It’s beginning to feel a lot like football.
At this time last year, Matt Rosati was attending his daughter’s tennis tournament enjoying his retirement from coaching high school football.
“My calendar was definitely off,” he admitted. “There was no question. I was really very anxious and it was definitely different. My timing was off and my clock was going off.”
All is right in his world again as he is beginning the month of August on the gridiron, this time to champion the West Geauga Wolverines. There’s a lot of work to do with the Wolverines ushering in a new era of talent for the 2022 season.
“We’re trying to feel our way through and figure out what are going to be our weaknesses but there is some really good talent and the kids want to work hard and they have great attitudes, but we have a lot of work to do,” said the 27-year coach. “There’s no question about that but it’s a good group of kids to work with and a very talented group.”
Before the Wolverines can return to the glory days, they’ll have to go through some growing pains.
West Geauga graduated 21 seniors and will return just two starters for the upcoming season.
When Rosati last coached in the Chagrin Valley Chagrin Division, the conference banner was up for grabs but it’s a steep challenge for any team to snag the title with powerhouse Kirtland entering its second straight season in the Chagrin Division.
The competition is as tough as ever with West Geauga remaining a member of Division III, Region 9, which also includes two-time state champion Chardon.
“There is no region that is more competitive and I’m not the only one saying that,” noted Roasti. “There are so many quality teams and probably ten teams that have a legitimate chance to contend for a state championship and whatever team comes out of region 9 is most likely going to be the champion so that’s the way it’s been for the past five years. It’s a very competitive and very loaded division.”
Rosati’s teams have always been known for having a dynamic passing game but he will be adopting a different approach this season.
The Wolverines had a wealth of talent at the skilled positions of quarterback, wide receiver and running backs last year but all of their playmakers have departed.
“Throwing and catching the football is somewhat of a challenge for us right now and we’re learning a whole new system and a whole new different way of doing certain things,” explained Rosati. “The fundamentals in throwing and catching will be our biggest challenge right now.”
What West Geauga lacks in playmaking it makes up for in its physical style of play. As offensively gifted as a number of Rosati’s teams were at Perry, they were not strong in the trenches.
According to Rosati, he can already tell the Wolverines are not afraid to drive their opponent into the ground.
West Geauga’s vaunted offensive line returns just one starter in senior right guard Scott Purchase but Rosati has high hopes for some blossoming lineman to join Purchase in junior center Eli Milnar and junior James Hammond, who projects to be the left guard.
“That’s the attitude that we were trying to develop which is that we want to be a physical group and be a fast group,” noted Rosati. “That’s definitely the approach that we’re taking and we’ll see how fast and physical we can actually be.”
Behind every great offensive line is a talented running back room and West Geagua is no exception.
Senior Justin Artino will be called upon to lead a young group of Wolverines’ tailbacks to propel an offense that will be fueled by the running game.
“Justin’s a real physical runner,” said Rosati. “He’s very durable so we’re hoping her can carry the football quite a bit and hoping he can get big things done for us.
Artino will be backed up by juniors Ethan Bartlett, Niko Kless, and Christian Mulica, a transfer from Lake Catholic.
“They’re a younger crew and work really hard so to get them for a couple of years will really help,” explained Rosati.
The Wolverines plan to go with a quarterback-by-committee with four quarterbacks emerging as viable options, headlined by senior Travis Veleba and junior Nathan Donofrio.
“When guys have different strengths it’s not the easiest thing in the world but it’s really like having three or four different offenses,” Rosati noted. “Each guy has a different skillset you try to utilize with different plays and from a practice aspect of things it could be a challenge when you have a number of different quarterbacks and I would not recommend it but the guys deserve reps and deserve an opportunity.”
The wide receiving corps will be led by junior Jack Zimmermann, who returns after missing his sophomore season with an ACL tear.
“With Jack, it’s going to take him a while to get used to playing football again but we’re pretty confident when he does he’s going to be able to do it a high level,” said Rosati.
The Wolverines’ lone returning starter on the defensive side will be senior Austin Pascoe, the starting defensive tackle. He will set the tone for sophomore Sean Leonard, senior Elija Maldonado and junior Cam DiFranco.
West Geauga’s biggest challenge will be in the secondary as it hoped to return two starters but both players will miss the season after tearing their ACLs.
“We’re missing both of those guys and trying to replace them back there which is a challenge but the kids have great attitudes and we’re going to piece it together,” Rosati said.
Junior John Julian and sophomore Carson Weisman will try and lift up the Wolverines’ secondary.
The Wolverines turn to senior Owen Puletti and sophomore Elijah Gunner to fill the void left by kicking sensation Joey DiLalla, who set the new benchmark in points scored by a kicker and points in a season during his senior campaign.
The Wolverines’ season begins next Friday, Aug. 19 with a road game against Bay High School.
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