The Aurora football team will have a number of new faces and many of them are getting acclimated to the varsity level.
Sounds extremely similar to last year, doesn’t it?
Nonetheless, the Greenmen, despite facing such obstacles, posted a 6-5 record and reached the postseason for the 13th consecutive year.
Aurora, which finished second to Barberton in the Suburban League American Conference with a 5-1 mark, lost to Canfield 23-0 in the opening round of the Division III, Region 9 playoffs.
The Greenmen won six of their last seven heading into the postseason after an 0-3 start.
Aurora has faced such difficult circumstances at least a few times during its impressive run. But as the last 13 years suggest, the Greenmen always found their way to a date in at least one game after Halloween.
"I’m cautiously optimistic," said Bob Mihalik, who has a glittering 147-53 record during his 17-year career. "There is some talent there. We don’t have a lot of experience.
"It will be interesting to see how the guys respond to playing under the Friday night lights."
The Greenmen will face similar challenges this fall with the departure of 23 seniors.
Fortunately, a familiar face will be back to lead the offense. Senior Colin McNamara became the team’s starting quarterback last fall when Evan Fromwiller, a 2018 graduate, suffered a season-ending injury earlier in the season.
Mihalik certainly hopes McNamara can stand upright for 10-plus weeks. Nonetheless, the veteran coach has much confidence in his backup.
Alex Moore, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound freshman, is ready to go if needed.
"Alex has a strong arm and is very mature in terms of understanding the defense," Mihalik said. The Greenmen have been able to get invitations to November games for so many years because of their punishing offensive line.
But this year’s group is greener than ever.
"We have nobody back in our two-deep depth chart," Mihalik said.
The starting center is expected to be senior Justin Lovell. Junior Alex Hawk is expected to be his backup.
Mihalik said three young men are battling for the starting guard spots. They are senior Seth Stojetz and juniors Adam Hicks and Tucker Nietert.
Also in the mix to play guard is another freshman, Kevin Paul.
Senior Ryan McBride, junior Patrick Murray and sophomore Sam LoGalbo are battling for playing time at the two tackle spots.
Mihalik said senior Joe Catena and sophomore Michael Sedar also could see time at either tackle position.
The tight ends are juniors Lenny Feckner and AJ Barner. Senior Alec Houston could be in the mix as well.
Junior Jack McElwee is expected to start at slot back. His backup is junior Ben Rogge. Sophomore Jordan DeMicco is expected to get on the field, too.
The wide receivers comprise seniors Graham Aldredge and Kyle Obly and junior John Papesh. Mihalik said seniors Will Owens and Hunter Cook will provide depth.
"It’s not going to be a situation where we have to get the ball to [2018 graduate] Gavin [Blunt]," Mihalik said. "We have a lot of guys who are dependable."
Senior Jack Arnold returns as the starting fullback. His backups are Matt DiDomenico and junior Lenny Galaska.
Three players are expected to get their share of carries at the tailback position. They are seniors James Austin and Koby Coachman and sophomore Evan McVay.
The offense has gone through a bit of an overhaul. The defense, on the other hand, will remain the same.
The team plans to go to a 3-4 formation. Like the offense, several defensive players will get a taste of the bright lights for the first time.
"We stress a lot of energy and flying to the football," Mihalik said. "We don’t have a lot of starters back. Practices have been pretty spirited."
Hicks, Stojetz, Paul and sophomore Antonio Gomez are battling for time at the nose-guard spot.
The defensive ends could feature Feckner, Houston, Lovell, LoGalbo, senior Javonte Douglas or McBride.
Arnold and Barner are expected to be the starting inside linebackers. Their backups are DiDomenico, junior Jack Larrance and Gomez if he is not playing up front.
Mihalik said the starting outside linebackers will be Austin and McElwee. Other outside linebackers are Galaska and sophomore Jeff Burger.
The Greenmen have six cornerbacks on the depth chart. They are Coachman, Owen, Aldredge, Rogge, senior Mitch Levanduski and DeMicco.
The safeties feature Papesh and Aldredge. Obly and McVay also are expected to play.
Obly is the team’s kicker and McNamara plans to handle the punting duties.
The long snapper is Arnold and Papesh, Aldredge and McVay are expected to return kicks and punts.
Brian Wervey is the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach and Victor Ricketts is the offensive line coach and run-game coordinator.
The receivers coach and passing-game coordinator is 2009 graduate Brendan Gallagher, who led Aurora to its only state title in 2008.
The rest of the coaching staff includes Jay Price (defensive backs), Jim Slagle (defensive line) and John Calcei (running backs).
The Greenmen will have their hands full if they want to regain the American Conference title. Nonetheless, the top teams in the conference are going through some growing pains, too.
"Everybody lost great senior classes," Mihalik said. "Barberton has to be considered the favorite. Highland was undefeated at the JV level. Tallmadge has a decent amount of people back,
"I like to think we’ll be in the mix along with Copley. It’s a wide-open race. It’s probably going to be a year when no one goes undefeated."
Aurora is scheduled to make its 2018 debut against Solon Aug. 24 at Veterans Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.