Sometimes the past needs to stay buried.
The Orange Lions’ football team is doing just that on the heels of a disappointing 1-9 season last year, marking the third consecutive time the team finished with a record under .500.
Orange is starting over from scratch with new head coach Rob Senor.
According to Senor, the early returns have been promising for a youthful Lions’ squad.
“There’s a ton of energy with our football team and it’s even brought the energy to the older guys,” the first-year coach explained. “We have a lot of competition. There’s are lot of kids that are going to be in the mix for playing time on Friday nights.”
Orange’s season officially begins next Friday, Aug. 19, when the Lions host neighborhood rival and conference foe Beachwood.
Senor’s beginning as the new leader for the Orange football program is off to a strong start with the total number of players on the roster exceeding 50, including a freshman class of 23.
Senor credited the Orange middle school athletic director, Dave Opfer, for putting a renewed focus into revitalizing the youth pipeline.
“They’ve worked hard to increase the numbers there so it’s exciting and I think that some of the kids have heard of the positive stuff going on with football and want to join with their friends and be a part of something positive at Orange.”
The Chagrin Valley Chagrin Division remains the same as last year with heavyweight Kirtland being the odds-on favorite to defend the conference title.
The Lions return with just nine seniors and nine juniors but will be supported by 14 sophomores.
There are a lot of position battles going on right now with only four starters returning from last season.
Senor has narrowed down his search of Orange’s new signal-caller to juniors Ace Bloom and Alex Ford.
Bloom is a two-time state qualifier in high school tennis and Ford was the junior varsity quarterback last year.
According to Senor, it’s a neck-and-neck battle but he is pleased with the skillsets of each player.
“They’re both hard workers and are both driven,” he added. “Ace has been a good leader in the huddle and Alex is very athletic so they just bring a different feel when they’re in the huddle.”
The Lions also return seniors Michael Robinson and Bryant Mitchell to the wide receiving room and will be aided by sophomore Eli Robinson, a transfer from conference rival Hawken.
“He’s shown some flashes and is pretty fast,” Senor said of the Lions’ sophomore wideout. “He’s got some good hands so we’re excited for about what we’re going to get.”
Senior Lawson Blasier slots in as the starting tight end and will also assume kicking responsibilities in addition to playing some linebacker.
“He’s a really strong kid and is really athletic and can block and catch the ball,” Senor said. “He’s just a really versatile kid and will be a great player for us.”
The Lions’ running back room is filled with new faces with sophomores Cole Schreidman, Rashaud Barnes and senior Zaile Owens.
Senor sees a bright future for Schreidman, who competed on the freshman team in 2021.
“We expect really big things out of Cole,” he added. “He hits the hole well, he’s explosive and is strong and his best days are ahead of him. We’re excited to see him in his second year of getting varsity snaps and seeing what he can do.”
Orange returns only one familiar face to the offensive line in junior C.J. Gissentaner.
The Lions’ junior did not play many varsity minutes last season but Senor has high hopes that he will anchor the offensive line.
“C.J. being a junior is certainly one of the leaders of our team being a kid who played varsity as a sophomore and will be the physical leader of the offensive line,” said Senor. “He’s been through some of these battles so he brings a lot to the table and is a good football player.”
Senior Donelle Taylor and sophomore Austin Thomas are also in line to receive starting minutes alongside Gissentaner.
Senor noted the Lions will adopt a run-first offensive approach but will emphasize not being a one-trick ponyu
The most experience on the defensive side will be in the secondary with senior Nick Nickens returning as a safety, and Robinson and Mitchell will be penciled in as the starting cornerbacks.
According to Senor, having that experience behind a young defensive line will be critical.
“They’ve been out there and they know it’s tough out there but they’ll be able to rebound when things don’t go our way so having some veterans out there helps with that,” he said.
There are a lot of questions on the defensive line but Senor has identified sophomores Brandon Wang and Sean Abramovich as potentially being key contributors in the trenches.
Relying on sophomores is never easy but the good thing is that high school football players see their bodies mature physically around that point and Senor has seen that in each aspiring Orange sophomore defensive tackle.
Gisentanner will also play on the defensive side as an inside linebacker alongside senior Willie Jones, one of the few returning starters.
According to Senor, Jones is a high-energy guy and is one of the most vocal leaders. He may not be one of the biggest players on the field but has a nose for the football and moves around well
Senor admitted he does expect a lot of growing pains for the Lions at the beginning of the season but he is confident his players can be fast learners.
“We have a shared vision of what we want to see and we know you can’t build Rome in a day,” he said. “We have this mindset of just building it one brick at a time and just staying on our kids and having high expectations and allowing nothing else than what we expect.”
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