By ED PUSKAS
Bob Spaite would prefer that high school football was still played by the geographical rules of the game as he knew them growing up.
“I like the old days better, even though sometimes it was a disadvantage for us,” said Spaite, whose Clippers will open the 2019 season Friday at Akron Manchester’s James C. France Stadium.
“I like the old days, when our guys were our guys and your guys were your guys,” Spaite said. “These are the guys I grew up with, unless we moved into a town. That’s the way it was.”
Indeed, there was a time players when didn’t transfer from school to school unless families moved.
There was a time when an the Ohio High School Athletic Association bylaws addressing didn’t contain an entire section on the topic of student-athletes moving from one district to another.
“It’s hurt the rivalries tremendously,” said Spaite, who is 177-93 as he enters his 26th season as a head coach. “It used to be that the rivalries meant something because of the people in the communities,” Spaite said. “You lived in that community, you grew up in that community and those were your guys. Good, bad or indifferent, those were your guys.”
Spaite, a Crestview High School graduate, points to his own upbringing.
“I grew up right outside the town here in the ‘60s and graduated in 1971,” he said. “I went to [Boy] Scouts here in Columbiana, I went swimming here in Columbiana and I had friends here in Columbiana. But if any of those guys from Columbiana had said, ‘Hey, why don’t you come play with us?’ I would have looked at them like they were nuts. ‘What you talking about? These are my guys over here [at Crestview].’
“Crestview wasn’t very good then, but I would have never dreamed of leaving the guys I played with since I was in fifth, sixth and seventh grade. That just wasn’t happening. You just wouldn’t do it.”
Nine starters return for the Clippers, including senior quarterback Jakob Cross, who started the last two seasons and was one of the area’s most prolific passers in 2018.
“We have a lot of guys back, but we’re also changing quite a bit,” Spaite said. “We’re moving away from no-huddle and exclusively shotgun and hurry up. We’re going to be a little bit more controlled and we’ll look a little more conventional.
“We’re still going to try to move quickly, but we’re going to try to take advantage of a couple things we haven’t had in the last couple of years — a couple of running backs. We think we’ve got good skill and we’re going to do whatever we can to maximize that.”
Spaite doesn’t like the transfer game, but he’s learning to play it.
Senior transfer Hunter Woodring (Crestview) and junior transfer Brady Dixon (South Range) are now at Columbiana. Spaite said Dixon must sit out the Clippers’ first two games because of OHSAA transfer rules.
Spaite said senior Jack Carney and junior Matt Morocco, who have been with the Clippers, have improved and will be in the mix.
Senior receiver Chase Franken returns after developing a rapport with Cross over the last two seasons. Other receivers are seniors Hunter Zentner, Joe Bable and junior Xathan Cross. Transfer Justin Rydarowicz, now in his second season with Columbiana after coming over from Crestview, is another target.
That’s as good a receiving corps as we’ve had,” Spaite said.
Seniors Tyler Zigotti, Nate Davis. Steve Debone and Quenton Cross return on the line.
Eight starters return on defense, including seniors Jakob Cross, Franken and Bable. Juonior Xathon Cross is also back.
Carney and Quenton Cross return at linebacker, which is where Dixon and Woodring will provide even more speed.
Seniors Cody Miller, Josh Stilson and Mike Cobbin return on the defensive front.
“Again, we’re not going to be as heavy, but I think we’re fairly quick,” Spaite said. “We’re going to try to take advantage of our speed, move a lot, change the fronts a lot and change the coverage a lot. We’ll try to be as complicated-looking as possible without confusing our guys. That’s always the trick.
The Clippers are looking for many happy returns with kick and punt returners Bable and Franken back. Xathan Cross, Woodring and Rydarowicz also should get opportunities.
Columbiana is set with junior Colin Shick as its kicker and punter for a third consecutive season. Quenton Cross is the long snapper.
The Clippers return virtually all of their skill-position players and with a couple of transfers, now boast even more speed when they finished 6-4 (6-1 Eastern Ohio Athletic Conference).
Columbiana will be tested early. The Clippers face Akron Manchester, McDonald, Springfield and Southern in their first four weeks.
“Our only major question mark is, ‘Are we going to be able to handle adversity and be united if we have adversity early?” Spaite said. “Also, we have a lot of potential stars. If we have success early, are we going to be able to handle people telling us how great we are?”