185-pound senior Peter Senelli, who returns with the varsity experience of 100-plus yards rushing last year.
And returning in the receiving corps is 5-foot-6 junior Michael Cavasinni, who had 250-plus yards last year, 6-foot-1 senior Luke Musser, who had 150-plus yards, and 6-foot-1 junior Torry Stazzone, who had 100-plus yards.
Shaping up on the offensive front is the return of 6-foot-2, 240-pound junior Luca Gasbarrino at left tackle and 6-foot-4, 260-pound junior Luke Sandler at right tackle, while 6-foot-1, 205-pound junior newcomer Nate Myers is figuring to make his mark at center.
New starters at the guard positions are 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior Ben Navitski and 6-foot-3, 240-pound sophomore Scott Purchase.
Sandler, in particular, will be a two-way starter with the nod at the middle linebacker spot in West Geauga’s four-three base defense.
“Right now, on our squad, he’s an unbelievable linebacker, and he’s still learning the position,” Sopkovich said. “So, it’s kind of scary. You’ve got a 6-foot-4, 260-pound linebacker that runs a 4.6, 4.7 – I wouldn’t want to be tackled by him. And we’ve got some big backs in the CVC. So, let’s see what tower is going to get crumbled when they come his way.”
Returning with starting experience at linebacker is Senelli, while 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior Harrison Wolfhope is gearing to take over the other starting spot.
On the defensive front, West Geauga’s only returning starter is 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior Markos Leonard at tackle, while 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior Luke Reed will take over the other tackle spot. At defensive end, West G will have a rotation among Myers, who also starts at center, 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior Ben Weiss and 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior Jabriel Allen.
In the defensive secondary, West Geauga returns about as much experience as any team would hope for with six guys who have started, including Zimmermann at strong safety, Musser at free safety and then Stazzone and Henry at the cornerback spots.
In addition, 6-foot-1 senior Dillon Mikulski and 5-foot-10 senior Dante Mirabelli will also play some safety – both with starting experience from 2019 – while 5-foot-9 junior Chris Ranallo and senior Robert Kaleal will get plenty of varsity reps as backup cornerbacks
“We have guys, and then some more guys,” Sopkovich said. “A lot of them are two-way players. So, it’s nice to have some depth there, and those guys are pretty much interchangeable. And I credit our defensive backs coach, Shaquille Jefferson.”
And returning as a third-year kicker is 5-foot-10 junior Joey DiLalla, whom Sopkovich said colleges are already looking at with his accuracy of kicking 40-yard field goals on a consistent basis.
DiLalla scored 40 points last year. During practices this preseason, he’s had the leg to split the uprights on some 52-yarders, Sopkovich said.