WINTERSVILLE — Youth is definitely being served at Indian Creek this fall.
Andrew Connor embarks on his 19th season as head coach of the Redskins’ grid program with a roster dominated by underclassmen. His 44-player squad is composed by some 20 freshmen.
Creek is coming off a pandemic ravaged 3-5 season. It ended an 11-year winning streak by Connor’s charges. During those 11 years, Connor guided his teams to seven OHSAA playoff berths and OVAC 5A titles in 2018 and 2019.
While COVID impacted all prep grid squads in varying fashions, it definitely had a very painful effect on Creek’s program, one whose successful foundation is built on family, camaraderie and community. All the pandemic-mandated health precautions and restrictions took the Redskins out of their usual comfort zone.
“Last year was tough on all schools. But I feel it really it took away a lot of things that are key to our program,” Connor offered. “We lost all the team bonding things we are used to. Everything was geared to avoiding the spread of COVID within our team, school and community.
“We could have played a couple more meaningless games at the end of the season. But that would have not been fair to our basketball and wrestling programs by risking injuries,” added the coach. “I am proud of how well our players, coaches and administration handled the situation last year.”
Coach Andrew Connor discusses the upcoming campaign
Connor enters the 2021 campaign optimistic and upbeat despite his team’s extreme youth. The huge freshman class is provided leadership and experience from nine seniors to go with eight juniors and seven sophomores.
“The kids we have in our top three classes understand what it takes to win. It is a focused group,” Connor said. “I am optimistic. We don’t use being young as an excuse. We are looking forward to getting the season started.”
The Creek campaign kicks off Friday at Cambridge. The Redskins and Bobcats have scripted a spirited and evenly balanced series over recent years.
The Redskins’ 2021 schedule is composed of 10 OVAC schools.
The Creek offense will be ground-oriented as it welcomes back a veteran and talented offensive line while breaking in a new quarterback.
Four candidates are in the quarterback hunt with senior letter-winner Eli Powell (6-0, 180) the frontrunner. Also in the quarterback mix are sophomore Paul Mazar (5-8, 140), classmate Zach Byard (5-10, 160) and freshman Mason Lester (5-10, 135).
The ball-toting corps is fueled by Cam Franke (5-9, 170). He is a dynamic three-year letter-winning senior.
When Franke needs a blow, Jadyn Irizarry (5-8, 180) will spell him in capable fashion. He is a two-year letter-winning senior.
Isaac Robinson (5-11, 160) will be the starting wingback. He is a rising junior letterman. His main support will come from junior letter-winner CJ Spencer (5-10, 155).
The tight end post is in the capable hands of Bryson Bodo (6-0, 190). He is a junior letterman. Bodo is backed up by junior letter-winner Lucca Morelli (5-10, 185).
When the Redskins do go to the air they will have a big-play target in Sam Coleman (6-0, 160). The two-year letter-winning senior has blazing 4.4 speed to go with sure hands. Coleman is also serving as one of the team’s captains.
Mazar will also see regular duty if not needed at quarterback. Shane Lucey (5-9, 140) is another talented target. He is a two-year letter-winner and also a team captain.
Promising freshman Caleb Bodo (6-2, 190) will also see regular receiving reps.
Connor likes his offensive line, as well he should. It boasts nice size to go with battle-tested experience.
“Our offensive line is a definite strength,” Connor said. “We have three starters back and several others with game experience.”
Nathan Allen (5-11, 200) is the hub, holding down the center position. He is a letter-winning junior.
The starting guards are Gavin Dondzila (5-9, 225) and JJ Orlando (6-1, 265). Dondzila is a two-year letter-winning senior and a team captain. Orlando,a junior, is also a two-year letterman and a team captain.
Veteran senior Garrett Rawson (6-1, 300) is an anchor at one tackle. He is another Redskin captain. He will be joined at the other tackle by junior Chance Camp (6-0, 230). He is a two-year letter-winner.
That banner starting five has some solid backups. Providing quality depth are senior Joey Harding (6-1, 290), junior Zach Ford (5-11, 250) and rising sophomore Paul Gross (6-1, 220).
Junior Gavin Gross (5-11, 160) will handle the kicking placements.
Creek will return to its 4-3 defensive alignment.
Camp and Caleb Bodo are the front-runners at end. They will be backed by Allen and Paul Gross.
The Redskins are deep with defensive tackle talent. Thus, Connor will rotate four or five Redskins.
Dondzila, Rawson and Orlando are all veteran and feisty tackles. Harding and Ford will also see time.
Franke will anchor the three-man linebacking crew. Bryson Bodo and Morelli will also be regulars with Irizarry filling in when needed.
Two freshmen also supply linebacking depth in Justin Vergona (5-8, 190) and Kaden Madden-Little (5-8, 190).
Cornerback is a position of strength with Coleman and Spencer holding forth. Mazar is the primary backup at corner.
Lucey and Robinson will man the safety slots with Powell in reserve.
“We have had a really good offseason – be it camp, lifting or 7 on 7s. We have focused on team building,” Connor said. “We have a good nucleus of starters back. Depth is a concern, but all schools probably say that.
“Offensively, we are going to be a run-dominant team. Defensively, we are a little inexperienced at end,” he added. “We believe in toughness, camaraderie and family. Last year, due to COVID, we could not stress that. Getting back to normal has really helped us.”
Creek staged pre-season scrimmages against Columbiana and Carrollton.
“Our opener against Cambridge will dictate a lot of how our season will play out,” Connor added. “I like our schedule. There a lot of games that can go either way.”
Connor is assisted by a superb staff, most of which he has coached. The varsity assistants are Joe Hammack, Joe Strohmeyer, David Kemp, Doug Karas, Mike Wilson Sr., Matt Cowser, Mike Wilson Jr., Justin Wilson, Sam Robinson and David Connor.
The junior high staff consists of Denny Cowser, Mike Conrad, Nick Dondzila and Greg Burrows.