Depth a Concern for Daley, Steubenville Catholic
By ED LOOMAN
STEUBENVILLE — Steve Daley isn’t exactly stuck between a rock and a hard place as he gets his Steubenville Catholic Central football team ready for the 2018 season, but he is pretty darn close.
With a boatload of starters back on both sides of the ball, the veteran coach is optimistic about the upcoming campaign. Given the program’s ongoing issues with numbers and depth, however, Daley also realizes he and his staff “have to be smart and keep our fingers crossed.”
“We have 30 players on the roster and not much depth in certain areas,” said Daley, who is entering his eighth season at the helm. “We do have depth at the skilled positions on offense, but when you break things apart and look at our defense, we are a little thin at certain spots.
“So as a coaching staff, we have to be smart about how we do things and that’s something we are used to around here. We need to be smart, keep our fingers crossed and hope we can keep these kids healthy throughout the season. If that happens, we have a chance to be OK.”
A Central graduate, Daley has guided the Crusaders to six straight seasons of .500 or better. His 2017 club went 7-4 and qualified for the Ohio Division VI playoffs, dropping a heartbreaking 44-40 verdict to Chillicothe Southeastern in the opening round.
Gone from that club via graduation are Vince Oliver Jr., now playing at the University of Pennsylvania, Levi Thompson, who has moved on to Ohio Dominican, Kevin Cuervo, who is looking to play at Capital University, Amin Butler, Jah Sawyer, David Miller and Geno DiBiase, the squad’s leading receiver in 2017. Craig Smith, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards as junior, is no longer a student at the school.
Leading the returnees on offense is speedy senior quarterback Justin Hartzell, who’s entering his third season at the position. In two campaigns, Hartzell has passed for more than 2,220 yards and run for more than 1,400. He threw for 17 scores in 2017 and ran for 10 more.
“He has worked hard in the offseason to improve on the things he needed to improve on,” Daley said. “He was fully aware of what those things were and where he needed to improve.
“We are expecting another big year out of him. You can tell he is totally comfortable in his role as far as being the leader of our offensive unit.”
Returning as key receivers out of the slot are seniors Anthony Fallon, who was second on the team in receptions last year, and Noah Fayak. Both missed considerable time in 2017 with injuries.
Split end candidates are senior Matt Kilonsky, junior Anthony Lefever, who will also back up Hartzell, junior Anthony Sprochi and sophomore Jarred Roberts.
Senior Dom Argentine and sophomore Vinnie Marcino are competing to replace Thompson as the H-Back, while junior Cole Maragos is the top tight end candidate.
In the mix to take over for Smith at running back are junior Jayden Keeder, junior Anthony Simmons, senior Matt Bell and junior Jeffrey Dawson.
“Skill-wise, we have a lot of different guys who bring different things to the table,” Daley said. “Offensively, we’ll have a different look this year. Last season, our run game was dominated by Justin, Craig and Levi. We have to replace two guys who accumulated a lot of yardage and scored a lot of points, but we hope to do the same thing, just with a different cast.
“You’re not going to see the same two guys carrying the football all the time. We have a lot of depth there, and our plan is to really mix it up.”
Up front, Central returns three starters led by big men Jordan Maul and Jacob Stoll, both seniors. They will man the guard spots.
Senior Alec Constantini, who started at center in 2017, has shifted to tackle and will be joined by fellow senior Austin O’Kruta, who didn’t suit up as a junior but played his freshman and sophomore years. Junior Indy Marcino is penciled in as the center. Junior Alex Ialenti will serve as a backup to the offensive line starters.
“It’s a real strength to have three returning starters on the line along with a kid like O’Kruta who missed last year, but knows what is expected of him,” Daley said. “Jordan and Jake have really taken the lead during the offseason, and Alex is right there with them.
“We have good size and are very experienced. With this type of line, we expect to be able to do the same things offensively that we did last year. I’m really excited about having the three starters back, and I expect big things from them.”
Stoll and Maul will also anchor the defensive line and will be joined by Maragos, Constantini and Indy Marcino. Stoll had 57 tackles a season ago and four sacks, while Maul was in on 44 stops.
Bell, Argentine and Ialenti started at linebacker in 2017 and will get support from Simmons, Vinnie Marcino and Keeder. Bell led Central last season with 86 tackles (34 solo). Argentine recorded 68 tackles, 28 of the solo variety.
Fallon, Kilonsky and Fayak are returning starters in the secondary. Lefever was a part-time starter, as was Dawson.
“I think we have a good mix on defense,” Daley said. “Given our returning starters, we have experience at each level of the defense. Hopefully, these guys have learned what we need to improve on and will focus on that as we move forward.”
After taking a year off, Jeff Clark will return to Daley’s staff to serve as defensive coordinator.
Bell will handle the punting duties for Central with Simmons serving as the long snapper. Roberts will take care of all the kicking duties after having a successful freshman season.
Central’s roster features 10 seniors, 12 juniors, two sophomores and five freshmen.
“We have a veteran team, and we like where we are right now,” Daley said. “This is a really, really good group to work with. Not only are they a talented group athletically, but they are also a very tight group. I really like our team chemistry.
“Our seniors are doing a great job of leading the younger guys and bringing them along. We have some very raw, younger guys with little or no experience, and our older guys have actually been acting like coaches on the field. It’s just a real nice group to work with. They know what is expected and really pushed themselves throughout the offseason and, so far, through our summer camp.”
Central will open its season by renewing its rivalry with Toronto. Due to Toronto’s move to the Eastern Ohio Athletic Conference, the Crusaders and the Red Knights did not meet in 2017. The rivals have played 44 times in the past with Central holding a 30-13-1 series lead. Toronto has won three of the last four meetings.
The 2018 schedule features two new opponents in Southern Local and Huron Heights from Newmarket, Ontario. The Indians will visit Harding Stadium on Sept. 8 with the Warriors coming to town Oct. 13.
“We have a very challenging schedule,” Daley said. “It’s going to be different opening with Toronto. That game has moved around through the years, but I don’t recall us ever opening with them. They have a new coach, they’re excited about things and they have very loyal fans. Their fans will be there in numbers and, hopefully, our fans will come out and support us. I’m sure the stadium is going to be packed.
“Oak Glen will be much better and Southern is tough. Edison will be improved and Warren JFK is JFK, they just reload. Barnesville will also be much improved, and Wheeling Central is the defending West Virginia champion. We know the Canadian team has been very successful, then we close out with our annual rivalry game against Madonna and Fort Frye, which dominated us last year and has everyone back. There are no breaks in our schedule.”
Central will remain in Division VI this season but will move from Region 23 to Region 21. Central’s adjusted enrollment figures of 116 make it the smallest school in the region. Teams of note in Region 21 are Kirtland, Mogadore, Garaway, Columbiana and Berlin Center Western Reserve.