Fifth-year Waite football coach Gardner Howard can promise one thing when the Indians open the season Aug. 30 at Genoa.
“We’re looking forward to a great game,” Howard said. “It’s gonna be exciting, not only for the players but the fans.”
According to a book about the history of Waite football compiled by former coach Charlie Delker, it is the first time the two schools have met on the gridiron.
Big Genoa lineman Mike Deiter (73), a
University of Wisconsin commit, and
Tyler Rozek block for back Quentin
Spiess. (Press photo by Harold Hamilton/HEHphotos.smugmug.com)
Both coaches admit they know little about their respective opponent.
“I’m expecting to see one of the more athletic teams we’ll see on our regular-season schedule,” Spiess said. “Gardner is an outstanding coach. He played for Jerry Buti at Defiance and at Bowling Green State University. I actually coached Gardner for one day at the Ohio North-South game. He was a better player than I was a coach. Orlando Pace was on the same (North) squad.”
The Comets are coming off an 11-1 season in which they claimed the Northern Buckeye Conference title. Genoa is attempting to reach the state playoffs for the seventh straight season, while Waite is looking for its inaugural trip to the playoffs.
“We have a lot of respect for what Genoa has been able to accomplish over the past years,” Howard said. “They always have a solid team that makes the playoffs. Any team that makes the playoffs as much as they do should be admired.”
The Indians, who went 2-8 and 2-3 in the City League last fall, have scrimmaged against Defiance, Bryan and Bowling Green in the preseason. Their final scrimmage was against Fremont St. Joe on Friday.
“We’ve done OK,” Howard said. “We’ve improved. Obviously we have to continue to get better. Conditioning is a factor this time of year, getting yourself in shape. One concern is our depth. We’re young, with inexperienced guys playing. As many reps we can get is going to help. Our team chemistry is getting better and we’re working hard to improve every day.”
Howard said senior Tony Smith, who returns at linebacker after earning second-team All-CL honors last season, will start at quarterback against Genoa. Jeremy Pratt, a transfer from St. Francis de Sales, will also see time under center.
“Tony’s got big shoes to fill, and he’s doing a very good job filling that role,” Howard said. “Hopefully we can lean on Tony and his experience early in the year. With Tony being a senior, he’s been in our program for four years and obviously he has a very good handle on how we do things and the system - the reads, the keys and where to go with the football. He’s a tough-minded kid and a natural leader. He’s athletic as well.
“In Jeremy we have a dynamic dual threat, a guy who can also hurt you with his legs. He has a very strong arm. He hasn’t played the position at the varsity level yet, but he is a very intelligent kid and he works hard at it. We expect some growing pains. He’ll experience some things early in the season, and hopefully he’ll benefit from it.”
Howard said he will look for a few things from his team in its opener besides getting a “W.”
“For me, it’s always what kind of character does my team show,” he said. “What are you made of? How do you respond to adversity? Are we physically and mentally tough? Win or lose, are we improving offensively and defensively and getting better.”
Spiess has somewhat of a dilemma at Genoa as well – how to replace All-Ohio running back Kyle Nutter, who is now at the University of Cincinnati.
“The biggest thing for us is life without Kyle Nutter,” Spiess said. “We have to replace 6,000 (career) yards and 91 touchdowns. Jake Wojciechowski, Ryan Esponiza and Casey Gose have been very good running backs. They have been our top running threats at this point.”
The Comets scrimmaged Tiffin Columbian last Tuesday and did “very well,” according to Spiess.
“I liked the way we came off the ball,” he said. “Our new defensive starters performed very well. Columbian is a Division II state powerhouse and we held our own with them. That’s what I wanted to see.”
Spiess said last Saturday’s scrimmage against Bryan and Hicksville was a different matter.
“I was not pleased with our effort, and I don’t think our players were pleased,” Spiess said. “Defensively we were fine, but offensively we just weren’t clicking. We were slow off the ball and we did not read our blocks very well. That left a lot of room for improvement. We have a lot of work to do.”