Losing a week-one gridiron battle is what happens to football teams that are making plans for November when it’s still August.
For the Gilmour Academy football program, which is coming off back-to-back playoff campaigns, including a perfect 10-0 record in the 2018 regular season, it’d be easy for the Lancers to look ahead.
But graduating five all-Ohioans and a sixth guy who was an all-district selection from a year ago, Gilmour fifth-year head coach Chris Kosiorek knows better. Kosiorek has a 25-18 record at the helm.
“If you start looking down the road and making plans for things that are so far away, then I think you lose focus on what’s really important, and that’s getting ready for St. Thomas Aquinas,” he said. “And that’s obviously our approach and how we’ve been doing things the past couple of years.
“But sometimes you’ve got to understand that you’ve got to take a step back and get everything straightened out, because otherwise you’ll be playing the second half of the season just to fill up the time, if you’re not prepared for the first half. So, we’re preparing our guys to be competitive on the field, and that’s where we’re at right now.”
Gilmour’s biggest blow from graduation was CJ Charleston, the 2018 Division V offensive player of the year who had 197 carries for 2,566 yards and 49 end-zone finds, the third-most rushing touchdowns in a single season in Ohio football history.
With Charleston now at Youngstown State, the Lancers will return to a stable of five running backs, much like what led them to the postseason in 2017.
“We have five guys now who are all capable of giving us good minutes,” Kosiorek said. “Hopefully, between the five of them, they can do a lot of damage like CJ (Charleston) did by himself. It’s going to come down to that and our offensive line with three guys returning there. So, there’s a lot of variables that go into it, and we’re going to be a multiple-type team.”
Returning with the most experience among those five guys are 5-foot-11, 165-pound senior Connor Krebs and 5-foot-6, 200-pound senior Marco Costabile, who started at fullback last year. Also in the stable are 6-foot, 175-pound sophomore Mick Hopkins, 5-foot-8, 155-pound sophomore Sean Hodges and 5-foot-6, 170-pound freshman Santino Harper.
The big question for Gilmour’s offense is at quarterback, with 6-foot-3, 170-pound junior Michael Snelling, 6-foot-2, 190-pound sophomore Thomas Richardson and 6-foot-1, 180-pound sophomore Dan Jevnikar all getting reps in the preseason.
With Snelling a top candidate at receiver and a returning starter linebacker, it’s likely the Lancers will give the nod to a sophomore to start their week-one matchup against St. Thomas Aquinas at 7 p.m. Saturday at Euclid High School.
“They’re both looking good, both have very strong arms, and both run the ball very well,” Kosiorek said of his sophomore quarterback prospects. “They’re talented young men battling it out. So, we’re excited about having both of those guys.”
Returning at receiver, meanwhile, is 6-foot-2, 175-pound senior Nathan Reichard, while Gilmour has five guys itching to take over the tight-end vacancy left by all-Ohioan Michael Cerer, Kosiorek said. Six-foot-1, 175-pound junior Charlie Shepherd looks the part.
On the offensive line, Gilmour returns three starters in 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior tackle Josh Miavitz, 5-foot-11, 210-pound senior center Christian Fowlkes and 5-foot-8, 215-pound junior guard Jimmy McCrone. Meanwhile, 5-foot-10, 185-pound sophomore guard CJ Johnson and 5-foot-11, 240-pound freshman tackle Hunter Sebulsky are top contenders to shoulder up with them.
Miavitz also returns as a starter on the defensive line, after earning honorable-mention all-district honors last year, while McCrone and Fowlkes will also double up in the trenches. Kevan Pack, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound senior, is also slated to start on the defensive front and is another of those five prospects for tight end.
With 33 guys in the program, including nine seniors, five juniors, seven sophomores and 12 freshmen, Kosiorek said he and his staff are continuing to prepare guys to be three-way players on offense, defense and special teams.
Gilmour returns five starters on defense, but any guy who was in the program a year ago has solid varsity experience thanks to 10 blowout victories. The 2018 Lancers had a 32.7-point average margin of victory before losing a triple-overtime battle against eventual state champion Orrville, 50-43, in the Division V region semifinals.
“I’m really happy with our tackling this year,” Kosiorek said. “I think that’s improved a lot. At this point, it’s probably way ahead of any team I’ve had in five years at Gilmour, as far as being able to tackle and understanding what their roles are, because, to be a great defense, you have to have guys that can tackle. Otherwise, your schemes are irrelevant.”
Returning starters at linebacker include Costabile and Hopkins, while Hodges is also penciled in to line up in the Lancers’ four-four base. Of course, those guys will have to step up without all-Ohioan Jack Kosar, now at Brown.
But with his resume as a defensive coach, Kosiorek doesn’t plan to stay glued to any one defensive formation. Snelling, who started at defensive end last year, could also play some linebacker.
“We’ve got a nice group of kids coming back, and I like where we’re at defensively,” the coach said.
The secondary features 6-foot-2, 170-pound senior safety Aidan Muchnicki, a third-year starter who was an honorable-mention all-district defender last year. “He just covers so much ground, and he’s such a great weapon to have back there,” Kosiorek said.
Krebs and Reichard will join him in the defensive backfield as cornerbacks.
On special teams, Krebs will also be the Lancers’ kicker and punter. And while some of Gilmour’s skilled players will obviously be a part of special teams, it’s also an opportunity for other guys to step up and contribute, Kosiorek said.
“Those are opportunities for our role players to get on the field and give our starters some time off,” he said. “And they’re going to do a nice job for us. That’s what we kind of strive for and sell the kids on, is they have the opportunity to play varsity football early, and I have all the confidence that it won’t take long for them to understand that they’re a huge part of our program.”