Story by John Blake
Photos by Larry Bennet
Rocky River finished the 2013 football season under .500, but head coach Rick Adams has high hopes heading into this fall.
The Pirates are coming off a campaign in which they were 4-6 overall and 2-4 in the West Shore Conference. With a lot of experience returning to this year's squad, Adams has his sights set on playing late in the year and ending the Pirates' five-year playoff drought.
"Our motto this year is 'one goal,' which means to be playing in Columbus in December," said Adams, referring to the location of the state championships.
Adams is entering his seventh season as head coach of the Pirates and has compiled an 80-63 record in that span. "If we stay healthy we will be at the top of the conference and playing into November," he said.
Depth is admittedly a concern for the Rocky River coach, but Adams will have plenty of starting talent at his disposal. The Pirates boast 12 returning starters and 18 returning letter winners, all experienced upperclassmen.
Two of those starters are expected to challenge for MVP of the conference.
Senior quarterback Matt Lowry (5-8, 175 pounds) and wide receiver/defensive back Patrick Connors (5-10, 160), are both first-team All-Ohio selections. They'll look to provide one of the area's most dynamic pass and catch duo while fueling the Pirates' spread offense.
Lowry recorded 3,147 total yards and 43 touchdowns, and Connors had 16 touchdowns and 1,085 receiving yards.
Scoring points wasn't a problem last year as the Pirates put up an average of 38.5 points per week. A big reason for that was Lowry, who Adams calls "the best player in the conference."
"Everybody will be gunning for him," continued Adams. "He is worth the price of admission. And he's a great kid."
Adams said Connors has "great speed and excellent route running. We're expecting a huge year from him."
Other returning starters include senior center/defensive tackle Cam Kysela (6-0, 280), senior wide receiver/defensive back Cam Heider (5-9, 160), senior running back/linebacker Jimi Smith (5-8, 190), senior running back/outside linebacker Travis Smith (5-9, 185), senior linebacker Nick Rodgers (5-10, 185), junior guard/defensive tackle Muji Hakizimana (6-0, 280), junior wide receiver, free safety Even Nugent (6-1, 175), junior wide receiver/strong safety Eric Jones (6-0, 180), junior offensive tackle/defensive tackle Collin Shirley (6-0, 240) and junior offensive tackle/linebacker Dane Shirley (6-0, 225).
Smith is coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season and Nugent and Jones are drawing some high praise from Adams.
"The most solid player we have," Adams said of Jones. "He can play multiple positions."
The Rocky River coach is also predicting a big year from Nugent. "It was a breakout year for him," he says. "He's got great size and speed at wide receiver."
The Pirate 3-4 defense could still be a work in progress, coming off a season in which they allowed an average of nearly 40 points per game.
A number of other returning letter winners will be battling for spots and hope to have an impact his season. That group includes senior defensive end David Cox (6-0, 190), senior tight end, defensive end Steve Pappadakes (6-2, 230), senior guard/defensive tackle Rei Basho (5-10, 200) and senior guard/defensive tackle Brandon Bouchaya (6-3, 270).
Juniors in that group area running back/linebacker Corey Horvath (5-11, 185) and wide receiver/free safety Brian Lowry (5-7, 140).
Adams tabbed Avon as the early favorite to win the conference and North Ridgeville running back Demario McCall as a player to watch. Avon is coming off its fourth straight WSC title, finishing 6-0 in the conference and 12-1 overall in 2013.
"Our team worked hard and we got a lot accomplished in the offseason," Adams said. "We need to focus on the end result, not individual stats. We put up great numbers last year, but went 4-6.
"We need to keep our eyes on the prize," he added.
The Pirates open the 2014 season Thursday, Aug. 28 at Fairview. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Rocky River fell to the Warriors, 38-26, in the two teams' season debut a year ago.
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