YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – With the breakup of the ITCL last year, the newly formed Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference was born mostly out of the ITCL’s Blue Tier (Jackson-Milton, Lowellville, McDonald, Mineral Ridge, Sebring, and Western Reserve) with one member from the Red Tier (Springfield), and one outside member (Waterloo). In fact, the MVAC will boost two division winners from last year in the ITCL with Springfield and Western Reserve included.
Both Springfield and Western Reserve look to be the early favorites to win the first league championship as they both return experienced signal-callers in Brannon Brungard and Dom Velasquez. Brungard, who passed for 1,158 yards with 15 touchdown tosses helped lead the Tigers to a 9-3 record as a sophomore. Velasquez was equally impressive in his junior season with 1,219 yards and 20 touchdown tosses in leading the Devils to a 7-3 record.
“I don’t know, Springfield, Western Reserve probably,” McDonald coach Dan Williams remarked. “Reserve has won the last five out of six, or six out of seven in the ITCL. And Springfield’s coming in after winning the Upper Tier last year, so you never know. Those are two teams that definitely have a shot to win it.”
“McDonald and Springfield are the two teams I’m going to say always,” Western Reserve coach Andy Hake said. “Springfield has a lot of kids back and they are well coached. And McDonald, they are always a perianal rival of ours since I have been at Reserve. It’s been either us or them that have won the league so Springfield and McDonald would be favorites.”
“I don’t pick favorites,” Springfield coach Sean Guerriero said with a chuckle. “Because every year is different for us. Our schedule hasn’t changed too much because we have played McDonald, we’ve played Western Reserve, we’ve played South Range, we’ve played Columbiana. So for us, it’s week by week and for our league, if we set ourselves up good with our non-league than hopefully in our league we will be a team that’s going to compete for it.”
Western Reserve only had five seniors on their 2016 team, so they return a bevy of experience on both side of the ball. The Devils have 60 kids out this season. Not only do they return starting quarterback Velasquez, but they also have running back/linebacker Jack Cappabianca, receivers Ryan Demsky, Joey Clegg, and Kade Hillis, along with linemen Dallas Smith, and Rob Hively.
“Our kids want to get back to the playoffs,” Hake admitted. “I don’t know what our record is going to be. Practice has been more fun because we have more kids than we have ever had, so practice is very intense and competitive. I just feel we’re going to play real physical for the next few years.”
Hake admitted that there are high hopes for his team, especially having the advantage of seven home games this season, “Yeah, I better win them. I better win some games or they’re going to hang me. I got a lot of guys back and we have a lot of home games. But we play some hard teams.”
In addition to Brungard, Springfield also returns running back/linebacker Zack Stouffer, lineman Ryan Thompson, and Anthony Stouffer, along with running back Luke Snyder. The Tigers will rely on Brungard a little more this year to be a playmaker without some weapons from last year in Frank Centofanti, Jake Ford, and Joe Santangelo.
McDonald as always will be a threat to win a league championship. The Devils return a number of linemen from last year including Calvin Wolford, and Zach Nolf. They also return running back Alex Cintron and Josh Celli.
“Depth is a concern like always at a small school,” Williams admitted. “Our strength I would say is that we have experience. We have fourteen, fifteen lettermen back. We have five, six starters back on both sides. We are going to grow up pretty quick. We’re going to play a lot of juniors and we plan on competing right away and fighting for that league title as well.”
Jackson-Milton is a bit of an unknown with the recent resignation of head coach Mark Assion, but the Blue Jays will return Nick Scarl and Taylor Kleinknecht to anchor down the defensive side of the ball. How well the offensive side can develop may be a key for the Jays in 2017.
“I think Mineral Ridge is going to be a lot better this year,” Hake remarked. “They have a lot of seniors and they are going to play real physical.”
Mineral Ridge hired former Ram standout, Steve Wyllie, to lead the Rams as they return a number of seniors from last year. Those include quarterback Jared Miller who accounted for over 1,00 yards of offense last year, along with running backs DeCosta Baptiste and Michael McLean.
The Sebring Trojans will have a short roster this season as new coach Brian Palmer takes the helm. With only around 16-18 players the Trojans will have virtually no depth. Palmer will count on quarterback Zane Peterson, athlete Jake Fullerton, and lineman Zach Thomas to carry the load for them this year.
I really don’t know that much about them (Waterloo). We have been playing Springfield. We’ve had a couple good games with them, so we know them,” Hake explained. “But I don’t know anything about Waterloo. They are going to be tough. I talked to (head coach Matt) Adorni at Mogadore and he said that they are tough from time to time. It will be fun, it’s a new team for us.”
With Waterloo, we have never seen them before it will be a new team for us. But with that, we play them in week ten so we’re going to be able to get some games on them to be able to see what they’re doing, what they’re good at,” Guerriero remarked.
The Vikings will enter the MVAC as the biggest school in enrollment, and fittingly it will be the big guys up front that will determine how successful they are in 2017. Linemen Jon Jarrett, Alex Mazur, Cole Hurd, and Spencer Schmucker return for the Vikings.
The new league, much like the EOAC, resembles an old area conference before the ITCL merger. The MVAC looks much like the old ICL minus South Range with Waterloo inserted.
“It’s mostly the teams we have been playing from the blue division we were in,” Hake remarked. “I like the set-up of it. It’s the old ICL really. We’re happy with it, as happy as you can be with the situation because I wish that didn’t happen (breakup of ITCL).”
“It is basically the old ICL without South Range,” Williams remarked. “Waterloo will be a good addition, and the travel is going to be great between the eight schools because I think we are all within 40 minutes of one another. It will be a competitive league. I think it will be a nice set up for everyone.”
“Our kids are excited for it. Any time there is change you get to turn over a new leaf and the kids are excited about that just because it’s a new challenge out there,” Guerriero added.