Bellaire replacing heavy graduation losses
BELLAIRE — Finding a way to replace graduation losses is simply part of life when coaching at the high school level.
But, when it’s 21 players, many of whom were key cogs on both sides of the ball, avoiding a significant rebuild can be a challenge.
Mark Spigarelli enters his fifth season as the head coach at Bellaire facing that exact scenario, but because of what’s come before them, he doesn’t believe a major rebuild is in store for his 2020 Big Reds, who open at home Saturday against River.
“That was a special group of kids, who did everything we asked of them,” Spigarelli said of his Class of 2020 seniors. “They were super kids from great families that were a part of three playoff teams and got a playoff win (as juniors), so they have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.”
The list of departed players includes: Cole Porter, A.J. McCarthy, Jake Stolz, Trenton Wilson, Bobby Roth, Quentin Baker, Cody Albaugh, Austen Rejonis, Kaleb Pitchford, Trace Sechrest, Ryan Muklewicz, Chase Nolan, Conner Rosen, Jacob Maupin, David Lynch, Levi Littell, T.J. Bell, Andrew Kolenich, Aaron Piergallini, Mason Beveridge and Bryan Smith.
Three of those players — Porter, Roth and Sechrest — earned All-Ohio accolades at least once in their careers.
Now Spigarelli and his coaching staff are looking forward and realizes that the Big Reds are going to be a work-in-progress.
“We’re basically starting over with probably eight or nine new faces on each side of the ball,” Spigarelli said. “We’re going to be green and young, but we’ve been keeping things as simple as we can so the kids really can understand what we’re trying to do on both sides of the ball.”
The Big Reds are no different than any other team around the valley, state and country. They’ve had to play catch up in a sense because of off-season programs being altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut schools down in mid March.
Though the Bellaire High School facilities were formally closed, Spigarelli was proud of the initiative his players took to find a way to work out on their own.
“We had about a dozen or so kids who just took it upon themselves to get better and do whatever they needed to do whether it was lifting at home or getting together, on their own to do plyometrics and things,” Spigarelli said. “We got back together, as a group, in June and didn’t really miss a beat.”
Though the season won’t be like any other in Bellaire’s more than 100-year history because of the stipulations and requirements to even be able to suit up this week, Spigarelli believes his team has the makings of a solid club if it’s new faces can come together as quickly as he believes.
“It really depends on how good they want to be,” Spigarelli said. “The kids have worked hard, but our depth isn’t there just yet. Injuries could take a toll if we lose the wrong kids. We need guys to step up when called upon. But, the expectations at Bellaire never change. They are get in to the playoffs and win a few games.”
Offensively, the Big Reds will look to continue to lean on their running game, but feel comfortable enough to be able to throw it with regularity, too.
“We’re ahead of where we were at this point last season in the passing game, but we’d still like to use the run to open up the passing game,” Spigarelli said.
Sophomore Jake Heatherington (5-10, 155) is set to take over at quarterback. He was actually thrust into duty when Roth went down with an injury a season ago. He finished with 495 yards passing. He completed 40-of-81 throws and had two interceptions.
“Jake didn’t go out for wrestling last winter because we wanted to get bigger and stronger, and he did that,” Spigarelli said. “He wants to win and be a leader on this team. He also wants to learn and get better every day. He has great traits and because of the experience he got when Bobby went down last year, things are slowing down and he knows what reads to make.”
The only other listed quarterbacks on the roster are freshmen Mac Pettigrew (5-8, 140) and Luca D’Aquila (5-9, 140).
Porter was a two-year workhorse at tailback for the Big Reds, but set to try to fill in his shoes is junior Brandon Mamie (5-10, 185). He’ll be backed up, primarily, by sophomore Joey Lewis (5-9, 150).
Sophomore Brayden Roth (5-10, 165), who saw time on special teams and some on defense last season, is expected to serve as Mamie’s lead blocker at the fullback spot. He’s being pushed by freshman Andrew LaMotte (5-10, 180).
All told, Mamie, Lewis and Roth combined for 35 carries and 178 yards and a touchdown last season.
Junior Lance Piper (5-10, 170), junior Isaac McConnell (5-10, 170) and freshman Austin Wiggins (5-8, 150) are also vying for carries in the backfield.
Though overall depth is a concern, one area in which Spigarelli isn’t concerned is at the wide receiver position. He actually believes they’ll be able to rotate a lot of different players in and out.
The downside, however, is only one returning wide receiver — sophomore Ray’shad Pettigrew (5-10, 150) has caught a varsity pass. He finished with eight receptions for 67 yards a season ago.
At the split end spot, a battle has been ongoing in camp between senior Cody Slater (5-10, 155), senior Ethan Shaver (5-9, 140) and senior Marshall Fish (5-9, 140).
Along with Pettigrew, Spigarelli spoke very highly of senior Jayce Gallaher (5-10, 155) at the other receiver spot. Sophomore Jakob Dowling (5-10, 165) also drew praise from his head coach and could get into the rotation.
Another senior pushing to get into the mix is Karter Hicks (5-10, 140).
The balance of junior wide receivers includes Jaiden Kesterson (5-10, 170), Bradley Kosky (5-10, 165), Aiden Frazier (5-10, 150), Konner Lay (6-0, 175) and Skylar Evans (5-9, 175).
Sophomore wide receivers are Terrin Frazier (5-9, 150), Chance Maffe (5-9, 140) and T.J. Wines (5-10, 165).
Freshmen wide receivers include: Drew White (5-8, 140), Khalil Kimbro (5-11, 130), Jason Lemley (5-10, 180), Lane Clark (5-9, 140), Logan Edgar (5-10, 140) and Mayson Sochor (6-1, 165).
Tight end is a position that the Big Reds hope to utilize well. They have legitimately three options there. Junior Colt Sechrest (6-4, 210) caught seven passes for 119 yards and a touchdown last season, but missed the last several games due to a knee injury.
Senior Andrew Littell (6-0, 235) caught 11 passes for 106 yards in 2019. He suffered an injury during basketball season, but has received a clean bill of health.
Junior Jaren Cash (6-3, 185) is another viable targets who is expected to see playing time. Another tight end option is sophomore Brenton Nauman (5-11, 170).
“We really like all three of those tight ends,” Spigarelli said. “The depth there is nice because it’s just next man up if someone goes down.”
The Big Reds’ biggest question mark on the offensive side is up front where three new faces are expected to start. However, the bigger concern might be the fact that Bellaire only lists 19 linemen in all four grades on its entire roster.
“We’re going to have a lot of (linemen) going both ways,” Spigarelli said. “The group is coming together well. I really like how they’re going about their business each day. They’re working hard to get any questions they may have answered and figured out.”
The right side of the line is where the most experience lies with senior Vince Patrone (5-11, 210) and junior Nick Materkoski (6-4, 260) holding down the tackle and guard spots, respectively.
Anchoring the line is sophomore center Tyler Vingia (5-10, 230).
Junior Timmy O’Grady (5-11, 225) is punched in as the starter at left tackle, while junior Luke Farmer (5-10, 200) is getting the call at left guard.
Junior Jacob Shimble (5-11, 215), junior Daniel Zwack (5-10, 235), freshman Dalton Smelko (5-10, 200), sophomore Isaac Salva (5-10, 210) and junior Michael Kuri (5-11, 185) are the top understudies.
Other linemen who provide depth include seniors Jay Mosa (6-0, 280) and Dameon Xenakis (6-0, 185); juniors Logan Davenport (6-0, 240) and Dante Patrone (5-10, 290); sophomores Lucas Littell (5-10, 235), Talon Hughes (5-11, 195) and Braylon Kinder (5-11, 270); freshmen Landon Taylor (5-10, 200) and Joey Nixon (5-9, 230).
On the defensive side of the ball, the Big Reds were stingy last season and Spigarelli hopes that continues.
Similar to on the offensive side, however, there are holes to fill. Spigarelli must replace his top four tacklers from a season ago.
“We’ll mix up our schemes and we’ll plug kids in,” Spigarelli said. “I expect us to be very tough on defense like we always have been. I think we’re very intelligent defensively and we have very good team speed with good tacklers.”
Up front, O’Grady and Zwack are expected to hold the fort down in the middle at the tackle spots, while Farmer and Materkoski are the defensive ends.
Sechrest and Vince Patrone return at linebacker. Patrone is the leading returning tackler with 42.5 stops. Sechrest finished with 38.5.
Andrew Littell and LaMotte could also be called upon in the linebacker spot.
The secondary should be a strength. Ray’shad Pettigrew started all 11 games at corner last season and finished with 29.5 tackles and an impressive 11 pass breakups.
Gallaher is etched into the other corner spot, while Slater and Hicks will supply depth.
Fish is expected to be the free safety, while Mamie is the strong safety. Shaver and Kesterson are the top backups at the respective positions.
Cash will be the weak safety with Brayden Roth serving as his backup.
Special teams has been another area where the Big Reds are trying to fill gaps. Bobby Roth earned All-Ohio as a punter last season and Porter served as the place kicker.
The punting job has been a battle between Heatherington and Materkoski. According to Spigarelli, the place-kicking duties could “be by committee” with Heatherington and Lucas Littell getting the first crack.
The Bellaire coaching staff underwent some changes, too. Long-time assistants Bruce Stolz and Ed Miller retired after spending upwards of 40 seasons roaming the Nelson Field sidelines.
Taking their place are Todd Poe and Bailey McGrath.
The balance of the varsity staff includes: Shawn Valloric, Jayson Keyser and Ryan McMahon.
At the junior high level, John Farrier and Mike Sechrest lead the eighth grade team, while Keith Rejonis, Bill Meek and Jim LaRoche coach the seventh graders.