Wednesday, November 30, 2022

2019 CVC Football Preview: Chagrin Division

The 2019 high school football season gets underway this week and the action should be as fierce as ever in the Chagrin Valley Conference Chagrin Division.

League expansion has reshaped the division with Edgewood and Lakeside joining the league this year and Beachwood has dropped down to the Metro Division.

Here’s a look at each team in the division.

CHAGRIN FALLS

  • Head Coach: Mark Iammarino (25th season)
  • 2018 Record: 4-6 overall, 4-2 in league play (tied for 2nd place)
  • Returning Offensive Starters: 6
  • Returning Defensive Starters: 8
  • News-Herald Preview

The Tigers return a total of 14 starters for long-time head coach Mark Iammarino, who is chasing history this season. Iammarino, who is 175-92 in his 25 years at the school, needs just one more win to become the school’s all-time leader in coaching victories.

Despite their 4-6 record, the Tigers were playing their best football late in the season as they closed out the year with four wins in their final five games.

Returning for the Tigers are second-team All-CVC performers Dawson Pierce, Xavier Perez, Cam Owen and Lucas Gaizutis as well as Drew Zimmer and Will O’Brien, who were named honorable mention All-CVC.

Pierce ran for 114 yards and four touchdowns out of the quarterback position but was at his best on defense where he recorded 66 tackles and a sack as a linebacker. Perez ran for 156 yards and caught 24 passes for 227 yards and two scores. He also recorded 51 tackles from his cornerback position.

Owen, a free safety, recorded 78 tackles last fall while Gaizutis hauled in 10 passes for 112 yards and two scores and also posted 38 stops with three tackles for loss and a sack. Zimmer finished the year with 60 tackles, including eight for a loss, and a pair of sacks. O’Brien ran for 201 yards on 39 carries and also recorded 69 tackles as a linebacker.

Senior guard Bryce Sellars returns as the anchor of the offensive line with junior tackle Jackson Chinnici and junior tight end Owen McClintock providing the Tigers with a formidable wall upfront.

EDGEWOOD

  • Head Coach: Jon Butchko (2nd year at Edgewood, 5th overall)
  • 2018 Record: 3-7 overall, 2-4 in All-American Conference
  • Returning Offensive Starters: 7
  • Returning Defensive Starters: 7
  • Offense: Multiple Spread
  • Defense: 4-3

The Warriors are an athletic bunch with veterans in the key skill positions. If Edgewood can improve up front on both sides of the ball and stay healthy, the Warriors should be competitive in 2019.

Sophomore wide receiver/defensive back Iziah Harris, senior wide receiver/defensive back/punter Alec Katon and senior wide receiver/defensive back Ethan Colbert are among the top players at the school.

“These three players provide great leadership,” Butchko said. “They are three of the best athletes in the school in all sports. They will be counted on to make plays. We throw the ball, a big proportion of the time. These are the guys that catch it. They will be counted on, offensively and defensively, to make plays all over the place. Throw it to them, hand it to them, run screens with them; they will be active in the return game. They are going to do everything that we ask these athletes to do. I think these guys do a lot of those things.”

GENEVA

  • Head Coach: Chip Sorber (5th season)
  • 2018 Record: 4-6 overall, 4-2 in the CVC (tied for 2nd place)
  • Returning Offensive Starters: 8
  • Returning Defensive Starters: 7
  • Offense: Wing-T
  • Defense: Multiple
  • News-Herald Preview

With one four-year starter and seven others in their third year in the starting lineup, expectations are high at Geneva this season.

Senior tackle Sam Davis, a first-team All-CVC performer, already has committed to continue his education and playing career at Temple University and will be a key to the Eagles’ success this season.

“Sam gives us good size on the line at about 6-foot-4, 270 pounds,” Sorber said. “He’s a high-quality kid with a good motor.”

Senior running back/free safety Blake Peet will benefit from Davis’ work up front. Peet was named first-team All-CVC last season.

“Blake is our four-year starter at running back and free safety,” Sorber said. “He brings a great deal of leadership, athleticism and work ethic. The kid’s a grinder.”

Senior John Amato (OL) and senior Edmund Juodenas (DL) were named second-team all-conference while seniors Vincent Varckette and Justin Way earned honorable mention recognition.

Geneva’s keys to victory revolved around both fronts.

“We need to be more consistent on the offensive and defensive lines and we need to prevent the big play in critical times,” Sorber said. “We gave up a lot of pass plays at big times last season and that really hurt us.”

HARVEY

  • Head Coach: Dan Cvelbar (3rd season)
  • 2018 Record: 1-9 overall; 1-6 in the CVC (7th place)
  • Returning Offensive Starters: 5
  • Returning Defensive Starters: 5
  • Offense: Spread
  • Defense: 4-2-5
  • News-Herald Preview

Harvey returns a strong core of veteran players that should help the Red Raiders be more competitive in 2019. That group includes a pair of three-year starters on offense.

For Harvey to improve upon its record from last fall the Red Raiders have to have a short memory both during games and from week to week.

“I think (we) kind of (have to) ride the waves of the ups and downs that everyone gets in the season,” Cvelbar said. “(We have to) be able to preserve and stick through each game and we have always been able to play one half pretty well and I think we have to transition that into full games.”

Senior running back/defensive end Gil Hammond returns after earning honorable mention all-conference honors last fall.

“He always been a positive impact in the community and with the team,” Cvelbar said. “(He is) someone that you can rely on to do a lot of things.”

Senior two-way linemen Jeron Hall and Jordan Smith provide the Red Raiders with experience up front.

(Jeron) is someone who is extremely hard working and we can rely on him to make sure he is showing up and paying attention,” Cvelbar said. “(Smith) is a three-year starter as well. He is someone that we are definitely counting on for big things up in the middle and showing up inside.”

Junior quarterback Jaden Debevec will be relied up on to lead the offense.

“He is a good leader and definitely someone who will persevere during some of the hard times and will trust the process that goes on at quarterback and someone I can rely on to execute the plays and everything in the scheme of our system,” Cvelbar said.

LAKESIDE

  • Head Coach: Buzz Edwards (2nd year)
  • 2018 Record: 2-7 overall, 0-6 in the All-American Conference
  • Returning Offensive Starters: 7
  • Returning Defensive Starters: 6
  • Offense: Spread No-Huddle
  • Defense: 3-5-3

Lakeside’s success this season hinges on its ability to improve on both lines. The Dragons are talented at linebacker and running back but will need to step up in the trenches and also force opposing offenses into stressful situations.

“We have to be better up front at the offensive line,” Edwards said. “We have to do a better job of stopping the run, defensively. We have to put pressure on our opponent on all sides of the ball, including special teams.”

The Dragons aren’t short on speed as junior defensive back/wide receiver/running back Saivon Colbert holds the school record with a 4.49-second time in the 40-yard dash.

“He is a very versatile player,” Edwards said. “He was a two-way starter for us last year before he got hurt in the Warren G. Harding game and we are going to find ways to get him the football.”

Other key players include sophomore quarterback Garrett Siebeneck, sophomore linebacker A.J. Raffa, senior wide receiver Mark Dalrymple, senior linebackers/running backs Tyrell Meeks and Davin Watkins, sophomore lineman Sam Petros, sophomore wide receiver/defensive back Ashton Wheelock, senior two-way lineman Jordan Mellin and sophomore defensive lineman Kaleb Scaine.

Raffa recorded 103 tackles as a freshman. Siebeneck broke his foot in the first JV game last season but has progressed and is ready to take the reins of the offense.

Dalrymple caught 25 passes last season and Meeks and Watkins provide the Dragons with plenty of versatility. Petros started every game last season and is the strongest player on the roster. Mellin and Scaine are returning starters.

“We are still going through the transition of a roster turnover still,” Edwards said. “Last year, we were young. In weeks 9 and 10, we started seven freshmen and sophomores on both sides of the ball. This year, we only have 10 juniors and seniors. We have 29 freshmen and sophomores; it’s a whole cultural change. There are only two juniors that aren’t playing. We’re going through a rebuild and cultural change here. We’ll be young, but we’ll be better.”

ORANGE

  • Head Coach: Adam Bechlem (11th season)
  • 2018 Record: 7-4 overall, 5-2 in the CVC (4th place)
  • Returning Offensive Starters: 4
  • Returning Defensive Starters: 8
  • Offense: Spread
  • Defense: 4-2-5

With the taste of playoff football fresh on their minds, the Orange Lions hope to return to the postseason in 2019.

With speed and experience at the skill positions, the Lions have the potential to achieve that goal.

“We have to play together and stay together,” Bechlem said.

Senior running back/safety Diante White returns after earning first-team all-conference honors last season.

“White is a very explosive player on both sides of the ball,” Bechlem said.

Seniors Tanner Coker (DL) and P.J. Fisher (LB) were both named honorable mention All-CVC. Coker is a two-way lineman and Fisher also plays on the offensive line.

“(Coker) is strong, tough and built for line play,” Bechlem said. “P.J. is a throwback kind of player. If you like old-school football, P.J. is your kid.”

Senior quarterback/defensive back Brian Pernell and senior wide receiver/defensive back Marvin Davies IV also have the ability to break open a game.

“(Davies) is a very intelligent and athletic player,” Bechlem said. “Pernell is very athletic and committed to the team.”

PERRY

  • Head Coach: Matt Rosati (13th year)
  • 2018 Record: 10-2 overall, 6-0 in the CVC (1st place)
  • Returning Offensive Starters: 5
  • Returning Defensive Starters: 3
  • Offense: Spread
  • Defense: 4-2-5
  • News-Herald Preview

Defending league champion Perry will have several new faces in the starting lineup but don’t feel sorry for the Pirates.

Among the returning starters are all-conference performers Drew Schiano, Matthew Sullivan, Jaylen Anderson and Anthony Rosati.

That core group creates a dangerous situation for opposing teams.

“Our only strength for the season is our skill,” Coach Rosati said.

Schiano earned All-Ohio honors and was named first-team All-CVC at quarterback. Anderson, a junior running back, already holds 17 Division I college football scholarship offers. Rosati hauled in 46 passes last season on the way to earning second-team All-CVC honors and Sulivan, a first-team all-conference performer, recorded 23 tackles for a loss on the way to being named All-Ohio.

The Pirates won’t be quite as deep as in the past so remaining injury free will be an important key to their success this season.

“(We have to) make sure we get to the game on time,” Coach Rosati joked when asked about his team’s keys to victory. “We can be successful if we stay healthy.”

WEST GEAUGA

  • Head Coach: Adam Sopkovich (2nd year)
  • 2018 Record: 4-6 overall; 2-4 in league play (tied for 5th place)
  • Returning Offensive Starters: 6
  • Returning Defensive Starters: 5
  • Offense: Multiple Set West Coast
  • Defense: 4-3 Over

West Geauga gained valuable experience last season the Wolverines hope to use it to their advantage in 2019.

Despite returning 11 starters, West Geauga remains young at several positions. Those players will be forced to develop in a hurry if the Wolverines hope to move up in the league standings.

“We have to come together,” Sopkovich said. “We have a very young team; it’s basically a two-year program. It’s the second year that we are working together.”

Sopkovich will lean heavily on senior quarterback Riley Huge to provide leadership to the young roster and to make big plays on Friday nights.

“Last year as a junior, he had to develop into something,” Sopkovich said. “This year, he was voted in as a captain. He has been sharp all offseason. He has just dedicated himself into being what a quarterback is. It is awesome to watch him work with the younger guys and coach up the young quarterbacks. It’s something we weren’t able to do last year because as a first-year coach some of these guys wouldn’t take on the personality of service and others. Riley is a perfect example of that.”

Sopkovich also holds high expectations for seniors Zach Slapnicker, Levi Veverka, Luis Alesnik and Dylan Baliker.

Slapnicker, who has drawn attention from Division I college programs, is a right tackle/defensive end while Alesnick is a defensive tackle. Both were named team captain this season.

“Zach is a natural left tackle because Riley is a left-hander and he likes Zach protecting his backside as a right tackle. He is such a good young man; one of the stronger guys in the weight room. He is dedicated to this sport and I’m hoping he can play at the next level and he achieves his dreams. He is a really good ballplayer on both sides of the ball,” Sopkovich said. “Lou is the strongest kid in our weight room. He is benching over 355 pounds and he is deadlifting 565. He’s also a heavyweight wrestler. The improvement that Lou has shown this last year of dedication has just been unbelievable.”

Veverka, a wide receiver/outside linebacker, and Baliker, an outside linebacker, also were named team captains.

“Levi is an awesome kid to be around. He always has energy all day long. He is another high academic kid being looked at by Bucknell and Cornell, some of these Ivy League schools, to go to school, but to also play football too. We are hoping to get him into a high academic school and he can continue to play football,” Sopkovich said. “Dylan is kind of the heart and soul of who we are at West G. He has taken on the role of being that true captain, the guy that everyone rallies around and gets other guys to rally up. He is putting on things for those younger guys, picking up guys for practice, taking them to and from. His work ethic on the field is unmatched. Last year, he broke his hand in a game and the next game he came to me and said, ‘Hey Coach, I want to play.’ He came back and played with a cast on his hand. He played with the same vigor and same stat line as he did without a cast. That’s amazing. Not many kids are built like that anymore.”

Steve Harehttp://www.ohiovarsity.com
Steve Hare is the Chagrin Valley Conference's Sports Information Director. He also created and publishes OhioVarsity.com, an online publication dedicated to providing hyperlocal coverage to area high school athletic programs. Hare began covering high school sports for the Lake County News Herald in 1997. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.

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