NILES, Ohio (WKBN) – Coach Jim Parry returns for his fifth season at the helm of the Niles Red Dragons’ football program.
After winning three consecutive games to improve to 3-1 in the 2021 season, the COVID virus shut down the Red Dragons in mid-September. When they came back, they struggled to find that same momentum as they lost four of their final five contests to end the year at 4-5.
Niles has accumulated a pair of winning seasons over the last nine years dating back to 2013. The cupboard is not bare as the Red Dragons return a slew of talented players led by their junior runner Antuan Gardner and senior lineman Matt Keeley – who earned First-Team All-League honors last fall.
There wasn’t a sophomore from the area who ran for more yards than Gardner. He gained 170.5 yards per contest to close out his 2021 year with 1535 yards on 229 carries (6.7 avg) and 18 touchdowns.
Nathan Coots is back as the team’s top returning pass catcher (12 catches, 16.5 avg).
Coach Parry points out, “[Antuan, Keeley and Coots] are special and have learned under fire as young players. We feel like we’re going to be hard to defend because we have a ton of weapons. This will be a talented group at the skill positions. Antuan has had a great off-season. He’s considerably stronger and faster.”
Kris Hrosar completed 46.2% of his throws a year ago (18-39) as a sophomore. Hrosar threw for 287 yards and a score. Hrosar will compete this summer with senior Keyshon Talley and incoming-junior Anthony Budak (Olmsted Falls) for the starting signal caller position.
“We expect all three will start somewhere no matter who wins the quarterback battle,” says Parry. “All three are tremendous athletes so it’s a great problem to have.”
The defense, a year ago, forced 13 turnovers (8 interceptions, 5 fumble recoveries) as they’ll return four of their five top tacklers (Antuan Gardner, Joseph Smith, Nathan Coots, Roberto Merlo). The unit must move on without their lineman Brad Isabella and defensive back Kolten Christopher (4 INTs).
With seven returning starters on the defensive side of the ball, the maturity of the group will likely tell the story. “We played a lot of young players last year,” states Parry. “We’re counting on that experience to pay off this year. Merlo had shoulder surgery in the off-season and we are excited to get him back.“
Niles will travel to Howland for a Thursday showdown between a pair of Trumbull County rivals.
“We love the buy-in from our players,” mentions Parry. “We expect to be in the mix for a conference championship. We know that if we can compete in the Northeast 8 that we’ll be prepared for the playoffs. This is the 110th team on record. They’re very aware of the history of Niles football. They want to add a chapter of their own.”
Niles Red Dragons
Head Coach: Jim Parry, 5th season at Niles (20-18)
2021 Record: 4-5 (2-4), 5th place in Northeast 8
Last 5 Years: 22-26 (45.8%)
Home Field: Bo Rein Stadium
League: Northeast 8 Conference
Base Offense: Power Spread
Base Defense: 4-2-5
2021 Team Stats
Scoring Offense: 17.3 (49th in Area)
Scoring Defense: 26.3 (34th in Area)
Total Offense: 259.0
Rushing Offense: 202.5
Passing Offense: 56.5
2021 Individual Leaders
Passing: Kris Hrosar – 287 yards, 46.2% (18-39), TD
Rushing: Antuan Gardner – 1535 yards, 6.7 avg, 18 TDs
Receiving: Nathan Coots – 198 yards, 16.5 avg
Tackles: Kolton Christopher – 44
Interceptions: Kolton Christopher – 4
Girard 49 Red Dragons 28
Hubbard 48 Red Dragons 13
Red Dragons 21 Struthers 14
South Range 41 Red Dragons 0
Poland 35 Red Dragons 7
Red Dragons 28 Lakeview 14
Red Dragons 40 East 14
Red Dragons 19 Alliance 16
Howland 6 Red Dragons 0
2021 Northeast 8 Standings
South Range – 7-0 (13-1)
Hubbard – 6-1 (10-2)
Poland – 5-2 (8-4)
Girard – 4-3 (7-5)
Niles – 2-4 (4-5)
Struthers – 2-5 (4-6)
Jefferson – 1-5 (4-6)
Lakeview – 0-7 (0-10)
Aug. 18 – at Howland
Aug. 26 – Alliance
Sept. 2 – LaBrae
Sept. 9 – Lakeview
Sept. 16 – Jefferson
Sept. 23 – at Poland
Sept. 30 – at South Range
Oct. 7 – Struthers
Oct. 14 – at Hubbard
Oct. 21 – at Girard