As the proverbial saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

The West Geauga football team doesn’t necessarily have 1,000 years to lay bricks and mortar, but the 2019 Wolverine gridders have a sense of stability with the return of second-year head coach Adam Sopkovich, who led them to a 4-6 campaign a year ago.

For this year’s seniors, who dealt with coaching changes following their freshmen and sophomore seasons, this is the first time they’ve had the continuity of the same varsity head coach for an entire offseason.

With numbers up from last season, Sopkovich and company return to the gridiron with 16 seniors, a dozen juniors, a dozen sophomores and 20 freshmen who have been working in the weight room since last November, the coach said.

“It’s starting to pan out, the culture and the way that people talk about football, the way that kids interact,” Sopkovich said. “There’s a change happening. Now, is it going to be an overnight change? No. Nothing that is worth anything was built in a day. It’s going to take some hard work and some discipline, some dedication. And these kids are starting to buy into the process that it is going to take a little bit of time.”

With West Geauga’s last playoff berth coming in 2015, the 16 seniors in this year’s program only have 10 guaranteed weeks remaining in their high school careers, but Sopkovich said he’s preaching about focusing on the process rather than the end result.

“We’d love to snap our fingers and be playoff ready and playoff bound, but we’re taking an approach this year to take it one game at a time,” he said. “Let’s win a rep, win another rep, and then the next thing you know, you’re winning football games. The next thing you know, you’re in the playoffs. The next thing you know, you’ve built the program that you sought out to build.”

Running a west-coast offense, the Wolverines return six starters who had their ups and downs in 2018, getting blanked by Kenston and Chagrin Falls but putting up enough points to defeat playoff teams like Chardon, 20-19, and Orange, 41-20.

Still holding the reins at quarterback is 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior Riley Huge, who has a full-ride scholarship offer to play collegiate baseball.

“He didn’t have to play football this year,” Sopkovich said. “And the sacrifice he’s shown and his love for the game, the kid has just made leaps and bounds, and he’s just such a great team leader. He’s just the ultimate teammate, and the offense runs through him. And we’re going to take what the defense gives us at all times, and Riley Huge has the opportunity to make those decisions.”

Huge will have a variety of targets downfield, including the return of 5-foot-10 junior speedster Nick Henry, an honorable-mention all-district honoree last year. Stepping up in receiver roles are 5-foot-9 senior Aiden Pitcock, 6-foot-2 senior Levi Veverka and 6-foot junior Luke Musser

Henry was a Division II state track and field finalist in the 100-meter dash in June. Despite pulling his hamstring in the prelims, Henry made a statement about “finishing what you started” by lining up without any blocks to compete in the finals, knowing he’d finish last and miss out a podium spot.

“Nick (Henry) is a dynamic athlete, and, when you have those fast-twitch muscles, those kinds of things happen,” Sopkovich said. “Well, Nick Henry now broke his collarbone in our first seven-on-seven. So, Nick has been out all camp. We don’t know if we’ll have him back, and that’s a tough blow.

“But here’s the awesome thing. He has the fortitude to come to practice every day. He dresses in our attire. He carries his helmet out. And he goes out there and coaches these young men and works on that leadership quality. It’s just as big as him playing for me. He can’t be out there 100 percent with us, but he’s out there 100 percent with us.”

Returning at running back, meanwhile, is 6-foot-1, 175-pound junior Trae Zimmerman, who got reps behind 2019 graduates Michael Lyman, Matthew Stewart and Gino Fornaro last season but had standout performances against Perry, 12 carries for 63 yards, and Chagrin Falls, 11 carries for 64 yards.

In addition, 200-pound senior Joe Peterson and 170-pound junior Peter Senelli will also get reps out of the backfield, while 140-pound sophomore Michael Cavasinni will get some action out of the slot, Sopkovich said.

On the offensive line, West Geauga returns 5-foot-11, 220-pound guard Harrison Gruber, 6-foot-5, 260-pound senior tackle Zach Slapnicker, 5-foot-10, 230-pound senior center Tyler Moriarty and 6-foot, 230-pound sophomore guard Luca Gasbarrino, while 6-foot-3, 265-pound sophomore Lucas Sadler, a transfer from Mayfield, will step up at the other tackle position.

Gruber and Slapnicker will start both ways as defensive ends, Sadler will play some defensive tackle, and 6-foot-1, 270-pound senior Lou Alesnik returns at defensive tackle. Alesnik can also play any position on the offensive line to give guys breathers, Sopkovich said.

“We don’t have a lot of depth, but we have a lot of strength,” he said. “And Luca (Gasbarrino), as a freshman, played all but one game last year.”

While West Geauga graduated headliner Matt Stewart, who had 110 tackles last year, the Wolverines return the experience of 195-pound senior leader Dylan Baliker at middle linebacker and 190-pound senior Levi Veverka, who will be more of a strongside linebacker-safety hybrid that turns some heads this campaign, Sopkovich said. And 180-pound senior Josh Moriarty will play some weakside linebacker.

Returning starters in the secondary are Zimmerman, who will move around, and Musser at cornerback, while Pitcock and junior Dillon Mikulski will play some free safety and 6-foot-1 sophomore Torry Stazzone will also work into the cornerback mix.

“We’re going to put the best 11 on the field with what we have,” Sopkovich said about two-way players like Musser and Zimmerman, whose tanks never seem to hit empty. “The difference is that these guys want to play for each other. They don’t want to play with each other; they want to play for each other.”

And returning at kicker is 5-foot-10 sophomore Joey DiLalla, who was an all-district selection as a freshman last year.

The Wolverines will kick off their 2019 campaign with a tough road test against Geauga County rival Chardon at 7 p.m. Friday at Memorial Field.

Returning at running back, meanwhile, is 6-foot-1, 175-pound junior Trae Zimmerman, who got reps behind 2019 graduates Michael Lyman, Matthew Stewart and Gino Fornaro last season but had standout performances against Perry, 12 carries for 63 yards, and Chagrin Falls, 11 carries for 64 yards.

In addition, 200-pound senior Joe Peterson and 170-pound junior Peter Senelli will also get reps out of the backfield, while 140-pound sophomore Michael Cavasinni will get some action out of the slot, Sopkovich said.

On the offensive line, West Geauga returns 5-foot-11, 220-pound guard Harrison Gruber, 6-foot-5, 260-pound senior tackle Zach Slapnicker, 5-foot-10, 230-pound senior center Tyler Moriarty and 6-foot, 230-pound sophomore guard Luca Gasbarrino, while 6-foot-3, 265-pound sophomore Lucas Sadler, a transfer from Mayfield, will step up at the other tackle position.

Gruber and Slapnicker will start both ways as defensive ends, Sadler will play some defensive tackle, and 6-foot-1, 270-pound senior Lou Alesnik returns at defensive tackle. Alesnik can also play any position on the offensive line to give guys breathers, Sopkovich said.

“We don’t have a lot of depth, but we have a lot of strength,” he said. “And Luca (Gasbarrino), as a freshman, played all but one game last year.”

While West Geauga graduated headliner Matt Stewart, who had 110 tackles last year, the Wolverines return the experience of 195-pound senior leader Dylan Baliker at middle linebacker and 190-pound senior Levi Veverka, who will be more of a strongside linebacker-safety hybrid that turns some heads this campaign, Sopkovich said. And 180-pound senior Josh Moriarty will play some weakside linebacker.

Returning starters in the secondary are Zimmerman, who will move around, and Musser at cornerback, while Pitcock and junior Dillon Mikulski will play some free safety and 6-foot-1 sophomore Torry Stazzone will also work into the cornerback mix.

“We’re going to put the best 11 on the field with what we have,” Sopkovich said about two-way players like Musser and Zimmerman, whose tanks never seem to hit empty. “The difference is that these guys want to play for each other. They don’t want to play with each other; they want to play for each other.”

And returning at kicker is 5-foot-10 sophomore Joey DiLalla, who was an all-district selection as a freshman last year.

The Wolverines will kick off their 2019 campaign with a tough road test against Geauga County rival Chardon at 7 p.m. Friday at Memorial Field.

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