Numbers, expectations up at Bellaire
BELLAIRE — Mark Spigarelli entered the offseason with a renewed vigor.
It didn’t take long, however, for him to jot down a few concerns that he knew had to be addressed before the 2019 Bellaire football season got under way.
Spigarelli ventured to a few basketball and baseball games last school year and quite simply — end results aside — didn’t like what he saw.
“I didn’t like how our guys were competing,” Spigarelli said matter of factly.
Thus, the 2019 Bellaire Big Reds had found their mantra.
“We want to compete every day and win every day,” Spigarelli said. “We had a practice (a few weeks ago) where we didn’t practice well. We lost that day and it’s one we won’t get back. Those are things we can’t afford to have happen because they cost you.”
The Big Reds’ competitive juices should certainly be flowing after a highly memorable 2018 season. Bellaire won its first six games before stubbing its toe in three of the final four down the stretch.
That skid relegated Bellaire to the fifth seed in the Division V, Region 19 and a return trip to rival Martins Ferry, which had captured SPARKY, 34-0, the week prior.
“We got a taste last year,” Spigarelli said. “We went into the season thinking we’d be pretty good, but we weren’t sure how good. We lost to St. Clairsville in a game that we felt like we could have won and we went in the other direction after that game.”
Bellaire, however, turned the tables and posted a 14-7 victory over the Purple Riders for their first playoff win in 12 years, but they then were handled by eventual state runnerup Johnstown-Monroe, 35-7.
“The kids pulled together, took to the coaching and pulled off a dramatic win,” Spigarelli said.
Though many pieces are returning, Spigarelli has stressed to his team that just because a bunch of veterans return and there was success tasted, it means very little for this season.
“We lost a really good group of seniors and now the (current) group of seniors has to keep building on the success they’ve had so far,” Spigarelli said. “It comes down to doing the little things to be successful.”
The Big Reds weren’t hit as hard as some teams by graduation. Only eight players were lost, but two — Cole LaRoche and Joey Hoephner — played in last month’s OVAC All-Star Game.
The other newly annointed Bellaire alumni are Daniel Lednik, Sheldon Lekandous, Trent Dunaway, Nick Beckett, Hayden Lowery and Zach Kolenich.
In today’s culture of prep athletics, it’s rare to see a large number of players from one class.
Bellaire certainly defies that theory.
Overall, there are 68 players on the Big Reds roster. Nearly a third of those — 21 to be exact — are in their final year of high school eligibility.
“All of those kids have stuck together,” Spigarelli said. “They’re a very tight-knit group. It’s a really nice luxury to have so many older guys.”
Spigarelli absolutely refuses to put the cart ahead of the horse in any regard. Because of his compete and win every day philosophy, he’s made sure his players realize that just because they’re a senior-oriented bunch it doesn’t promise anything.
“It’s a whole new year and season,” Spigarelli said. “Yeah, we have a lot of guys with experience back, but I hope our seniors realize this is their last go around and approach each day like that. There are expectations.”
Spigarelli, who is entering his fourth season, has guided his alma mater to the postseason in two of his three years at the helm. He isn’t shying away that this team — on paper — has the look of one that could be playing in November.
“I think this team has a chance to be in the playoffs, but obviously, we need to stay healthy and have some things go our way,” Spigarelli offered. “Last year, we won a playoff game, which was good, but we’re not satisfied with one (playoff) win. We want to win five playoff games.”
With those kinds of expectations swirling around Nelson Field and the entire community of Bellaire, Spigarelli has everyone believing. Whether it’s the players, coaches, fans or even opposing teams, Bellaire football — as many have come to know it — appears to be back to its old levels when Spigarelli was a player and then as an assistant under John Magistro.
“I would like to hope we’re getting it back to the level that it was under Coach Magistro,” Spigarelli said. “Bellaire football being back is a testament to a lot of people. From the coaches, teachers, staff, custodians, fans and community, everyone has played a role. And because of that, the excitement is back, too.”
Though the Big Reds’ numbers have been more than stable the last few years, Spigarelli has consistently been concerned with the team’s overall depth.
But, this year’s squad appears to have stemmed the tide in that department.
“I am glad that we have the roster we do,” Spigarelli said. “I would rather these kids be with us for several hours a day than just sitting at home and keeps them out of trouble. Our depth is better. I think we’re going to have more kids we can rotate at different positions and allow us to get a guy a rest here and there. But, in the end, we always want to have the best 11 guys on the field.”
One area that Spigarelli hopes to see his senior class improve as the season goes on is in terms of leadership.
“We have some leadership, but I just wish it was a little bit better,” Spigarelli said. “We don’t really have a vocal, rah-rah guy on the team and that’s OK, but they’ll just need to continue to lead by example.”
Being able to adapt to personnel is a sign of a good coach and Spigarelli and his offensive staff did that quite well last season. With a large and talented offensive line, the Big Reds became a run-heavy squad, going against the passing game and spread attack that they had long been known for.
All told, Bellaire ran the ball 526 times and threw it just 124. While Spigarelli would like to achieve a greater balance, he’s also going to continue to play to his team’s strengths.
“We need to throw the ball better to keep people from stacking the box, but I think our strength still lies in our running backs and line, so we’ll probably continue to run the ball predominately,” Spigarelli said.
The Bellaire backfield is talented, deep and experienced. Actually, it features a pair of all-Ohioans at different positions.
Senior Cole Porter (5-10, 175) had a break-out and record-setting season in 2018 en route to second-team all-state in Division V. Porter was a workhorse, too. He carried the ball 288 times for 1,610 yards and scored 18 touchdowns.
Though Spigarelli would like to spread the ball out more to help ease the wear and tear on Porter, the Big Reds boss also realizes who his best option is offensively.
“We’d be stupid if don’t feature Porter,” Spigarelli said. “We have to continue to play to our strengths and he’s definitely one of those.”
Joining Porter in the backfield is hard-nosed senior fullback Trace Sechrest (6-2, 200), who is a two-time all stater at linebacker. He carried the ball 52 times for 397 yards a season ago.
Senior Kaleb Pitchford (5-9, 210) logged 63 carries for 330 yards and is expected to see an increased role.
Others vying for carries at tailback and fullback are seniors Quentin Baker (5-11, 215), Cody Albaugh (5-11, 180), Austen Rejonis (5-9, 195), sophomores Isaac McConnell (5-10, 155), Lance Piper (5-10, 170), Brandon Mamie (5-10, 175), freshmen Joe Lewis (5-9, 145) and Brayden Roth (5-10, 140).
A big factor in the Big Reds’ ability to run the ball so efficiently a season ago was the play of a talented and large offensive line. Many of those cogs — three to be exact — return once again.
“Overall, our offensive line is coming together really well,” Spigarelli said. “It’s great to have experienced guys, who are able to make all of the calls and know what to expect. I have been very pleased with their practice and preparation.”
Senior Levi Littell (6-3, 275) will lead the line as he embarks on his third season at left tackle. At the left tackle spot, another veteran returns in senior Chase Nolan (5-10, 255). Senior Connor Rosen (6-1, 240) has been penciled into the left guard spot.
Sophomore Nick Materkoski (6-4, 265) is Littell’s top backup, while sophomore Jacob Shimble (5-11, 215) is the back up at right tackle.
Supplying depth for Rosen at that guard spot is senior T.J. Bell (5-11, 190).
Expected to take over the center spot is senior Andrew Kolenich (6-0, 195). He’s being pushed by Ryan Muklewicz (5-9, 225).
The one true battle for a job during camp unfolded at right guard where seniors David Lynch (5-10, 215), Aaron Piergallini (5-10, 255) and sophomore Luke Farmer (5-10, 190) competed for the starting spot.
Other linemen on the roster include: seniors Jacob Maupin (6-1, 245), Brian Smith (6-1, 250), juniors Jay Mosa (6-0, 260), Vince Patrone (5-11, 195), Caleb Rehfeldt (5-10, 170), sophomores Bradley Robbins (5-9, 210), Logan Davenport (6-0, 200), Dante Patrone (5-10, 270), Tyler Edgar (5-11, 170), Daniel Zwack (5-10, 220), Michael Kuri (5-11, 195), Timmy O’Grady (5-11, 215), freshmen T.J. Wines (5-10, 170), Lucas Littell (5-11, 195), Ryder Corbett (5-10, 140), Tyler Vingia (5-10, 205), Isaac Salva (5-10, 205), Talon Hughes (5-10, 165) and Braylon Kinder (5-10, 235).
The tight end spot should be a position of strength with talented sophomore Colt Sechrest (6-4, 220) returning. He’s complemented by junior Andrew Littell (6-0, 215), who moved to Bellaire from Virginia during the offseason. Sophomore Jaren Cash (6-3, 185) is also drawing a significant look at tight end.
Two freshmen supplying depth at tight end are Fisher Palian (6-1, 150) and Brenton Nauman (5-11, 165).
While the Big Reds expect to be run heavy, Spigarelli also fully understands his team must make strides in the passing game. Senior Bobby Roth (5-11, 195) had some ups and downs in his first season as the full-time starter. He completed just 47 of 124 passes for 652 yards. He threw an equal number of touchdowns and interceptions with five.
“Bobby is really getting a better understanding of the game and we want him to do the things that his skills allow him to do,” Spigarelli said. “He showed some signs last year. He had really good games against both Shenandoah and Beaver Local. We expect him to make strides.”
Other quarterbacks on the roster are sophomore Zack Smalley (5-10, 165) and freshman Jake Heatherington (5-10, 140).
Along with Porter and Sechrest’s return in the backfield, one thing really in Roth’s favor is a deep and experienced cast of receivers.
“We could play as many as nine guys at receiver,” Spigarelli said. “We feel really good about that group.”
The leading returnees at receiver are seniors A.J. McCarthy (5-9, 140) and Trenton Wilson (6-0, 185). McCarthy led the team in receptions (13), yards (257) and receiving touchdowns (4) a season ago. Wilson caught 6 passes for 103 yards and a score.
Juniors Marshall Fish (5-9, 140), Cody Slater (5-10, 145) and Ethan Shaver (5-9, 140) are going to see a lot of action as well at receiver.
Another to keep an eye on is freshman Ray’shad “RayRay” Pettigrew (5-10, 145)
Others working to get into the mix are seniors Jake Stolz (5-9, 185), Mason Beveridge (6-1, 165), junior Karter Hicks (5-10, 140), sophomores Kai Ford (5-10, 140), Aiden Frazier (5-10, 140), Bradley Kosky (5-10, 140), Konner Lay (6-0, 160), Mike Davis (6-0, 175), Jaiden Kesterson (5-10, 160), Chance Maffe (5-9, 140), freshmen Terrin Frazier (5-9, 140), Jakob Dowling (5-10, 150) and Kaden Banal (5-11, 140).
The kicking job has been a battle between Trace Sechrest and Nolan for the kickoffs, while Porter and Sechrest are vying for the field goals and extra points. Roth has a grasp on the punting job.
Defensively, the Big Reds were solid in 2018. Spigarelli — who oversees the unit — will once again employ the 4-2-5 scheme.
“We want to play aggressive, fast and with enthusiasm,” Spigarelli said. “We have a lot of guys who like to hit. We know we have to be better against the pass. We have the skills to be better in that area, but we have to be able to execute.”
The Brothers Sechrest — Trace and Colt — lead the defensive unit at the linebacker spot. They were the top two tacklers for the Big Reds with 100 and 67 tackles, respectively.
“We’re not really deep at the linebacker spot, but with the Sechrests, we know it would take basically a broken leg to get either one of those guys off the field.”
Up front, Levi Littell and Nolan are slated to open at defensive tackles, while Rosen, Muklewicz and Piergallini are the top understudies.
At the end spots, Kolenich and Baker are listed atop the depth chart, while Lynch and Bell are in the mix.
At strong safety, Albaugh and Porter are expected to start. Pitchford and Mamie are the top reserves.
The corner spots are locked down by Roth and McCarthy. Fish and Slater back them up. Wilson and Shaver are listed at free safety.
With experience abounding, expectations clearly surround the Big Reds. The latter will definitely come in handy as Bellaire is slated to face a rugged schedule.
Gone from the 2018 slate are Shenandoah and long-time opponent Buckeye Local. They’ve been replaced by Garaway and Cambridge in weeks two and five, respectively. Both teams will venture to Nelson Field.
“I don’t think we’ve ever played Garaway and it’s been a while since we’ve played Cambridge,” Spigarelli said. “Both teams have a lot of kids back. I know Garaway likes to throw it all over the place and we scrimmaged Cambridge last year and that was a good test. Two games we’re looking forward to.”
Spigarelli is correct on both. The Big Reds have never met Garaway on the football field and haven’t clashed with the Bobcats since 2002 in a game Bellaire won, 27-24
Along with the newbies to the schedule, the Big Reds will clash with five teams that qualified for its state’s respective postseasons, including River, John Marshall, St. Clairsville, Shadyside and obviously Martins Ferry.
“There are no easy games,” Spigarelli said. “That’s the way we like it. We don’t want any cupcakes like some people do.”
Spigarelli believes the overall success of the season against the taxing slate will simply boil down to how well the Big Reds handle their own business.
“We have to treat all of the games the same,” Spigarelli said. “On paper, there may be some teams we look better than, but they’re practicing, working hard and trying to win the game, too. We have to be ready to go.”
Spigarelli welcomes back the same coaching staff from a season ago. The continuity there is something that he’s definitelty pleased with.
“We were able to really hit the ground running,” Spigarelli said. “We’ve been able to spend all of our time coaching the players and we don’t have to coach the coaches because they’ve all been here, know the system and know what’s going on on both sides of the ball.”
The varsity staff includes: Shawn Valloric, Jayson Keyser, Michael Rose, Ryan McMahon, Ed Miller and Bruce Stolz.
At the junior high level, John Farrier and Mike Sechrest lead the eighth grade, while Keith Rejonis, Bill Meek and Jim LaRoche guide the seventh grade squad.