Year one of the Tom Phillips Era of Stow-Munroe Falls football was really a tale of two seasons.
A series of injuries, long road trips and other issues conspired to hand the Bulldogs a 1-5 start to the season. However, Stow would find its footing in the late season, as it finished 5-5 overall and 5-2 in the Suburban League National Conference.
"You’re only as good as your last game," Phillips said. "We did a good job finishing at 5-5."
Phillips has to replace a talented 19-member senior class, which included the losses of All-Ohioans Adrian Woliver (now playing at Toledo) and Bryce Sheppert (Notre Dame College). Phillips made it clear, however, he has no interest in looking back.
"Our focus is not on the past. It’s on the future," Phillips said. "We’ve got good numbers this year. That was something we wanted to focus on. Goal No. 1 was to get kids loving football and playing football. We’ve done well."
Phillips notes Stow has "about 100" players in the program this fall with a 16-member senior class.
"It was a transition year for us [last fall]," Phillips said. "We don’t go back to the past, because that’s not fair to our seniors. It’s a different time. I think we have better senior leadership. I think we have a good relationship between the ninth through 12th graders."
Stow has 18 lettermen back this fall, 12 of which are starters.
Another area of transition for Stow this year is the coaching staff, as only offensive coordinator Dean Hawkins remains from last year’s varsity staff. However, Phillips scored a coup when he was able to bring in former long-time Kent Roosevelt head coach John Nemec.
"Once John came on, my staff was complete within 24 hours," Phillips said.
Nemec will serve as "head coach of the defense," according to Phillips, while Kardell Jackson will be Stow’s defensive coordinator. Other coaches include Jim Fox (quarterbacks/linebackers), John Shumm (offensive line), Trei Thomas (wide receivers) and Curtis Black (defensive line).
"In all my 32 years, this is one of my top staffs," Phillips said. "We put the kids in a great position of being around great teachers."
Stow will continue to run a spread offense with a single back, while the Bulldogs will run a base 40 defense with a heavy emphasis on pressure.
Phillips knows the National Conference will be a dogfight again.
"I love the conference," Phillips said. "It’s very competitive. You’ve got to be ready every week. It’s a great conference. I know Wadsworth is returning a lot. Brecksville’s going to be a lot better this year. I don’t know who would be considered the favorite."
One of Stow’s most experienced positions this fall is quarterback. Sophomore Owen Bainbridge claimed the starting job during Stow’s winning streak last season. Bainbridge went 36-of-71 for 440 yards two touchdowns and two interceptions in his limited time.
"He picked up an offer from [the University of] Akron as a sophomore," Phillips said. "That’s not something that always happens."
Senior captain Josh Andrassy will serve as backup quarterback this season, though his primary duties will be on the defensive side of the ball.
With Sheppert and JR Atkinson gone, Stow lost most of its running yards from last season, but Phillips is very high on junior Mykal Azar. Stow also has junior Jack Bryden returning after he rushed for 203 yards last season. Sophomore Xavier Preston also could see time.
Stow also lost Sheppert and leading receiver Brian Cartwright to graduation, but junior Dalen Stovall is back after snagging 399 receiving yards and four touchdowns last season.
Junior captain Clayton Mosher will see much more time at slot receiver this season, while juniors Justin Weightman and senior Jacob Rosario also will see time.
"Those were the guys who have seen the most time for us in preseason," Phillips said.
Stow lost another solid talent in Michael Young to graduation, but Philips foresees a big year from senior tight end Carter Kline, who is a two-year letterwinner.
Phillips is very high on his offensive line, which is both athletic and young.
At left tackle, sophomore Van Shyjka (245 pounds) will get the nod, after earning a varsity letter as a freshman.
"He was the strongest kid I’ve had as a freshman on the offensive line in all the time I’ve been coaching," Phillips said.
At left guard, senior Lawrence Ward (260) will get the start, while junior Chris Miranda (205) will move into the starting center spot.
Senior captain Jonah Walters (315) will start at left guard with sophomore Mason Mennell (270) getting the nod at right tackle. Phillips said he expects junior Zack Lane (205) and sophomore Zach Phillips (245) also to contribute on the line.
Phillips said Stow’s philosophy on defense is to keep it simple and pile on the pressure.
Woliver’s loss on defense is huge, but Stow defense will be anchored by another Toledo recruit in senior captain Jalen Crider, who returns at defensive end after earning 29 tackles and two sacks last season. Andrassy will start at defensive end on the other side.
Up the middle, senior captain Mike Mitchell (240) will start at defensive tackle, along with quick senior Louis Aristide, who had 31 tackles last season. Lane also will see time on the defensive line.
In the middle linebacker spot will be senior captain Seth Shinsky, who Phillips said could be due for a breakout year. Senior Chad Woliver is back at strongside linebacker after being hobbled by injuries last season.
At the Sam position, junior Steven Mangira could get the start, but Phillip noted freshman Teddy Greogry has been impressive.
"He has the strength of possible first-semester junior," Phillip said. "He’s going to get himself a lot of playing time the next few years."
At cornerback, Weightman, Stovall, junior Jack Bryden and senior Billy Luketich all are in the mix, along with first-year senior Jordan Ansley.
Stow returns both of its starting safeties as Mosher and junior Jack Costa are both back.
Senior kicker Chris Miller also is back. The goaltender for the Bulldog soccer team will handle all of Stow’s kicking and punting duties, while junior Zach DiGiammarino is back as Stow’s long snapper.
The Bulldogs will open the season at home this year, as Mentor Lake Catholic will visit Ron Marhofer Field Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, email@example.com or @MLeonard_GHO