Story by Matt Lofgren
Photos by Larry Bennet
It's no secret anymore: The Avon Eagles are the up and coming powerhouse in Northeast Ohio football under the direction of head coach Mike Elder.
With West Shore Conference titles and state playoff appearances becoming routine for the Purple and Gold, the 2013 Eagles will look to pickup where they left off last year. Avon fell just a couple of games away from another state title game, losing to Toledo Central Catholic in the Division II Region 6 championship game at Clyde.
But to become a perennial powerhouse in high school football, a coach needs to have a dedicated staff and a group of players who are willing to sacrifice time as well as putting forth their all. According to Elder, he has seen his student athletes take a three-month long season and turn it into a 12-month commitment.
"I always say a lot of things in life are getting easier, but football is not one of them," Elder said.
"Our players understand that I don't care if you're the best player on the team or the worst player on the team, you're held accountable academically, socially and athletically,” he said. “And I've got a bunch of coaches who are willing to put in the time year round.
“That's what it takes. There is really no offseason."
The 2013 Eagles will bring a different look than in years past with the graduation of several key players from last season moving on to play at the college level. After a couple of seasons employing a high-powered offense running the table, Elder said it will be the defense and its seven returning starters that will control the tempo of the game.
"Last year, obviously, we had another successful year,” Elder said. “We return seven starters on the defensive side of the ball, so going into our scrimmages we were hoping that our defense would be our strong point. Thus far, they have proven to be just that. That's the strength of our team."
Leading the tenacious front of the Eagles' men in the trenches will be returning starter and second team All-Ohio defensive end senior Domonic Bodnar (5-11, 230) and junior Chris Maxwell (6-2, 185).
Where Elder said he expects most of his defensive production to come from is from the linebacking core, where all five players he will use are coming back with big-game experience.
Quarterbacking the defense will be Kevin Maloney (6-2, 210), who Elder believes is a very special player.
"Kevin Maloney, who I think is a Division I athlete, doesn't have multiple offers yet, but he should. He's outstanding," Elder said of his senior outside linebacker.
Complimenting Maloney will be a combination of Cory Ohradzansky (5-9, 195), who led the Eagles in tackles last season, at inside linebacker and Ryan Steinmetz (5-10, 190), who will move from an outside linebacker to inside.
Both starting safeties from last season, Logan Juhl (5-10, 170) and Zach Torbert (6-2, 185), will return for their senior year as well to cover the deep middle.
Offensively, Avon is starting over at several key positions, but with young and promising players in Elder's eyes.
Senior Tommy Glenn finished out Avon's final playoff game last season after starter David Zeh was injured. He will take over the reigns of the offense, but will have close competition.
Glenn is being pushed by some competition behind him, said Elder. He went on to say “don't be surprised” if there is more than one quarterback seen on game day.
Supporting Glenn will be returning wide receivers and seniors Braeden Friss (5-10, 165) and Rhys Ratino (5-11, 170), who finished second and third in receiving last year for the Eagles.
It will be nearly impossible to replace Michigan recruit Ross Douglas at the running back position. But Elder said he is calling upon a backfield by committee to power the Eagles in the running game.
Protecting Avon's passing and rushing game will be 6-foot-7, 290-pound Walter Rauterkus, who will be continuing his football career next fall at West Virginia University. With his exceptional play last season, Elder said Rauterkus will move the Eagles up the field.
Having that kind of skill and power on both sides of the ball will put a big target on the Eagles’ collective backs this season.
Circled on the calendar by many opposing teams, Avon will have several key games, beginning at home with Avon Lake on Thursday night on regional television. The Eagles will also travel to Division I powerhouse Twinsburg on Sept. 12.
Also on the schedule is a home game against Elyria Catholic on Oct. 4, as well as a late non-conference game against future Southwestern Conference opponent Olmsted Falls on Oct. 25.
(You can follow Matt Lofgren on Twitter @MLofgrenDKS)