WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – In early-January, the Golden Flashes hired Tom Conrad (a Champion alumnus) to be the football program’s next head coach. Conrad served as the team’s offensive coordinator last year.
“It’s been a great experience to begin to reconnect with a number of teachers and administrators that I haven’t been in contact with since my time in the halls of Champion Middle and High School as a student,” states Conrad. “It’s been an exciting first few months building those relationships back up and working together to better our program and community.”
Since advancing to the playoffs in back-to-back years (1993: 11-1; 1994: 7-4), Champion has enjoyed just four winning seasons over the last 26 seasons of football.
“Our attendance for our off-season program has been very strong, as we’ve added about 12 new players between grades 9 and 12 to our program,” points out coach Conrad. “We anticipate to have about 15 new players when the season starts in August. With that being the case, our program will have strong numbers for the 2021 season. Every single player in the weight room has bought into a new strength and conditioning program and in the first 12 weeks of lifting, all of our players saw significant strength increases on all of our core lifting exercises. Our players are buying into and helping us establish a strong and elite football culture within our locker room. It’s been exciting to watch our players build strong relationships with each other.”
The season begins against Warren JFK on Friday, August 20.
“Our expectations for the coming season are twofold,” says Conrad. “First, we want our players to start to make championship-level decisions in all they do. We have an increased focus on academics and improving our team GPA overall. We want our players to compete and work just as hard in the classroom as they do on the gridiron. Secondly, we want to compete and work extremely hard every single day. We believe that culture defeats strategy and we need to focus on building the heart of our team and making sure no other team can match our intensity and drive. We want to compete in all that we do and we’re going to focus on bettering ourselves before we set our in-season goals for 2021.”
2020 Record: 2-3 (2-2, 4th place in MVAC Grey Tier)
Coach: Tom Conrad, 1st season at Champion
Previewing Champion’s Offense
Scoring Offense: 12.6 (53rd in Area)
Total Offense: 211.6
Returning Starters: 8
Key Returnees: Logan Easterday, JR/OL; Joey Fell, JR/QB; Levi Grimes, SR/OL; Keegan McDermott, SR/RB
Key Losses: Zach Scher, OL; Noah Vesey, QB; Austin Willforth, RB
Name to watch for: Joey Fell, QB
Junior Joey Fell is set to open the season as the team’s signal caller. Last year, he ran for 140 yards (6.7 avg), caught 9 passes for 85 stripes and threw 4 passes. Conrad sees a lot of potential in his quarterback. “Joey’s dynamic on Friday nights. We need to make sure we’re giving him the methods and options to be successful on game day. Joey’s a dual-threat guy that can hurt you with his feet but is not shy to take a shot down the field to score some quick points. Hunter Haines will be competing with Joey Fell all summer at that position and we feel that Hunter will be ready to go and contribute to the team when his number is called.”
Last season, Austin Willforth (301 yards) and Keegan McDermott (236 yards) led the team in the rushing department. As a team, the Golden Flashes ran for 163.4 yards per game.
Up front, Conrad has been pleased with the progress being made. “We have had our core group of eight lineman at every single lifting session and they’ve achieved some pretty significant gains in the weight room. We’ve also been working on our hands and feet with our linemen and they’ve done a very nice job of focusing on these two aspects of training and working hard to improve there as well. Logan Easterday, who will play tackle for us, has really stood out with his attention to detail and work ethic in the weight room. He made huge strength improvements and we look for him to anchor our offensive line. Joey Costianes and Lucas Henderlight have really stood out this off-season as well as they’re the two hardest workers in the weight room every single day. We expect Henderlight to be our right tackle and Costianes will fit nicely at a guard position on our line. Newcomers Bruce Click and Mason Crawford have also been working very hard and they’ll look to bolster the depth of our o-line unit. Ethan Ray has improved a great deal since January and he’s in line to be our starting center. Maxx Campbell will also be ready to step in at a guard position to help the team.”
Previewing Champion’s Defense
Scoring Defense: 21.0 (T-23rd in Area)
Returning Starters: 6
Key Returnees: Levi Grimes, SR/DL; Conner McDermott, SO/LB; Keegan McDermott, SR/LB; Jack O’Shaughnessy, SR/DB; Mason Sabo, SR/DB
Key Losses: Austin Booth, LB; Jacob Pawcio, DL; Austin Willforth, LB
Name to watch for: Keegan McDermott, LB
Over the past two seasons (15 games), Champion’s defense has allowed an average of 18.9 points per outing.
“Defensively we’ll rely on a number of players,” states Conrad. “We expect Keegan McDermott (23 tackles, 2 INTs) to be the captain of the defensive ship. We expect him to anchor the edge of our defense from his outside linebacker position. Opposite of Keegan will be his brother, Conner. We expect him to anchor the opposite edge of our defense. At the middle linebacker position, we’ll rely on Hunter Haines, Landon Johns, and Tyler Rupe to step up and be tough against the run. Freshman Michael Sanders looks to earn time in the middle of the defense and help our middle linebacker group against opponents run game. In the secondary, we’ll rely heavily on Mason Sabo (32 tackles) at his safety position as he brings a great level of experience and cover skills to the top of the defense. Jack O’Shaughnessy will be relied upon to play one of of corner positions and has been a 4-year starter at that spot. Nick Vesey is going to step up and man the corner spot opposite of O’Shaughnessy.
Up front, the rotation of Logan Easterday, Joey Costianes, Lucas Henderlight, Andrew Skebe and Nathan Holt will be a tough matchup for any team,” points out Conrad. “We expect those guys to demand double teams and take up blocks so that our linebackers can flow freely to the point of attack and make stops against the run. Our defensive line partnered with our level of experience at the top end of our defense (secondary) puts us in a great position to be tough against the run and the pass.”
2020 MVAC Grey Tier Standings
Brookfield – 5-1 (6-4)
Crestview – 4-1 (7-2)
LaBrae – 3-2 (6-4)
Champion – 2-2 (2-3)
Memorial – 2-3 (2-5)
Liberty – 1-5 (1-6)
Newton Falls – 0-3 (1-6)
Aug. 20 – Warren JFK
Aug. 27 – at Rootstown
Sept. 3 – at Southeast
Sept. 10 – at Newton Falls
Sept. 17 – LaBrae
Sept. 24 – at Garrettsville Garfield
Oct. 1 – at Liberty
Oct. 8 – Campbell Memorial
Oct. 15 – at Crestview
Oct. 22 – Brookfield