Young core set to lead Tallmadge football in new season

Roger Gordon
Correspondent
Tallmadge running back Nate Amato tries to run through Ravenna's Sean Loucks during a game last season. Amato is back after missing half of last season with a broken thumb.

Considering that 32 of the 40 players on the roster are underclassmen – including 20 sophomores – the Tallmadge football team will be fighting an uphill battle this season from the start.

However, second-year head coach Mike Hay, whose Blue Devils lost 11 seniors from last year’s team that finished 1-9 overall and 0-7 in the Suburban League American Conference, is not singing the blues by any stretch of the imagination.

“We have great leadership from our senior class, who we’re expecting big things from. We try to have a family atmosphere,” he said. “We also have some talented sophomores on the team.

“We set a goal to go out and compete. And if we do what we’re coached to do, we’ll compete in every game, and we’ll let the win-loss record take care of itself.”

Competing for the starting quarterback spot are sophomore Ty Hurst and junior Ty Hederson. Hurst started five games last year as a freshman.

“Both put a lot of work in in the offseason, and it clearly shows,” said Hay. “They both grew quite bit – three to five inches on both of them and probably 20 pounds each. They both did offseason training with the camps they went to and the quarterback coaches, including our own.

“They both lead by example and work very hard. Both are much, much improved over where they were a year ago. I’m very excited to see both of them compete. They’re both doing a tremendous job now. They have very good arms and are accurate, smart players. They move well enough to get out of the pocket and move in the pocket.”

Leading the way at the running back position will be senior Nate Amato and junior Cole Thomas. Amato is back after missing the second half of the season last year due to a broken thumb.

“Nate is a big, strong kid,” Hay said. “He’s a dynamic athlete. He moves pretty well and is tough to bring down.

“Cole is a very good athlete, one of our fastest players. We will find ways to get the ball in his hands because he has a very, very good skill set that can help us succeed.”

Other players who will see action at running back are senior Darius Green, junior Aden Schwartz and sophomores Beau Gromley, Zander Hopkins and C.J. Hughes.

Key cogs at the wide receiver position will be seniors Dylan Phelps and Noah Caffelle, junior Mason Dexter and sophomore Seth Yacobucci.

“Dylan is one of our fastest players,” said the coach. “He can stretch the field. He can move very, very quick. He’s a great track athlete. Noah has worked very hard to get himself in position to get varsity reps this year, and we’re very happy to see him be able to perform. He’s a great leader, too.

“Mason will probably be our number one target. He’s shifty, a very good route runner with very good hands. We’re expecting very big things from him. Seth has excellent hands and is a great route runner. He’ll be counted on to have a good year for us.”

Sharing the tight end position will be sophomore Collin Dixon and junior Carson Cowley.

“Both have very good hands and are good route runners,” Hay said. “Both will be utilized as receivers and blockers.”

The Blue Devils’ offensive line will be anchored by senior tackle Eli Zander. Also playing tackle will be sophomore Zac Robinson.

“Eli is a big man who can squat a house, actually 500 pounds. He’s a very strong kid in the weight room,” said Hay. “He has a chance to be a very special lineman for us.”

Sophomore center Caiden McCullough started seven games last year as a freshman.

“That’s quite an accomplishment,” Hay said. “He’s a very smart core player who does a great job in leading our offensive line and calling out our protection in our blocking schemes. We’re very glad to have him. He has a chance to be very, very good going forward.”

Also making big contributions to the offensive line will be guards Nick McGarry, a junior, and Gunther Zehner, a senior. Both have transitioned from the fullback position, where they played last year.

“They were selfless moves to help us out,” said the coach. “Gunther is a great football player and a great teammate and will fit in nicely there.”

Also competing for playing time on the offensive line will be senior Karim Yasin, juniors Ryan Haupt and Brian Blankenship and sophomore Errol Bankston.

Doubling as defensive linemen will be Zander, Amato and Zehner.

“Eli is a force inside,” Hay said. “For a kid his size, he’s very quick. We expect him to be difficult to block. Stopping the running game starts with him up front.

“Nate has a chance to be one of the best defensive players of the season in the conference. We expect him to be a very, very good defensive end.”

Also doubling as defensive linemen and competing for playing time will be Robinson, McCullough and Bankston.

Doubling at linebacker will be Gromley, Hopkins, Cowley and Dixon. Other linebackers that could be in the mix will be Schwartz, junior Aiden Long and sophomore Nick Cuva.

“We don’t have a senior in the group,” said Hay. “Carson started last year as a sophomore, so we’re excited to watch him progress. The group is young, eager and hungry. Going forward, they could be the strength of our team a year from now. We want to see them really have a big year developing, flying around and being very aggressive.”

In the defensive backfield, the cornerbacks will be Dexter and sophomore Gino Spano. Manning the safety position will be a mix of Phelps, Thomas and senior Sam Taylor.

“We expect our defensive backs to be much improved over last year,” Hay said. “We’re going to be young, but this is their second year in the system, so we expect them to be better. We need to be more aggressive than last year and get more interceptions. We think the group has a chance to be a pretty good unit for us.”

Senior Reece Parry will be the kicker and punter.

“Reece tore his ACL last year, but he’s rehabbed from surgery like crazy, and he’s back 100 percent,” said Hay. “He’s had a very good summer kicking the football. He’s worked very hard. We expect his field goal percentage to be very, very high this year.”

The team captains will be Zehner, Caffelle, Zander, Amato and Hurst.

Hay is especially proud of all of his players in how they have dealt with the COVID-19 virus.

“During this obviously strange year, our kids have been very focused. We’ve acclimated well,” he said. “We’re very, very excited to have the opportunity to go out there and show the work we’ve put in this offseason.

“We’re trying to change the culture here. We may be overlooked by some teams, but we’re going to come out fighting and get better week to week.”

Tallmadge is scheduled to open the season at Green Sept. 4 at 7 p.m.