By Brian Dzenis
If high school football coach can get 40 percent of his school’s male students on his team, that’s considered a great turnout.
Leetonia coach Hadi Hadi has met that number, but it hasn’t brought him much satisfaction.
Leetonia has 84 male students and 32 play for the Bears. Those numbers round up to the ideal percentage, but it might not be enough to be consistently competitive. Hadi is up front with his players about it.
“I don’t candy coat it for them,” Hadi said. “We don’t have numbers and we have to embrace that.”
Hadi is in his second year with the Bears, coming off a 1-9 campaign. He calls coaching at Leetonia one of the most challenging jobs he’s taken on.
“My challenge is we have 84 boys in the school and there’s football, soccer, cross country and golf,” Hadi said. “You might not think you could lose a kid to golf or soccer, but here, it happens.”
Leetonia is one of the 16 schools affected by the end of the Inter-Tri County League and will play in the Eastern Ohio Athletic Conference next year. Hadi thinks the EOAC is an improved situation for his team, but the Bears still have an uphill battle.
“It’s hard to be competitive when you have so few kids and you’re playing [Division V] East Palestine or [D-VI] Columbiana where they can have closer to 100 kids,” Hadi said. “Even if you had 11 all-stars, it wouldn’t be easy.”
Leetonia’s lone first-team All-ITCL selection, senior quarterback Issac Stecker, was lost not to graduation or injury, but to the marching band.
“He chose not to play,” Hadi said. “He was somebody I had to recruit in the hallway. He hadn’t played a lot of football, but he was a great athlete. He wanted to play in the band.”
Brock Simpson, Danny McCool and CoalTin Barcey have all taken reps at quarterback and whoever misses out will have to fill out other positions on offense. Sophomore running back Roman Ferry was one of just three freshman across the ITCL to earn all-league honors.
Seniors Jake Henry and Derek Bell return as standouts on the offensive line.
Bell and Devin Champney are the mainstays on the defensive line. McCool and Ferry will play in the secondary as they’ll be surrounded by more players filling in on both sides of the ball.
Leetonia has won just four games in three seasons. Last year, the Bears were shut out four times. They have a low bar to clear to make a leap in 2016.
“We believe we’re a better team than we were last year,” Hadi said.