Two minutes with TJ Parker: Austintown-Fitch head coach discusses upcoming season

Sports

AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Fitch earned the #2 seed in Region 5 (D2) by posting an undefeated record for the first time since 2013 as they demonstrated the ability to win going away and also in the highly-contested matchups like their overtime 42-41 victory over Steubenville.

Click the video above to hear from Head Coach TJ Parker.

However, the Falcons were turned away in the regional quarterfinals against Harding (24-10). Their 7-1 record in Parker’s first season was the best that a Falcon head coach had in his debut campaign since Dave Hartman’s 1982 bunch went 9-1.

“We have a bad taste in our mouth for the way we finished in the playoffs,” Parker said. “That is part of leveling up, taking it to the next step. However good our regular season went, whatever happen baring injuries, were we prepared enough, it caught up to us in the playoffs.”

Fitch last suffered through a losing season in 2007. With six starters returning on both sides of the ball, the Falcons are motivated to see more of the same success they had last year this coming fall.

“As much as I want it to feel like year number two, it doesn’t. Last year was such a unique and challenging season, every staff had to feel as if it was year one all over again,” Parker said. “For the kids, it’s the understanding of expectations, processes, schemes and our verbiage that makes heading into the second year that much of an easier transition for us. The cultural groundwork has been laid and now it is on us to find ways to build on it.”

The 2021 season begins with Chaney at home Friday, August 20.

Now in year two, Parker said, “We’re chasing to be our very best. The older guys, they now get that. They want to do what it takes to be at their very best when it’s needed. Our young guys, they have plenty of talent, but they still have growing up to do. In order for us to be successful this year, that has to happen sooner than later.”

2020 Record: 7-1
Coach: TJ Parker, 2nd season (7-1)
2020 Big 22: Nate Leskovac; Devin Sherwood

Previewing Fitch’s Offense
Scoring Offense: 33.0 (10th in area)
Returning Starters: 6
Key Returnees: Donnie Ellis, SR/WR; Tyler Evans, SR/WR; Jamell James, JR/RB; Kris King, SR/OL; Colin Moore, SR/OL; Devin Sherwood, SR/QB
Key Losses: Garrett Hogan, OL; Nate John, OL; Nate Leskovac, ATH; Jaden Murray, OL; Todd Simons, WR
Name to watch forDevin Sherwood, QB

As a junior, Devin Sherwood was named to the Big 22 team after a spectacular season, which saw #2 complete 63.8% of his 177 pass attempts for 1,587 yards and 20 touchdowns with only one interception. He also gained 6.2 yards per carry (271 rushing yards).

“Devin’s back, and more importantly, he’s healthy,” Parker said. “His ability to use his legs again allows for our offense to add another dimension we missed last season.”

In the backfield, junior Jamell James has received interest from many Power 5 colleges. Last year, he led the team by rushing for 607 yards (four TDs). Joining James will be senior Tyree Mitchell (234 rushing yards) and sophomore DJ Williams (136 rushing yards) at the running back position.

At receiver, the Falcons return two starters in Tyler Evans (31 catches, 409 yards, six TDs) and Donnie Ellis (19 catches, 161 yards).

“Tyler was a big part of our offense last season,” Parker said. “We anticipate another big year from him. Ellis came on strong toward the end of the season and we’re hoping he can build off of that.”

A trio of underclassmen should add depth to the position in Cam Smith, Jayden Eley and Dan Evans.

“Coach [Jeff] Bruno does a great job with our linemen,” Parker said. “Having a full offseason has only helped their progression both mentally and physically. From top to bottom, they’re a committed bunch that reflects everything this program is about on and off the field. Kris King and Colin Moore have emerged as the leaders of the group and really have set the tone.”

The coaching staff has been impressed by the work that Sam Moxley and Jake Jones have put in this offseason and should push for a starting role this summer. Also, keep an eye on senior Jake Corll and juniors Jack Knight and Rocco Odom to look for playing time upfront.

Previewing Fitch’s Defense
Scoring Defense: 18.1 (12th in area)
Returning Starters: 6
Key Returnees: AJ Byrd, SR/LB; Dan Evans, SO/DB; Tyler Evans, SR/DB; Tyree Mitchell, SR/LB; Donovan Oliver, SR/DL; Cam Smith, JR/DB
Key Losses: Reggie Floyd, LB; Nate Leskovac, LB; Kyree Long, DB; Jameire Robinson, LB; Carlo Walters, P
Name to watch for: Tyler Evans, DB

Fitch’s defense held half of their opponents to 14 points or less last year.

The secondary returns three of their four starters in Tyler Evans (44 tackles), Cam Smith (78 total tackles) and Dan Evans (25 tackles).

“They’re all drawing college attention,” Parker said. “They’re some of the best players we have in our program, along with being some of the best young men. They will now be challenged with taking the next step in going from good to great.”

Other players who should add depth in the defensive backfield are Arthur Croom, Bryant Butler and Davion Pritchard.

The defensive line should be a real strength this coming year as they’re led by Donovan Oliver (50 tackles, six TFL) and Josh Fitzgerald. Kylen Foster and Aaron Hively both should see plenty of time up front. At linebacker, AJ Byrd (46 tackles, 5.5 TFL) will transition from the line to one of the backer positions. Byrd will join Tyree Mitchell, Devin Pounds and DJ Williams along the middle of the defensive unit.

“We’re also anxious to see what Deshawn Vaughn [sophomore], CJ Schilser [senior], Earnest Croom [senior], Eric Greathouse [junior] and Devin Phillips [sophomore] can provide for us this summer,” Parker said. “They’ve all really bought in this off-season.”

Schedule
Aug. 20 – Chaney
Aug. 27 – at Canton McKinley
Sept. 3 – at GlenOak
Sept. 10 – Ursuline
Sept. 17 – at Mooney
Sept. 24 – Massillon
Oct. 1 – at Canfield
Oct. 8 – Wadsworth
Oct. 15 – at Boardman
Oct. 22 – at Warren Harding

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