By Greg Gulas
Jackson-Milton has never qualified for the playoffs and for head coach Mark Assion, watching other teams enjoy that success has been a little unsettling.
“We’ve watched other area teams advance to postseason play and it upsets us that we’ve never made it past the regular season,” Assion said. “We want to change that, but need to step up in order to get that done.”
Of the 35 players on this year’s roster, 22 earned letters during a winless 2012.
“This year we have a nice blend of veterans and youth but last year, we were forced to play quite a few young players,” Assion said. “At one point last season, we started four freshmen on defense. That’s not a good thing when they’re expected to go up against 18-year-olds week in and week out.”
The Bluejays’ line will boast three multiple letterwinners in Matt Skrobut, Corley Lamb and Brandon Eddinger. Four other players — Tyler Phillips, Tommy Deak, Jeff Gilger and Colten Nitzsky — earned letters a season ago.
Jeremy Fitzpatrick will start the season at quarterback with Tyler Shaffer set at running back.
Fitzpatrick will look for wideouts Alex Thornburg, Trevor Morgan and Zack Fisher; all two-year lettermen. Thomas Gatewood, Tyler Totani, Nick Goodlin, Nate Kramer and Adam Smith round out the receiving corps.
The defensive line is a mirror image of its offensive counterpart in that Skrobut, Lamb and Eddinger are multiple letterwinners, and Phillips, Deak, Gilger and Nitzsky are capable replacements.
Tyler Shaffer, Michael Assion, Anthony Italiano and Ryan Morgan are linebackers. Gatewood, Totani, Goodlin, Thornburg, Smith, Kramer, Morgan and Fisher will see time in the secondary.
Jackson-Milton is looking to replace its graduated kicker and punter from a year ago. Preseason scrimmages against East Palestine and Youngstown Christian were a big factor in determining who draws the starting assignments.
A multitude of letterwinners return, but the young Bluejays are still seeking an identity of their own.
“Our goal is to ‘Get 6’ — six yards per play; finish each drive with six points and in the process, do six positive things individually to help the team out during the game,” Assion said. “Our players came into camp with a renewed attitude and they have picked up our schemes exceptionally well. There’s a nice blend of veterans and youth and all have a chip on their shoulders. That’s a good thing.”