Coach: Mike Donnelly, fourth year, 17-13.
Last year: 4-6 (2-5, TCAL).
Forecast: Donnelly is expecting big things from the Eagles this season, their last as a member of the City League. The Eagles will join the 10-school Three Rivers Athletic Conference in 2011-12.
“Our goals are to win our non-league games, have a minimum of seven wins and qualify for the playoffs,” said Donnelly, whose team plays non-league foes Northview, Perrysburg and Springfield. “I see us having a legitimate opportunity to finish in the top four in the City League.”
To improve on last year’s record, Clay will have to play better on both sides of the ball. The Eagles switched to a multiple option offense and scored less than 12 points a game in 2009, and their defense allowed nearly 22 points a game.
“Offensively, we couldn’t get anything going and we kept putting our defense on the field and they eventually wore down,” Donnelly said. “That was the story of the second half of the season. We need our offense to establish something early in the season. With most teams, if you have a solid defensive and offensive line, you’re usually going to have a successful season.”
The Eagles were outsized on both lines against the better teams in the CL last year. Clay returns two huge seniors in Tyler Sibbersen, a 280-pound offensive tackle, and 300-pound nose tackle John Glesser. Both were starters a year ago.
“We will only be as good as our offensive and defensive fronts,” Donnelly said. “They need to be the heart and soul of the team.”
Senior Josh Utter, an honorable mention all-league pick last season, returns at quarterback. Utter threw for more than 1,000 yards as a junior, completing 78-of-148 passes (53 percent) with seven touchdown passes.
“Josh needs to improve his ability to make quicker decisions and his overall general leadership,” Donnelly said. “I think he’s improved in both areas.”
The Eagles’ other returning starters, all seniors, on offense are guard/tackle Rex Carlo, guard John Galyas, center-guard Shane Gaghen, tight end Sam Berry, receivers Bobby Hoffman, Nick Roman and Austin Achter and fullback Kevin Gaskins.
Achter was second-team All-CL and Hoffman was honorable mention all-league a year ago. Roman will also see action in the backfield. Last year, Hoffman caught 23 passes for 413 yards (18 yards per catch) and scored five touchdowns. Roman caught 23 pases for 296 yards (12.9) with two touchdowns. Achter rushed for 372 yards on 97 carries (3.9 per carry) and three TDs.
“What we have on our team this year is not only experience, but depth as well as talent at the skill positions,” said Donnelly, who has 20 seniors. “Basically all of our skill kids are back from last year, so that’s a good deal. Our weakness is a lack of team depth, especially on the offensive line.”
Dylan Gore, a senior who played nose tackle in 2009, has been moved to middle linebacker to replace Mike Ackerman, the team’s top tackler and a first-team All-City performer last season. Ackerman led The Press area with 143 tackles last season, including 16 tackles for a loss.
“It’s working a lot better than we thought it would,” Donnelly said of moving Gore off the line. “He wanted to do that. He’s around 200 pounds and he’s kind of undersized for a down lineman.”
The Eagles’ returning starters (all seniors) on defense are Carlo at tackle, Berry at end and Roman at corner along with safety James Huss, linebackers Lukas Applehans and Zach Johnson and free safety Dominick Shull.
Donnelly gave Whitmer the nod as the league favorite in 2010. Clay has a tough CL schedule — facing off with Rogers, Start, Whitmer, St. John's, Central Catholic, and St. Francis.