JEFFERSON, Ohio (WKBN) – Jefferson closed out the 2020 season by winning 3 of their last five games. Prior to that stretch, the Falcons had lost 33 of their previous 35 games.
After the season, the team’s head coach Ed Rankin stepped down. In January, Brandon Hanna – who had worked as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator last fall – was named Jefferson’s new head coach.
“I’m extremely blessed for this opportunity,” states Hanna. “I got hired right in time to get our off-season training going. We have a solid core of young, hungry guys and a committed staff. We’ve received great support from the administration as well. We’re looking forward to getting started.”
Jefferson begins the new campaign with back-to-back road tilts against Grand Valley (on August 20) and versus Painesville Harvey (on August 27).
2020 Record: 3-7 (1-5, 7th place in Northeast 8)
Coach: Brandon Hanna, 1st season
Previewing Jefferson’s Offense
Scoring Offense: 27.2 (T-27th in Area)
Total Offense: 363.3
Returning Starters: 8
Key Returnees: Sam Discher, JR/OL; Reed Edgar, JR/OL; Grant Hitchcock, JR/QB; Trent Hodge, JR/WR; Cole Pawlowski, SR/OL; Mason Pawlowski, JR/OL; Wade Woodworth, JR/WR
Key Losses: Danny Bruckman, RB; Austin Jones, WR
Name to watch for: Grant Hitchcock, QB
Jefferson must replace their standout running back Danny Bruckman – who earned second-team all-conference honors last fall. Bruckman gained 1486 yards on the ground while scoring 20 TDs. “We’ll miss Danny,” says Hanna. “We have three guys competing for the starting running back spot – Blaze Blankenship, Wade Woodworth and Luke Funtash. All three will carry the ball for us this season. They’ve been battling it out in the weight room all off-season.”
The quarterback (Grant Hitchcock) and receiver (Trent Hodge) combination returns after a strong 2020 year. Hitchcock, a junior, threw for 1190 yards and 8 touchdowns while completing 53.5% of his passes (100-187). Hitchcock also amassed 681 stripes on the ground (8 TDs) as well. Hodge hauled in 47 passes for 645 yards (13.7 avg) and 4 scores. Both earned all-conference honors.
“Grant and Trent both played well last season as sophomores,” indicates Hanna. “They’re two of our hardest working kids. I believe they’ll have that special connection for the next two years. We’ve worked with Grant on his mechanics quite a bit this off-season and Trent is one of the best route runners I’ve seen at his age.”
Plenty of experience returns up front for the Falcons. Mason and Cole Pawlowski, Sam Discher, Reed Edgar and Cole Brake are all returning this season. Sophomore Brandon Offener has been identified as one of the strongest players in the program.
Previewing Jefferson’s Defense
Scoring Defense: 29.5 (48th in Area)
Returning Starters: 6
Key Returnees: Blaze Blankenship, JR/DB; Brent Dietrich, SR/DL; Grant Hitchcock, JR/DB; Trent Hodge, JR/DB; Cole Pawlowski, SR/LB; Wade Woodworth, JR/LB
Key Losses: Austin Jones, DB; Jacob Sabo, LB
Name to watch for: Wade Woodworth, LB
Over Jefferson’s first 5-games a year ago, the defense allowed an average of 38.2 points. During their final 5-contests, the Falcons permitted just 20.8 points per game as they posted 3 wins.
“We’re looking to put more athletes on the field,” Hanna remarks. “Getting guys in the right position, keeping the scheme simple and allowing our guys to play fast. We’re very strong in the secondary.” Trent Hodge (41 tackles), Grant Hitchcock (3 INTs) and Blaze Blankenship (50 tackles) all return as defensive backs.
Junior linebacker Preston Reames has stood out in camp so far. “His attitude and work ethic in the weight room is second to none. Wade Woodworth (5 QB sacks), Luke Funtash, Hitchcock and Hodge have all been impressive as well.”
2020 Northeast 8 Standings
South Range – 6-0 (9-1)
Poland – 5-1 (7-2)
Hubbard – 4-2 (5-3)
Niles – 4-2 (5-4)
Girard – 2-4 (4-6)
Struthers – 2-4 (2-5)
Jefferson – 1-5 (3-7)
Lakeview – 0-6 (1-7)
Aug. 20 – at Grand Valley
Aug. 27 – at Painesville Harvey
Sept. 3 – Edgewood
Sept. 10 – at Girard
Sept. 17 – Niles
Sept. 24 – at Hubbard
Oct. 1 – Struthers
Oct. 8 – at South Range
Oct. 15 – Poland
Oct. 22 – Lakeview