Story by Brad Bournival
Photos by Larry Bennet
It's hard to keep a good man down.
Avon Lake's Dave Dlugosz was content last season as an assistant coach on Avon Lake's football team after a 21-year stint as head coach with the Shoremen.
Then Larry Laird left for Strongsville, and the head coaching position came open again. A coach who led Avon Lake to 17 Southwestern Conference titles, Dlugosz couldn't say no.
Now he's back leading a team ready to pick up where it left off after yet another playoff appearance in 2013.
"I was getting comfortable with not having to do the paperwork and worrying about eligibility," Dlugosz said. "That part was never any fun, but I love being around kids. I love the coaching staff. We've not only been coaches for a long time, we've been friends.
"I've been fortunate to come to a job I not only love, but to come and do it with my friends. How many people would trade spots for a job like that?"
Not many schools can say they've had a coach that has done what Dlugosz has for the Shoremen. The program is 200-44 under the legend and owns a state championship (2003) and state runner-up (2004) under his tutelage.
That's why the transition back to a Dlugosz-led team has been seamless. Add former Midview coach Bill Albright at offensive coordinator and the Shoremen have countless go-to plays.
Coming out of the power spread most of the time, Avon Lake will look to returning starters Jeremiah Campo (6-foot, 185 pounds) at quarterback and Anthony Thielman (5-9, 195) at running back.
Both seniors, Thielman gained 200 yards a year ago, while Campo had spot duty behind David Winkel. A transformed wide receiver, Campo played quarterback against Highland in the Shoremen's playoff loss, throwing for 161 yards and rushing for 135 more.
"What you look for in a quarterback is leadership and he's got that," Dlugosz said. "Plus, he's got maturity and confidence.'
Where Avon Lake needs to mature, and fast, is across the front.
While the offensive line is all seniors, only Matt Pechaitis (6-2, 265) returns at left tackle. He'll be joined by left guard Nick Horton (6-3, 235), center Bryce Crawford (6-2, 295), right guard Connor Gorman (6-0, 230) and right tackle Roman Wearsch (6-3, 240).
If players like senior wide receiver Quinn Cantleberry (6-2, 195), junior wideout Kenny Schneider (6-0, 180), senior tight end Danny Disbrow (6-1, 215) and senior running back Brian Sharpe (5-10, 180) succeed, it'll be because of the hog mollies up front.
"The heart and soul of any team is the offensive line," Dlugosz said. "You can have all the fluff you'd like, but without the guys up front, you can't do the job.
"Even though they're all seniors, there's only one starter coming back. That's where we need to mature. With the schedule we have, we have to mature very, very quickly. I'd like to come in with a veteran line.
"They're maturing, but they're not there yet," he said.
Avon Lake's most experienced position comes at linebacker where outside backer Disbrow (54 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, defensive touchdown) joins junior inside linebacker Sam Klimkowski (6-1, 230, 35 tackles) and inside linebacker Thielman (40 tackles).
Add Pechaitis (33 tackles) as a returner at defensive end, and run defense should be strong for Avon Lake.
"Because of the fact we're not as big as we were in the past, we have a little more movement up front," Dlugosz said.
"We've always been that stick-you-in-the-face type defense. Now we're going to be a see-who-the-quicker-man-is defense. Hopefully, we'll transition fast," he said.
Senior David Craver (6-2, 230) will man the other defensive end spot with junior Nate Samuel (6-1, 195) at nose guard. Either junior Connor Gerlach (5-11, 190), Schneider or Cantleberry will take over the other outside linebacker spot.
The secondary will all be green with senior Tony Mango (5-7, 175) and junior Cole Schmidt (5-10, 180) manning the cornerback spots. Junior Holden Ohm (5-10, 185) and sophomore Carson Toy (6-0, 185) take over at safety.
Despite the fact the squad has only eight returning starters and 12 returning letter winners, the Shoremen are ready to write the next chapter in an already-loaded book.
"The way we have our program set up is for the younger kids to learn from the older kids," Dlugosz said "We don't worry about hazing or putting people down. They're all our younger brothers.
"We're looking forward to them maturing and becoming Shoremen," he concluded.
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