LEETONIA, Ohio (WKBN) – If the Leetonia Bears’ 2021 football season could be described in one word it would be disappointing.  It didn’t start well and only got worse as the season progressed as they stumbled to a 2-5 final record.

It had an auspicious beginning when Southington Chalker pulled the plug on their season shortly before the start of the year, leaving the Bears Athletic Director Jeff Martig and head football coach Paul Hulea scrambling to try to find a last-minute week #3 replacement. They eventually gave up that effort, settling for a 9-game season instead.

As the Leetonia program prepared to showcase their new turf field to kick off the season, weather and other delays forced them to move their home opener to Salem’s Sebo Stadium.  But unfortunately, due to covid protocols, both that game against Sebring and their game the following week at Mathews were canceled.

It wouldn’t be until September 10th that the Bears would finally be able to start their season and show off their newly renovated turf stadium.  They finally got to play their first game four weeks into the season.

“It was really rough, especially with covid going on.  We would get called to the locker room and then sent home,” Senior Bear lineman LJ Rosa said.  “It was a really hard time for a lot of us.”

The late start didn’t help the Bears as they played a struggling East Palestine team in that first game, only to play the eventual EOAC champions in United the following week.  The altered schedule didn’t give the Bears much of a chance to prepare for the rigors of the league run.

“The schedule wasn’t kind to us.  We played the least good team in the league straight to the best team in the league,” Rosa remarked.  “It just tore our confidence last year.  So this year we hope it is totally different.  We hope to keep our confidence up and finish with a good season.”

This year the Bears are counting on that experience of hard times and disappointments to help mold them into both better players and better teammates.  A learning experience that seniors like Rosa plan on demonstrating leadership in what is a fairly young Bears squad.

“We are going to be playing some young guys.  Especially in the linemen area.  Our seniors are all designated leaders on the line and skill positions.  I’m a captain on the line,” Rosa remarked.  “When we come together as a team we are all in sync.  Which definitely helps us out.”

Head coach John Protopapa admitted that the Bears are experiencing a bit of a tough cycle right now with linemen.  He has a few senior, junior, and freshman linemen, but the sophomore class has no lineman players, causing them to rely on the freshman for depth.

With the close of the 2021 season, the Bears also experience another dramatic change in that head coach Paul Hulea decided to step down.  So in stepped another long-time area coach in Protopapa to take over the reins of the Bears program.

“It has definitely been a change.  There is more of a variety in our offensive plays than in past years,” Rosa said.  “We definitely still have to work hard and they (coaching staff) have to get used to us.  That is hard especially with it being my senior year to switch it all up all of a sudden, but I’m getting used to it and I enjoy it.”

The Bears will start with a clean slate and high hopes as they kick off the 2022 season hosting the Jackson-Milton Blue Jays on Thursday, August 18th at 7:00 PM.