Spartans crave playoff three-peat
By Brian Dzenis
After making the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history, the Boardman High School football team has to grow up really fast to keep the good times rolling.
Senior lineman Dave Merdich has a nice way to describe the team: old-young. The Spartans return 18 seniors, but that doesn’t mean a lot of varsity experience is coming back.”
“These first-year seniors have been in the system for two years. They know what to expect, they just have to come out and show it,” Merdich said. “They’ve been putting in the work.”
Nearly every position group in Boardman will see a few first-time starters. That doesn’t mean head coach Joe Ignazio is looking at a down year even if there are about three to four returning starters on either side of the ball.
“We’re back to teaching fundamentals. The reality is we’re looking to guys that don’t have a lot of game experience on Friday nights,” Ignazio said. “There’s a difference when you lose guys that started for three years. When you go back to basics, it’s been refreshing with this group. They come in and work hard.
“The tradition of the program hasn’t changed. They know the expectations.”
Wide receiver is the youngest position group with junior Aiden Slocum — the grandson of former Youngstown State men’s basketball coach Jerry Slocum — as the only returning wideout. Sophomores Cam Thompson and Terrance Thomas will hold the other starting sports.
The Spartans have seniors Wrentie Martin and Zach Ryan vying to replace the graduated Mike O’Horo at quarterback. Martin has some playing experience when O’Horo was injured in Week 2.
Senior Nate Thompson returns at running back and has some varsity experience spelling the graduated Joe Ieraci. Timmy Bowser, The Vindicator’s 2019 Rugby Player of the Year, rejoins the Spartans after taking the previous year off from football. Sophomore Sean O’Horo is also in the mix at running back.
The only returning starting offensive linemen are Merdich at right guard and senior Isaac Land at left guard and center. Sophomore Joe Sferra is competing for the right tackle job. Senior Tyler Utsinger and junior Ryan Henry are other newcomers on the line and their positions are to be determined.
Merdich remains a leader on the other side of the line. Senior Rashie Garner slides into a starting role. Henry and sophomore Cortland Love also figure to see some playing time. Love is the younger brother of former Cardinal Mooney and Kentucky football standout Courtney Love.
“[Cortland] has a completely different skill set and body type. He’s a big guy while Courtney was more of a skilled linebacker,” Ignazio said. “I expect great things from him. He’s got great feet. He’s physical and he’s still learning the game.”
Connor Miller is the lone returning starter at linebacker. Justin Wagner, Blaine Strines and Richy Evans are competing for time.
Tyler Peterson returns at safety. Slocum and Anthony Hightower and Zach Johnson are the corners — with Johnson also being able to step in at linebacker.
Tommy Fryda returns at kicker for his senior season, with freshman Carson Essad backing him up. Miller will be involved in all three phases of the game as a punter, linebacker and tight end.
“I’ve been playing offense, defense and special teams since my sophomore year,” Miller said. “I think I’m conditioned to be used to it and be a 48-minute guy.”