Baldwin Wallace tops list with 10 area players
By Ryan Kaczmarski
The Ohio Athletic Conference football season is only a few weeks away, with the nonconference schedule starting Sept. 6 and the conference schedule starting on Sept. 20.
With seven of the 10 OAC programs fielding teams that include several area players, locally raised talent will be on display on the Division III gridiron across the state this fall.
There are 30-plus student-athletes from local public high schools to keep a watch on this season in the OAC, which means the west side of Cleveland is important recruiting territory.
“Our coaches (in the OAC) leave no stone unturned when it comes to finding talent,” OAC Commissioner Tim Gleason said. “They know who can play. They hit every nook and cranny; cover every stretch of the state of Ohio, and beyond. But especially in Ohio, that’s their turf.
“As far as Division III goes, they figure that’s their turf, and when there are players that come out of high schools who are versatile – good students who can run fast, jump high and all of those things – our coaches are going to do the best they can to get them to an OAC school.”
It is no surprise that the three OAC schools with the most local players on their rosters are Baldwin Wallace University (10), Heidelberg University (9) and John Carroll University (7).
Taking the field for the BW Yellow Jackets this season are seniors Kyle Dunne (WR, Rocky River), Kevin Krakora (CB, Avon), Luke Reimenschneider (DE, Rocky River) and Brock Smith (DE, North Olmsted); juniors Nolan Brandt (FB, Olmsted Falls), Nathan Ferster (DB, Olmsted Falls) and Robbie Plagens (QB, Rocky River); and sophomores Michael Dickey (LB, Rocky River), Tommy Fuller (WR, Lakewood) and Corey Schmidt (TE, Fairview).
“We’ve always said that if we get the best kids from the Southwestern Conference and West Shore Conference – and we’re getting some pretty good kids – we’ll be doing pretty well,” Baldwin Wallace head coach John Snell said. “The Rocky River kids that we have, have been some of our best players.”
Assisting Snell as a wide receivers coach this season is former Rocky River and Lakewood head coach Ron Lewis.
“It’s been great having Ron with us this season,” Snell said. “His situation in Lakewood was very unfortunate, but the reality is that he is an outstanding football coach. He did a phenomenal job at Rocky River High School, and considering the overall changing of the guard at Lakewood, he did an amazing job there, too.
“So far, he’s done a great job working with our wide receivers and he’s just been a great resource to have in our staff meeting room, recruiting, and just an overall great person to have on our coaching staff.”
With the high level of play on area high school fields, Snell feels the future will be bright for his program, and the OAC overall, if the local athletes decide to stay local.
“It has been challenging to keep these kids here,” Snell explained. “Football has really been under attack with the concussion issue, and I think our game has really been affected. The numbers have seemed to be slipping. Some of that might be due to the dwindling population in Northeast Ohio, so that’s affecting the high school football programs, and Northeast Ohio football in general.
“We need to do something to help increase those numbers, and remind people that football is a great sport.”
Heidelberg will be led by fourth-year quarterback Michael Mees, a North Ridgeville High School graduate.
“We are anticipating a great team returning for the 2014 season,” Heidelberg head coach Mike Hallett said. “We return a number of players who have had a starting role for multiple years.”
Other returning Student Princes from the area are seniors James Mees (WR, North Ridgeville) and Gage Falcone (DL, Fairview); juniors Jose Sanchez (RB, Fairview) and Zach Hogya (TE, Lakewood); and sophomores Alex Massad (WR, Westlake) and Mike Starcovic (RB, North Olmsted).
Incoming freshmen are Aaron Morit (TE, Lakewood) and James Dudek (LB, Bay).
John Carroll University had a very large graduating class in the spring, which will give many players who did not get a lot of action last year a chance to show that they belong on the field.
The area players for the Blue Streaks are senior Andrew Lewis (DL, Bay); and juniors Jonathon Brick (RB, Westlake), Tyler Lance (TE, Avon) and Jake Schaeffer (QB, Westlake/Holy Name).
“Jonathon Brick has done a great job in our program, and he has really taken a lot of strides in his development as a player,” John Carroll head coach Tom Arth said. “We’re really excited to see how he comes into camp this year.”
Incoming freshmen, including Derek Naim (WR, Lutheran West) and Arin Pruitt (RB, Brookside), will also be given an extended look this fall.
“All of these kids are a good fit for us,” Arth stated. “I think we’ve done fairly well (recruiting) on the west side of Cleveland, especially with Arin Pruitt, he’s a phenomenal player, a phenomenal person and he’s going to do very well with us.
“In Northeast Ohio in general, is critical for John Carroll University – in regards to the football program – to recruit in the west side. We put a lot of effort and time into recruiting that area.”
The defending OAC champion Mount Union Purple Raiders will again have Westlake native and St. Edward graduate Kevin Burke at quarterback, running the offense. Sophomore Jake Antel will be doing the punting and kicking for Mount Union.
Muskingum University has three local athletes on the roster in sophomore Michael Johnson (DL, Brookside); and freshmen Phillip Hicks (DE, North Ridgeville) and Connor Kerrigan (WR, Fairview).
Ohio Northern University has two Bay High School products in defensive linemen Nate Notarberardino and Scott Rapps, while Otterbein University has its lone area recruit as freshman Michael Gib (RB, Olmsted Falls).
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