Monroe Central bids to rebound

By RICK THORP

Times Leader Sports Writer

WOODSFIELD — The story of the 2016 Monroe Central football team can best be told using one number — 40.7.

That’s the average number of points allowed by the Seminoles in each of their nine losses a year ago.

When you figure in their one victory — a 37-0 pasting of Frontier — that figure drops to 36.7. Still, it was too much for the team’s long-time coach.

”The biggest thing was we couldn’t stop anyone defensively, especially against the run,” veteran Monroe Central head coach Jay Circosta said this month from his office inside the fieldhouse that bears his name.

”That’s going to be a big challenge this year. Last year, I thought we could generate some points at times, and we moved the ball offensively. But we just couldn’t stop anyone.

”That’s the worst season we’ve had in all the time I’ve been here.”

And that’s a lot of time. In fact, when the Seminoles race onto the field at home Friday night against Union Local, Circosta will begin his 50th season combined with Monroe Central/Woodsfield as a head and assistant coach.

Forty-six of those seasons have been spent as head coach, with those years split evenly between his tenures at Woodsfield and Monroe Central.

Circosta, who entered the Ohio High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 2006, sports 330 victories. He’s one of just a handful of Buckeye State grid bosses to have surpassed the 300-victory mark.

Included on Circosta’s resume are 14 playoff appearances, the latest coming in 2014, the last in a string of five in six years.

If the Seminoles are going to return to the postseason this fall (Monroe Central has dropped to Division VII, Region 27), they’ll need the defense to step up, the offense to pick up a lot of experience and, most importantly, stay healthy.

”Health and injuries are huge,” said Circosta, who has 26 players on his roster, two more than last fall.

Numbers have been down in recent years for Circosta, but the veteran mentor has withstood that challenge by getting every ounce of talent out of every player. If there’s a player in uniform, he’s usually asked to contribute –and the sum of those contributions has, at least in those playoff years, resulted in success.

Circosta knows many factors contribute to that success — health of the team, experience of the players and that of Monroe Central’s opponents. Last year, the Seminoles faced a rugged slate, anchored by a handful of postseason participants.

”I felt we played a really tough schedule,” he said. ”When you look at all the teams, most were in the playoffs.”

Monroe Central’s 2017 slate mirrors its 2016 one with one exception — a road trip to West Muskingum replaces Buckeye Trail in Week 10. The Warriors left the Pioneer Athletic Conference to join the Inter Valley Conference.

”We prefer to play 10 OVAC teams,” Circosta, The Associated Press’ Division VI Coach of the Year in 2014, said. ”This year’s schedule will still be challenging. Sometimes, you can be pretty decent yourself, but if you play a tough schedule you might end up mediocre record-wise. Then, sometimes you can be not so good, but play a schedule that’s not so tough and you might have a little bit better record. It depends on your competition.”

Following its opener, Monroe Central welcomes Shadyside in Week 2. The Seminoles hit the road in Weeks 3 and 4, visiting River and Caldwell, respectively. From there, Circosta’s charges rotate home and road games to finish the season — Fort Frye, at Magnolia, Shenandoah, at Barnesville, Frontier, at West Muskingum.

The Seminoles played one of its best games in the year in Week 10 at home vs. Buckeye Trail last year and Circosta hopes the momentum garnered in that game, even though it was a 34-30 loss, carries over to this season.

For the first time in three years, someone other than Jarett Hooper will be taking snaps for Monroe Central.

Hooper was thrust into the quarterback role as a sophomore in 2014 after spending the first few games as a wide out and quickly enjoyed success. He led the Seminoles to the playoffs where Monroe Central travelled to Grandview Heights, only to watch the Bobcats rally for a 31-29 victory.

Last year, Hooper threw for more than 1,000 yards for the third straight year despite playing through a shoulder injury he had surgery on following the season.

Moving over from wide out to replace him is senior Ryan LaFollette (5-11, 175), one of five two-time letterwinners on the squad.

Last year, LaFollette made his presence felt catching balls from Hooper. This year, Circosta is banking on his passing skills to bolster an offense that’s inexperienced at the skill spots.

”This biggest key for us is in the skill positions,” Circosta said. ”You hate to take a kid that caught 42 balls for 600 some yards last year. But if you don’t have anyone to throw to him…”

While Hooper and LaFollette have differences, what’s similar is that, Circosta said LaFollette is a ”very good athlete.”

”He can throw the football. He has an arm. He can throw the ball 70 yards. We’re not worried about that.

”But what he has to learn is the footwork and the steps and putting the ball where it needs to be. That kind of thing. And the short and intermediate game, because we don’t go long that much.

”If he can do those things and grow that way, I think he’ll be fine. He’ll give you everything he’s got.”

Also listed as a quarterback on the roster is freshman Cole McCammon (5-8, 140).

Changes are also in store for the receiving corps thanks to the graduations of Trey Duffy and Bobby O’Donnell. Duffy caught 19 balls for 196 yards and two scores last fall, while O’Donnell finished with 27 receptions for 377 and a score.

And with LaFollette’s production gone, too, that leaves the door open for others to replace those catches.

Among those Circosta is counting on to fill the void are seniors Dalton Dick (5-11, 150) and two-time letterwinner Cooper Rush (5-10, 150), along with sophomore Wyatt Young (5-9, 150).

Circosta is also excited by the receiving prospects of newcomer Zac Jones (6-4, 170), brother of former linebacking standout Mike Jones.

”I’m really pleased with what he’s done thus far as far as preseason stuff is concerned,” Circosta said.

McCammon is also listed as a receiver on the roster, along with classmates Brian Meade (5-7, 130) and Levi Milam (5-10, 160).

Monroe Central has long had a tradition of boasting rugged runners. This year, it has the versatile O’Donnell back in the fold. In addition to his production from his receiver spot last year, he also carried the ball 78 times for a team-leading 415 yards.

Junior Joey Wise (5-9, 145), a two-time letterwinner, returns, as does senior Cole McLaughlin (5-8, 155).

Others listed as RBs on the depth chart include: senior Robert Bigler (5-10, 155), a basketball player in his first year on the gridiron, sophomores Gabe Bunning (5-56, 135) and Jagger Keylor (5-10, 185), freshmen Cole Warren (5-6, 115) and Alex Kilburn (5-10, 200), and junior Cameron Williamson, a move-in from Louisiana.

”I think he’s going to help us,” Circosta said. ”I think he can help us a little bit on both sides of the ball.”

If there’s an area offensively Circosta feels somewhat certain about it’s the offensive line.

”We have several there that are back,” he said.

”Now, hopefully, the experience they got last year will lead to good things as far as this year is concerned.”

Lost to graduation from that unit were Matt Deskins, Garett Leonard and Ryan Reich. Reich missed all of last season after undergoing ACL surgery.

Tackles back in the mix this season include seniors Jay Brinson (6-4, 245), Lukas Rose (5-11, 236) and double letterwinner Alex Webb (6-0, 296), along with junior Logan Biedenbach (5-11, 254).

Senior Brendon Wilson (6-2, 173), another two-time letterwinner, returns at guard.

Other linemen vying for playing time include: juniors Ian Rouse (5-11, 232) and Owen Hartshorn (5-10, 216), sophomores Conner Stimpert (5-9, 200) and Dakota Cochran (5-10, 286), and freshman Garet Cramer (5-11, 256).

”When you look down through the roster you’ll see we have some pretty good size along our lines,” Circosta said.

All of those players eyed for spots on the offensive line will be in line for time along the defensive front, too.

Keylor, Rouse, Wilson and Jones are listed as ends on the depth chart, while Rose, Stimpert, Hartshorn, Biedenbach, Cochran, Cramer and Webb will battle it out for time at tackle.

Circosta is high on Williamson at linebacker, along with McLaughlin and Dick. Others in the mix there are: Milam and Kilburn.

As camp progressed, Circosta was eager to see how things ”shaked out” in the secondary.

”We’d like to play (LaFollette) at safety to give him a little more freedom in the secondary to kind of cover things,” he said. ”It depends on what we’re looking at our corners to do. Ryan played corner last year.”

Bigler and Bunning are also in the running at safety.

Players in the mix at corner include: Wise, McCammon, Young, Warren, Meade and Rush.

In addition to playing quarterback, LaFollette will likely handle the kickoff and placekicking duties.

”Last year, we went for two and had a pretty good percentage,” Circosta noted.

Jones and LaFollette are vying for the punting job.

”You hope your defense can carry you, and we’ve always been strong defensively in the past,” Circosta said.

”That will help tremendously until the offense comes along. And maybe it’ll come along sooner than I think.”

Circosta is assisted by Josh Ischy, John Ischy, Jon Perkins, John Speelman and Bill Fox.

(all games begin at 7 p.m.)

Aug. 25 — Union Local

Sept. 1 — Shadyside

Sept. 8 — at River

Sept. 15 — at Caldwell

Sept. 22 — Fort Frye

Sept. 29 — at Magnolia

Oct. 6 — Shenandoah

Oct. 13 — at Barnesville

Oct. 20 — Frontier

Oct. 27 — at West Musk.

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