Area grid fans keeping a close eye on Magistro
As it pertains to what playoff games area fans will be paying the closest attention to tonight, it’s easy to surmise that the games involving Martins Ferry, St. Clairsville and Shadyside will have most people’s attention.
However, there will certainly be a Division I game that area football fans will be monitoring closely.
Former Bellaire High head coach John Magistro made the playoffs a habit during his highly successful, 23-year stint as the Big Reds’ head coach.
Slowly, but surely, he’s doing the same in Division I at Westerville Central, which is still a relatively new school in suburban Columbus.
For the second time in the school’s history, the Warhawks are part of the big-school playoffs. Westerville Central competes in Region 1 and will host 12th seeded Solon tonight at 7.
“We’re obviously hoping we do better than we did the first time (we qualified),” Magistro said during a phone interview earlier this week.
Westerville Central was just a few boys over the limit to be competing in Division II. Instead, the Warhawks are in the newly aligned Division I, which the OHSAA came up with to help offset the discrepancy in enrollment that existed in the big-school division in the old six-division format.
“It’s been the story of my (coaching) life,” Magistro laughed. “When I was at Bellaire, we were always a couple of boys away from being in Division V. Now, I am here and we’re a couple away from Division II. I actually thought we’d be in Division II, but it just didn’t work out that way. The best part is we’ve got a shot to play and that’s all you can for at this point of the season.”
The decision to expand the OHSAA football playoffs to seven divisions was one that was greatly supported because the largest schools in the state such as Mentor, Cleveland St. Ignatius, Cincinnati Moeller, Cincinnati St. Xavier had such a distinct enrollment advantage over some of the schools who were in Division I.
“I give the OHSAA credit for trying, but I am not sure you’re ever going to please everyone,” Magistro said. “The whole system gets examined, regardless what division a school is in. I just don’t what you’re going to do when you face those schools that sometimes have double the boys that you do. I don’t know that it’ll ever be totally fair.”
Regardless of the enrollment figures, the Warhawks have a game against the 6-4 Coments tonight and Magistro’s high-flying offense plans on being ready.
Similar to what his Big Reds did in their prime, Westerville Central is scoring points in bunches, averaging just under 50 points a game.
What’s the secret?
“We’ve gone to the up-tempo style, we’re no huddle and our kids just love it,” Magistro said. “We practice that way, the kids are always moving and our linemen don’t have a chance to be slow or sluggish. Plus, we trust our quarterback to get us to the line of scrimmage, make the calls and gets us going.”
That quarterback Magistro speaks of is senior Jared Drake, who transferred to Westerville Central from Upper Arlington prior to last season.
“Jared came here because he wanted a chance to play quarterback,” Magistro said. “He started as a sophomore at Upper Arlington at linebacker, but wanted a chance to be a quarterback.”
He’s certainly made the most of the opportunity and proven he can handle the job. According to Magistro, Drake is closing in on a combined 3,000 yards of total offense.
The Warhawks also feature Nick Richardson, who is committed to Kentucky, along the offensive line.
“I thought from a skill position perspective, we could be pretty good and we had a couple of linemen, who were really good back, but we had some holes to fill,” Magistro explained. “As the year has progressed, those linemen have really come along and played good football.”
As the players have bought into the system and style, so have the fans, who Magistro believes were just happy to be in the playoffs after the 2011 campaign.
“I don’t think people knew how to act when we qualified before,” Magistro said. “They were happy we made it and won the Ohio Capital Conference. This year certainly has a different feel. Our stands have been packed and I think we all feel we can go further now.”
All that stood between Magistro and another undefeated season on his resume was a 57-50 setback to a quality New Albany squad in week two.
“That was one of those nights when we were in all of the right spots, but just didn’t make plays,” Magistro said. “We were down four touchdowns in that game and came back, but just couldn’t get over the hump.”
One area where the Warhawks have made their greatest strides is on the defensive side of the ball. They’re allowing 24.5 points a game, but gave up just a field goal last week against Dublin Jerome.
“We’re definitely getting better,” Magistro said. “Obviously, we’ve played good competition and in some games we were up by a bunch and teams scored some on us. But, early in the year, we did struggle on defense.”
The winner of the Westerville Central and Solon encounter will take on the survivor of Austintown Fitch and Marysville, which meet in the three vs. 14 seed game.
So what’s the future hold for Magistro, who has been in the coaching field for 41 years.
“I’ll probably go a couple of more years,” Magistro said. “I am still enjoying it. I still enjoy the coaching, the weight room, the teaching (of football), but there’s a lot of other things that go along with being a head coach that kind of wear on you. I think I’ll go two more for sure and then I’ll make a decision.”
Magistro still has a heavy Ohio Valley flavor on his coaching staff. Bellaire High graduates Jeremy Chirpas, Mike Banig and his son, Chad all coach at Central.
“I am sure people get tired of us talking about the Valley,” Magistro said.
Magistro spent his Friday evening in Newark watching the Big Reds take on Newark Catholic in the Division VI tournament.
SEVERAL OHIO Valley officials are working tournament games throughout the Buckeye State this month. Those include: Lance Jacob, Butch Minkemeyer, Sam “Chicken” Jones, T.J. Brancazio, Mark Vukelic, Jimmy Sperlazza Jr., Bryce Davis, Tom Costantini, Mark Kerwood, Bruce Dunn, Bob Mills and Greg Sanders.
Jacob and Minkemeyer will be working a game each weekend throughout the tournament. They’ve earned the assignment of working a state championship game in Stark County next month.
THE DIVISION I tournament featured an area tie playing for Pickerington North. Morgan Bittengle, who is the daughter of Shadyside High School graduates John and Shawn (Cook) Bittengle. Bittengle’s squad was ranked nationally by Student Sports. She has scored more than 20 goals this season, including two in the district final to spark the Lady Panthers.
Bittengle’s grandparents still reside in Shadyside.