It’s not just the usual dance partners in First Team All-Suburban Lakes League return specialist Blair Skilliter, Second Team All-SLL fullback Marcus “the Machine” Vicars, Second-Team All-SLL halfback Connor Wendt, and second-year quarterback Matt Bassitt who are romancing Genoa’s fans this football season.
Senior wide receiver Zach “Latino Fire” Apel had never played organized football before, but after only two contests is already wearing the proverbial glass slipper for these full-of-surprises Comets.
“I have always really wanted to play high school football, but I was always kind of scared because baseball has always really been my main sport, and I didn’t want to hurt myself for that, because my cousin was the same way. Baseball was always his main sport, too, but he also always played football, and he’s a really tough guy. But he still ended up tearing his ACL, playing the same positions that I play on the football field,” reasons the 18-year-old rookie pass catcher and starting right corner.
Apel’s cousin is early role model Michael Falter, who starred as both a standout wide receiver and defensive back for Perrysburg before being stung by an injury.
Apel quelled his flames for pushing himself with the tradition-rich, five-time SLL-champion Genoa soccer team for the very first time during his breakout junior year. He proceeded to cool off the oppositions’ top goal scorers night after night, to the tune of 11 shutouts, which helped the junior break the former school record of 10 shutouts notched by reputable net minder Jared Auer in 2004.
Apel earned All-District accolades, and lead his new team to a much-anticipated trip to regionals, all on the strength of a 13-7, 6-2 SLL-clinching record.
“I have always liked a challenge, so this past summer I just decided for myself, “Hey, it’s my senior year, and I’m not going to be scared to play football anymore. I’m not going to get hurt.” And I just went into two-a-days with that mindset. I just knew it would make me feel great to be a part of a winning team that had a chance to do some great things this year. And it helped that all of my friends wanted me to play, too,” Apel said.
“At the start of summer ball, I was of course a little intimidated by Coach (Mike) Vicars, because they’ve been a successful team since he’s been here, because he’s really turned things around,” admits Apel. “But on the first day that I went to practice, I was just planning on going there and trying it out, and Coach Vicars turned out to be a really nice guy. He wasn’t short with me or anything, even though I had no clue really what I was doing. He just gave me the guidelines, he showed me what to do, and he told me who to go with out on the practice field and when, so I have a lot of respect for him, because he wasn’t short with me at all, even though I’d never played the game before.
“I didn’t even know until somebody told me in the locker room later that, “Hey Apel, you’re starting at wide receiver, too,” and I was like “Okay, okay,” and then went to check the sheet for myself, which is when I started to get really, really excited,” continues the Comets’ top rookie.
“But then on the day of our first game, I was nervous all day long, and I never, ever get nervous for sports, because I don’t think you can play nervous. So yeah, when I saw all those people coming through those gates, and filling up the stands, my heart just sank into my stomach, because I’m not used to that. Nobody really ever goes to Genoa soccer games, and I’m not sure why, because our teams have always been good. But hearing all those people cheering for us, I just thought to myself, “Man, this is crazy.” I was just cheesin’ and smiling from ear-to-ear when I walked out onto the field with my parents for Senior Night. And as soon as I stepped onto that field, and took my position for the very first time, and calmed myself down, the nerves went away, and I was cool. Because I knew I had to be for my team.”
On opening night at Comet Stadium hosting Mohawk, the 6-0, 170 pound Apel’s gridiron debut proceeded to the tune of three receptions for 93 yards. Genoa’s first score of the brand-new season came when he hauled in a 31-yard pass from Bassitt on a flag route.
In the second stanza, Apel split two Mohawk defenders and snagged a pass, after which he boogied his way 32 more yards to the end zone for his second tally of the evening. A little later, Apel came up with an acrobatic, falling down catch of 50-plus yards into the pylon for his third tally.
One week later, hosting Ottawa County rival Oak Harbor in the annual Celestial Bowl Apel hooked up with Bassitt on a 30-plus yard bomb to keep his scoring streak alive.
Further, for the second weekend in a row, Apel almost had another, though this time on the defensive side of the ball. He was playing deep left field on a Rocket pass attempt just before he picked off an errant Rocket toss and raced his way across the entire center of the field about 60 yards for a touchdown return. In the end, that effort was called back by a penalty.