Niles football preview

Last fall, one of the most fabled football teams in the area was back on the map. Behind the leadership of first-year head coach Brian Shaner, Niles began the season with a 6-0 mark and went onto host their first playoff game in school history. Although Niles’ season did not end as one could’ve hoped, the future is bright in Dragon Town.

Here’s a few statistics to chomp on: In 2012, the offense improved during the regular season by notching 89 more total yards per game (344.4 in 2012; 255.7 in 2011). Niles won each of their five contests which were decided by eight points or less. The winning season marked just the school’s fourth in the last twelve years. The Dragons won just as many road games last year (4-0) as they had won in the previous three seasons (4-7).

“There are very high expectations in Niles following last year’s success”, said the second-year head coach. “We are excited for this group to get on the field and represent Niles.”

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The Red Dragons open the season at Girard on Thursday, August 29.

2013 Niles Red Dragons’ Football Preview
by Vince Pellegrini (@Vince_MYVS)
Head Coach: Brian Shaner, 11th season (52-50)
2012 Record: 8-3 (4-2), All-American Conference – American Division
2012 Post-Season Finish: Lost in Division III Regional Quarterfinal to Hubbard, 39-27, on November 3.
Returning Starters: Offense – 3 Defense – 6
Offense: Spread
Defense: 3-3 Stack

2012 Team Statistics
Points Scored: 26.9 (21st in Area)
Passing Yards: 135.3 (1488)
Rushing Yards: 200.0 (2200)
Points Allowed: 23.3 (30th in Area)
Rushing Yards Allowed: 141.8 (1560)
Passing Yards Allowed: 118.2 (1300)

Returning Leaders
Rushing: John Cicero – 72 att, 450 yards, 5 TDs
Receiving: Marcus Hill – 34 rec, 476 yards, 5 TDs
Tackles: Nick Sanchez – 105
QB Sacks: Nick Lardas & Matt Binion – 8.0
Interceptions: Chris Parry – 8

2013 Schedule
Aug. 29 – at Girard, 7 PM
Sept. 6 – at Liberty, 7 PM
Sept. 13 – West Branch, 7 PM
Sept. 20 – Poland, 7 PM
Sept. 27 – at Beaver Local, 7 PM
Oct. 4 – Canfield, 7 PM
Oct. 11 – at Hubbard, 7 PM
Oct. 18 – Howland, 7 PM
Oct. 25 – at Struthers, 7 PM
Nov. 1 – East, 7 PM

Offensive Strength: Senior playmakers Marcus Hill and Chris Parry will be looked upon for their ability to gash the defense. Coach Shaner says, “The players understand (what) is expected of them with another year in our system”.

Offensive Weakness: The graduation of All-AAC quarterback Stefan Yuhas and four offensive linemen will most definitely be a concern to the Red Dragons’ coaching staff this off-season.

Defensive Strength: Six starters return to anchor a defense which forced 29 takeaways (13 fumbles/16 interceptions) in 2012. Compare that figure to 15 (6 fumbles/9 interceptions) the previous campaign. Senior linebacker Nick Sanchez is the leading returning tackler while Nick Lardas and Matt Binion both return up front with Chris Parry, Kyle Paden and Marcus Hill filling in at their secondary positions.

Defensive Weakness: Despite returning six starters, the defense lost six other players who produced mightily. Linebackers Tommy Duffy and Bret Spencer will be difficult to replace, as well as, Aaron Watson from his defensive back spot.

Storylines Facing the Red Dragons
1. Josh Krok – Lone Offensive Lineman to Return. Josh Krok stands 6’7 and weighs nearly 300 pounds. He was a First-Team All-League selection as a junior a year ago. If one had a choice to anchor an offensive line, I believe most would take your chances with Mr. Krok. Josh verbally committed to West Virginia this spring.

2. Giveaway vs. Takeaway. The Red Dragons’ improvement can be simplified by how they forced their opponents to turn the ball over and give their offense more opportunities. As stated above, Niles has 14 more takeaways than the previous year. That increase may have had something to do with the amount of touchdowns the offense was able to produce. In 2011, the Dragons scored 22 offensive touchdowns. In 2012, they scored 36.

3. Monster Sanchez. To the chagrin of opposing offensive coordinators, senior Nick Sanchez will be back on the field to play linebacker. As a junior, Sanchez recorded 105 tackles, 15 which were for a loss, and six quarterback takedowns. Nick was named to the All-League First-Team.

Did you know? Last year, Brian Shaner closed out his first season in the 44446 zip code with an 8-3 mark. Of the last eight coaches at Niles, only Tim Johnson was able to compile a winning record in his first season (1991: 5-4) like Coach Shaner did in 2012.

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