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New-look Pirates to host Warriors in grid opener
New-look Pirates to host Warriors in grid openerBy Jim Horvath

Last Friday, a young Rocky River football team made the plays when they had to at the end in a 19-14 win over visiting Valley Forge.

It was just a scrimmage, but Pirates head coach Rick Adams had plenty of things to mull over in preparation for this Friday’s season opener with Fairview.

With 26 players leaving the program via graduation, Adams and his staff have numerous holes to fill for 2011. The most notable one will be at quarterback, with former standout Robbie Plagens now in the Miami University training camp down in Oxford.

River has 15 seniors returning, including running back and outside linebacker Andreas Tjotjos. Senior fullbacks Nick Lima and Brennan Koklauner; tight ends Klinti Gjino and Brian Thorn; and wide receivers Jarrod Tallman, Brennan Baltusnik and Andrew Goecke. They will provide some experience at the skilled positions.

But who will be the quarterback? The job of replacing Plagens goes to 6-1 junior Austin Kelly.

“We wanted to see how Austin was going to step up as far as being our quarterback, taking the snaps under center and taking Robbie’s place,” Adams said. “I thought he did a really good job today.

“His growth from last week in our first scrimmage to today was tremendous,” he said.

With some preseason injuries, however, overall depth has been a concern, Adams said. With a smaller sophomore class, the River squad is down to 55 players this season. Still, Adams feels there will be a way to keep too many players from playing on both sides of the ball.

“We’ve had some guys who have been banged up a bit, so we wanted to see how they played today,” Adams said. “Our goal coming in was to have as many one-way guys as possible

“The big thing for us will be our health. We’ve had 16 kids out during the preseason, and some of those guys are coming back. That hopefully will help with our depth. For example, we wanted to see how Andreas played and if he’d be able to go both ways. We’re trying to get him off the field as much as possible to keep him fresh, but he had some big runs for us. On our line, Conor Milner hasn’t practiced a lot, but he was able to get a series in there,” Adams said.

The Pirate defense got a good test at the end of the scrimmage when the Patriots drove inside the Pirate 30 yard line. But junior linebacker Michael Dickey nailed a Valley Forge running back and caused a fumble, with senior defensive end Eric Oster falling on the loose ball to end the threat.

Other River seniors who will need to contribute this season include linemen Milner, Elvis Tako, Patrick Gallagher, Kenny Lochner, Matt Merhige and Max Sawyer.

“Getting ready for Fairview, we’re looking for more consistency,” Adams said. “We’ve got so many guys out here who are going through their first varsity experience under a game-like situation.

“It’ll be interesting to see how they respond and grow into next week when it really counts,” he added.

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