Liberty Center football fans remember Michael Vicars as a quiet, unassuming young man.
At Liberty, he played football in a program that was fortunate to defeat other small schools at the time, let alone the bigger schools that make up the Northwest Ohio Athletic League.
“There was a lot of misery through the years,” Vicars once told The Press.
But Vicars was a powerful force at 5-9, 160 pounds. He was selected a First Team All-Northwest Ohio Athletic League defensive end as a senior in 1980. The 9-2 Tigers that year were Liberty’s first to reach the playoffs, losing to eventual state champion Tiffin Calvert.
Before his arrival here, there had been a “lot of misery” in the Genoa football program, too.
Now, Coach Vicars is making a lot of noise in Genoa, having led the Comet program to its first playoff appearance two years ago and much, much more. His Comets have not lost a Suburban Lakes League game since his arrival.
For the third straight season, Vicars has been named the Alan Miller Jewelers All-Press Coach of the Year. He’s won the award every year he’s been in Genoa.
This season, Coach Vicars led his No. 3-ranked Comets to an 11-1 season and a third-straight Suburban Lakes League championship. Hearts were broken last Saturday, however, because Comet fans made an 85-mile trip to Ashland only to see their team lose a 36-35 nail biter to Orrville in the Division IV regional semifinal.
Vicars was selected by a voting panel consisting of 10 area coaches and 10 area media members. He did not win the honor by a landslide, though.
Northwood coach Ken James, who engineered the Rangers to 7-4 record and a Toledo Area Athletic Conference championship, was just three votes shy of Vicars.
And, Lake coach Bob Abbey followed with three less votes than James. Abbey’s football team demonstrated that the Flyers are back, by leading his team to a 7-3 record and third place finish in the SLL.
Joining Vicars in getting a plaque from Alan Miller Jewelers is Offensive Player of the Year Greg Hillabrand. This came just after his senior classmate Connor Wendt was named SLL Player of the Year.
Hillabrand ran away with voting, but Wendt finished second, Genoa quarterback Matt Bassitt finished third, and the only other player receiving votes was Waite sophomore playmaker Kevin Carter — who became a force on the ground and receiving in leading the Indians to three wins.
But Genoa did not wrap up every top level award, although it did dominate the All-Press first team with nine picks on offense and nine more on defense.
The Defensive Player of the Year went to 5-10, 215 pound Clay linebacker Mike Ackerman. Ackerman led the area with 143 tackles, including 16 tackles for a loss.
Hillabrand was three votes behind Ackerman, and Wendt one vote behind Hillabrand, so in essence if an all-around Player of the Year award had been given it would go to Hillabrand with Wendt a close second.
And why not?
On offense, Hillabrand and Wendt combined to cover over 2,000 yards rushing. Hillabrand, at fullback, had covered 1,354 yards in 111 carries heading into the Orrville game, which translates to 12.2 yards per carry. That’s at least a first down nearly every time, and include with that 25 touchdowns on the ground.
Receiving, Wendt led the Press area with 677 yards on 30 catches, averaging 22.6 per catch. Throw in 14 touchdowns, plus Wendt had 11 touchdowns rushing, and his scoring numbers are right up there with Hillabrand.
Vicars believes Hillabrand has a chance to be selected All-Ohio, and said both “were tremendous over all year playing for us limited offensive quarters.”
Genoa quarterback Matt Bassitt joins Hillabrand and Wendt on the first team offense after completing an astounding 84-of-127 passes (66 percent) for 1,404 yards heading into the Orrville game.
“Matt is an outstanding quarterback and is one of Northwest Ohio’s best-kept secrets,” Vicars said of his three-starter. “Having two experienced backs like Hillabrand and Wendt is very nice. Hillabrand is tough inside and Wendt is a nice outside change of pace, as well as a very good receiver.”
On defense — they were also a force. Both were first team choices — Hillabrand at linebacker and Wendt at defensive back.
Also receiving votes for Defensive POY were Oak Harbor linebacker Mike Mallernee, Genoa linebacker Seth Dufendock, Cardinal Stritch defensive back Kyle Gladieux, Waite middle linebacker Miguel Garcia, and Lake defensive end Josh Tantari.
Of course, one cannot forget Eastwood — another powerful force in the SLL again this year even though its senior football players will graduate without an SLL trophy. That was a goal of Coach Jerry Rutherford’s this season, getting that class a championship. Thanks can given to the Genoa Comets for preventing that goal from being reached.
But the Eagles went 8-2 through the season, losing only to the Comets and powerful No. 1-ranked (D-V) Patrick Henry, which was still alive heading into the regional finals playoffs.
In its first week of playoffs, the Eagles blasted previously undefeated Galion 35-7. Galion had won an undisputed Northern Ohio League title, defeating the likes of Tiffin Columbian, Upper Sandusky, Fostoria, and other perennially strong football programs in the process.