Story by Jim Horvath
Photos by Larry Bennet
Last year, the Lakewood football team experienced a learning curve in its first year in the West Shore Conference. In 2013, the Rangers have made some adjustments and are looking to move up the league ladder.
“We made some changes from last season,” said Ron Lews, who begins his sixth season as the Rangers’ head coach.
“We’ve got three new coaches on staff, including our defensive coordinator,” Lewis said. “We’ve got a new defensive scheme, with more of a 4-2 look up front. We feel like we have to play a scheme that takes dvantage of what our kids can do.
“Offensively, we’ll look a little bit different too. We’ll go more to that shotgun look with our tailback behind the quarterback. That’s due a lot to what we learned when we broke down the film. Most of our big runs were between the tackles,” he said.
And it just so happens that he player providing those big runs returns. Casimier Mitchell, a 5-10 205 junior running back, rushed for 1,197 yards as a sophomore on 192 carries for a 6.2 yards per carry average. Mitchell scored eight touchdowns for the Rangers last year and will be the focal point of the offense this season, according to Lewis.
“For all of the things he does well, Casimier doesn’t have blazing speed,” he said. He’s not the guy you’re going to pitch the ball to and have him run outside.
“Casimier is not a 4.4 guy, but he’s got good speed and quickness. He’s up to 205 pounds now, where last year he played at 185. He had a great off season in the weight room. His thing is the spin move he has, and that he’s tough to bring down. He had a good practice against Valley Forge, and in our scrimmage against Westlake he broke off two runs over 30 yards.
“We don’t keep statistics in scrimmages, but I would say he ran for over 100 yards in about 10 carries. So the thing for us to do is get him the ball with a sound blocking scheme and let him do what he does,” Lewis added.
Running the offense will be junior Peyton Graham (6-0, 190) whose father Ed Graham quarterbacked the Rangers in the mid 1980s. Two of his favorite targets will be senior tight end Aaron Morit (6-4, 215) and senior wide receiver Anthony Ferrone (5010, 170), who accounted for nearly 200 yards of offense as a junior.
“Peyton has done a great job of taking command in terms of organizing off-season stuff with the guys,” Lewis said. “He’s done a good job. If anything with Peyton, it’s a matter of slowing him down. He loves football, and he has a great mind for it.
“I had surgery in the off-season, and I told him I was going to be off for a couple of days. He brings me this giant, 3-ring binder. It was Texas Tech’s offense...he had made a copy of it. He said ‘here, I thought you might like some reading material while you’re out.’ So he’s one of those guys that is constantly thinking football,” Lewis said.
Up front, Graham will have veterans Alex Wemyss (6-3, 245, senior left tackle), Matt Schultz (6-2, 285 junior right tackle) and Justin Yocabet (5-10, 250 senior center/guard) anchoring the line. Defensively, Lakewood returns seniors Matt Sestina (6-0, 200, linebacker), Maleke Norton (6-1, 190 safety) and Sobhi Awadallah (5-9, 260 lineman), who missed last season due to injury. Junior lineman James Kidd (5-8, 275) also retuns.
Lewis, whose team went 4-6 last year, said his returning lettermen have done a solid job of bringing the rest of the team together.
“I think our players really made a commitment to what we were doing in the weight room this off-season,” Lewis. “They also did a lot of things by themselves, like organizing Friday night running in the spring. We did a number of team-building things that were organized, but they did a lot of other things on their own as well.
“I think they bought into this whole mentality that you’ve got to be close in order to be successful. You need a couple of seniors to set the tone, and everybody else follow from there,” he said.
One of the realists of that eldership and extra work, according to Lewis, is more physical team. He said that showed in their preseason scrimmage with Westlake.
“Last year, Westlake came out here and was really physical with us, and we didn’t respond,” he said. “This time, they came over and had a nice first drive, and we responded. They have a big, strong physical offense line, and we were physical right back.
“Last year, there were times where we had opportunities to take over the game, didn’t do it and wound up losing. I think our kids learned from that, and I would be surprised if that happened again.
“I’m not saying we’re going to win every game, but I think our players are going to recognize those situations. When the time comes to mke a play, I think we’re going to do it,” he added.
Lakewood also amped up its schedule with the addition of Parma as its regular season opener this Friday night at First Federal Lakewood Stadium. Lewis also has this assessment of the WSC slate.
“I think it starts with Avon,” he said. “They have a great thing going out there. Midview, as long as they have their quarterback, is always going to be dangerous. Elyria Catholic’s numbers aren’t going to be great, but the 11 guys they put on the field are going to be good players. They have a lot of good skilled players. I think it’s going to start with those three teams.
“We’ve got to realize that from Week One, we’re going to be tested. It all starts Friday when we face a good Parma team. They’re physical, and it won’t be the 49-0, 49-7 game we’ve been used to the past few years,” he added.
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