Story by Matt Lofgren
Photos by Larry Bennet
As Week One of the high school football season draws closer, new head coach Larry Laird and the Avon Lake Shoremen have spent their August finding the players that will get them back into the state playoffs.
After a disappointing and early exit from last season's playoffs with a 28-0 loss to eventual state runner-ups Toledo Whitmer, the Shoremen are bringing back a host of different players as Avon Lake makes a return to Division II.
With returners at almost every offensive skill position and durable players returning to the Shoremen defense, Avon Lake is poised for another run at the Southwestern Conference crown with quarterback David Winkel leading the way.
Winkel was a crucial piece to Avon Lake's offense last season as junior. With a year of experience under his belt, Winkel (6-0, 180) will look to build on a season where he racked up over 1,700 passing with 22 touchdowns.
"He has looked not too bad, considering we haven't let him do too much," Laird joked. "In scrimmages, we don't want the quarterback beat up, and we don't want our backs getting beat up either. But we've got to develop the offensive line for our running game and that's what we've been working on."
Perhaps the most alarming part of Winkel's game has yet to be utilized as his off-season work outs paid off on combine day. Winkel ran an official 4.4 second 40 yard dash to become the fastest Shoreman on the field.
Behind Winkel, the Shoremen are powered by two-time letter winner Wyatt Ohm (5-9, 185) at the running back position. Ohm busted on to the scene early and often last season as he led his team in rushing with over 1,000 yards on the ground.
Stepping his game up this offseason, junior Tony Mango (5-8, 170) impressed coaches in camp enough to be named the number two back.
Ohm and Mango will be getting back their favorite blocker this season in another two year letter winner in Collin Lucas (6-1, 230).
Lucas, who has an offer from Kent State University, had racked up over 700 yards and 15 touchdowns by Week Six. But his season was cut short due to a high ankle strain against Berea.
A two-way starter and son of the defensive backs coach Marty Lucas, he also made an impact at linebacker in the Avon Lake 3-4 scheme, along with some talented other players.
Two guys Laird won't have to worry much about are seniors Ben Oxley (6-6, 280) - committed to Northwestern for tight end/defensive end- and Kyle Kuhar (6-5, 275), committed to Ohio University for tight end/defensive end. Laird talked about the size and ability of each player, but also their willingness to be coached on being even better.
"We pull them aside sometimes after we grind them up about something,” he said. “We tell them this is just a taste of what you're going to get at the next level, so you might as well get used to it.
"And they appreciate that. Kids won't listen until they know you care and that's true in the classroom, and it's no different on the football field."
Kuhar and Oxley will also be big targets for Winkel at the tight end position.
Laird and the Avon Lake defense will also count on senior Al Pivcevich (6-0, 260) to eat up blocks at the defensive tackle position. A two-year starter, Laird said Pivcevich is the strongest player on his roster.
Two big names coming back for the Shoremen who will be hawking over the middle of the field are Jeremiah Campo (5-10, 185) and Max Seipel (6-1, 205) at the safety positions. Seipel will bring in his two seasons of experience for his senior year, while Campo offers his play up after earning his letter last season.
A week still remains before the big showdown to kickoff the 2013 high school football season and a lot is still happening for the Shoremen in that time frame. Taking the necessary steps to prepare, Laird said that with his players having a lot of game experience, the stress on this preseason has been finding depth at each position.
He also wants to find the players who will give it their all for the team, he said.
"I think we've got our offensive and defensive line really going in the right direction. That's what our goal was going into the scrimmages," Laird said. "We've started to develop depth. Going into the season, I thought it was one of our weaknesses, now I think it could be one of our strengths."
Avon Lake has a hefty schedule this season with powerhouses like Avon on Aug. 29, North Canton Hoover on Sept. 13, the newly formed Berea-Midpark High School at home on Sept. 27 and Brecksville on Oct. 11.
"Honestly, we believe the Southwestern Conference runs through Avon Lake, and we plan on having that continue," Laird said. "Berea and Midpark combining, that's a whole different animal. It's going to be interesting to see how they develop. If they can gel, they could be a special program."
(You can follow Matt Lofgren on Twitter @MLofgrenDKS)