Smith pounding opponents on both sides of the ball

J. Patrick Eaken

Gibsonburg 5-foot-8, 170-pound fullback Conner Smith has already run for 792 yards on 81 carries, averaging 9.8 yards per attempt, and he has scored 16 rushing touchdowns.

He is a big reason the Golden Bears are 5-0 overall and have outscored opponents 227-56. He is also the team leader on defense with 63 tackles, 1½ sacks and an interception from his linebacker position.

“Strength-wise, pound for pound, he’s the strongest guy I’ve got,” Gibsonburg second-year coach Joe Wyant said.

“He’s probably the second strongest guy we have on the team at 170 pounds, but he’s put on about 10 more pounds than last year and he’s grown about two more inches than he was a year ago. He is always working out with weights. 

“Only smaller schools (colleges) are looking at him because of his height, but he’s super strong, he works hard, and he’s a tough kid. As small as he is at 170, if he hits you, he’ll hit you. He hits hard,”

However, the Golden Bears running game is multi-talented, including 6-0, 170-pound senior halfback Radek Fox.

“We run the ball pretty much, which has gone really well,” Wyant said. “Conner Smith has done a great job with all his running, but then we have Radek Fox, too. Radek Fox has done a good job. He only has 23 carries, but he has 353 yards, so that is a 15.3 average. He’s good when he gets outside.

 “Then we have a few yards from the quarterback who has done really well — (6-2, 195-pound senior) Khartir Miller. He averages 5.5 yards per carry, so that’s been our best and of course Conner Smith.”

Fox has scored six TDs, Miller has run for 94 yards on 17 carries with two TDs, and 6-2, 170-pound senior halfback Austin Rodriguez has 120 yards on 19 carries with two TDs. Six other backs have 272 yards rushing on 38 carries, good for 7.2 yards per attempt, so no matter who runs the ball the Bears are seeing success in the winged T. A lot of that is due to a good offensive line, even though part of that line has been rebuilt.

Bryson Leavitt (5-8, 200) is the center and the two returning starters on the line are the guards — Tyler Schooley (5-11, 210) and Martin Meyerholtz (6-2, 210). Camden Waugaman (6-4, 290) and Dominic Whetsel (5-11, 195) are the tackles.

“We only had two starters back from last year on the line, so we had to replace a center, two tackles and a tight end. These guys have come a long way, but we have two really good guards who are both pretty much in their third year starting,” Wyant said. 

In addition, Miller has completed 12 of 22 passes (55 percent) for 207 yards and two TDs with one interception. Rodriguez has six catches for 104 yards, 6-3, 170-pound senior tight end D.J. Ornlef has three catches for 79 yards and both TDs, 5-10, 165-pound senior split end Cody Saxer has two receptions for 45 yards and 5-8, 140-pound senior split end Dustin Derr two catches for 12 yards.

The Golden Bears have scored defensively, too — 5-8, 195-pound junior defensive end Andrew Ickes has 27 tackles, one sack, one interception, one fumble recovery and has scored one defensive TD.


The return of Glenn Owens

Wyant brought Glenn Owens back from Eastwood to Gibsonburg to be the defensive coordinator. Owens, who had once been a head coach at Gibsonburg, spent the last decade assisting coaches Jerry Rutherford and Craig Rutherford at Eastwood. As a result, a few defensive adjustments were made, and they came up big in a hard fought 14-10 season opening comeback victory at Ottawa Hills. The Bears have given up only three touchdowns and a field goal in the first half this season while scoring 125 points.

“We run a little bit different defense this year. My defensive coordinator came up with some good ideas and we’ve been a lot more solid in not giving up the big plays and our run defense has done really well,” Wyant said.

“On defense, our linebackers and our defensive line have been really solid,” Wyant continued. “All four defensive linemen are new players except for one starter back, but I think they’ve done an excellent job and our two middle linebackers were both returning. 

“They’ve done a good job, and our defensive backs, we have two of them who were starters of the five and the way we rotate them in our 4-2-5 defense. I don’t know if anybody has stuck out, but I think it’s been a combination of everybody doing their own job so far.”

At linebacker Whetsel has 46 tackles, 5-9, 170-pound junior nose guard Daniel Frost has 26 tackles plus Whetsel and Frost have one fumble recovery each. Wyant says Whetsel, who also wrestles, has great tackling form and does not miss.

Other defensive standouts include 5-9, 150-pound freshman safety Nolan Hoover (18 tackles, fumble recovery), Schooley (16 tackles, interception) outside linebacker, Myerholtz (15 tackles, 1½ sacks) at defensive end, Derr (15 tackles, two interceptions) at free safety, Ornlef (15 tackles, interception) at DB and 6-0, 205-pound junior defensive tackle Bryson Stevens (12 tackles, sack). Nose guard Sam Hansen, a 6-0, 200-pound sophomore, has an interception and from his DB position 5-10, 165-pound DB Cody Saxer has a fumble recovery.

Other wins have been over Sandusky County rival Woodmore (63-0), Mohawk (42-12), Tiffin Calvert (64-16) and Northwood (44-18). For Wyant, it is only his second year at the helm at Gibsonburg and for his team to start 5-0 and to be ranked sixth in a tough Division VI region for a playoff spot can be a testament to the decades he has spent on the gridiron helping other programs.

“We’ve done well so far. Did I expect it? I think we had enough potential to be this good, but most of the kids have bought into everything we are doing. They are playing well,” Wyant said. “It’s a great start for our program. The coaching staff has done a good job and the kids are doing well and doing a great job.”

Finishing undefeated is another story. In the Sandusky Bay Conference River Division, Hopewell-Loudon is 5-0 and Lakota is 3-2, so Wyant thinks they will present the biggest challenge. The showdown with Hopewell is the final week of the regular season, Oct. 22, in Gibsonburg.

“I think the whole SBC is pretty good, but obviously the best two teams right now are Hopewell and Lakota,” Wyant said. “They are the two teams to beat as it looks right now. Calvert (2-3) was about like us, and we found out about them. I think Margaretta (0-5) will be better than they have been.”




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