BY ANDY ROWER | MIRROR SPORTS — Despite graduating nine all-conference players off last year’s state-ranked football team, Anthony Wayne appears poised to compete for its second straight Northern Lakes League title this year.
“When you have talented kids like Nick Schneider, Nate Barney, Cole Ragan and Ralph Burdo – and there were so many more – that was such a great class,” said AW coach Andy Brungard.
“We talk a lot about the class behind them kind of went unnoticed, and I think that’s put a big chip on their shoulders and is a motivation piece for them.”
In fact, the 2018 Generals team includes 24 seniors and returns 20 letter winners from 2017, including seven starters on the offensive side of the ball and six more on defense.
One of the offensive senior starters returning is quarterback Max Denman, who earned third-team honors from the league as a junior.
“Obviously, you’re happy any time you have a kid that returns after starting all 11 games for you,” Brungard said. “The experience alone makes him able to read defenses a lot quicker. He understands a lot of what we’re trying to do on offense. Sometimes he lines up our receivers and our tailback. He makes checks at the line.
“You’re talking about a kid whose GPA is higher than a 4.0. He sometimes will come back and say things to me that I haven’t even thought about. When you talk about the mental aspect of the game – that’s definitely his strong suit.”
Junior Zach Szul will be Denman’s backup in the spread offense.
“Zach is a terrific athlete,” Brungard said.
Replacing 2017 NLL Player of the Year Nick Schneider will be another familiar face in junior Ezra Scott, who started two games as a sophomore.
“Ezra is probably one of our best athletes on the team, so I’m excited to see what he can do on the offensive side of the ball,” Brungard said.
Senior Jeremy Giesken also returns after a strong finish last year and junior Jacob Neumeyer was moved to running back from his 2017 slot receiver position to create a dangerous tailback trio.
“We have a three-headed backfield, similar to what we had last year,” Brungard said.
AW returns all three of its top receivers from last year in senior third-team all-leaguer Max Bradfield, classmate Nick Kaufman and junior slot Mason Alberts.
“They are fun to watch,” Brungard said of the Denman-to-Bradfield connection. “They are both friends who are also on the basketball court together. Not too many people get to experience that in any sport.
“They’ll signal to each other or say things to each other to adjust, whether it’s a route or if it’s checking on a coverage. That takes a special relationship. They definitely have the potential of being on a different level.”
Brungard went on to say that he thought the strength of this year’s team was “definitely our skill players.”
“I haven’t had a year yet where I’ve returned a running back with this much experience, three starting receivers and a quarterback,” he said. “We put a lot of stress on those guys by putting in some different things to help their games take off a little bit.”
A second-team All-Ohio linebacker, senior Ben Allen will expand his duties to include tight end this season, joining juniors Bryce Boyer and Dylan Jennings.
“They’ll be involved for sure,” Brungard said. “Whether it’s having them as a check-down option or having them block – they are pretty versatile for our offense.”
Helping these players succeed will be a large and experienced offensive line that includes senior first-team all-league center Carter Holck (5-foot-10, 205 pounds), senior third-team all-leaguer Mike Cousino (6-2, 280 pounds) and juniors Jacob Buckmaster (6-0, 235), Josh Raimonde (6-2, 270) and Nolan Barber (6-2, 235).
“Carter, even last year, was one of the most dependable offensive linemen that we had,” Brungard said. “He’s got quick feet, he’s good at communicating or there are blitzers coming if there is an adjustment on the line and his snaps are consistent on every play.
“Mike’s biggest strength is his leadership.
With Cousino and Holck being obvious returning starters, Buckmaster started the last three games of 2017 and Barber is a transfer student from St. John’s Jesuit.
“You don’t really know what to expect when you get a transfer from somewhere, but Nolan has been outstanding from the start,” Brungard said. “He’s a team player. He does anything you ask him to and goes above and beyond. I’m very excited that he’s a part of our team.”
Junior Matt Paull will be the team’s punter and kickoff specialist and was battling sophomore Zain Hamid for field goal duties at the time of The Mirror’s interview with Brungard.
Neumeyer, Mason Alberts, seniors Chase Alberts and Jacob Gordon and junior Kyle Ray will return this year’s kicks.
Barber, Boyer, Raimonde and senior Nolan Bishop (5-11, 180) will anchor the AW’s defensive line.
“Nolan and Josh have developed a good relationship,” Brungard said. “You’re talking about two guys that play as offensive linemen and defensive tackles and they both feed off of each other.”
Allen and fellow seniors Tyler Kristufek and Jacob Kirby will be the next line of defense as linebackers.
The Generals secondary will include Mason Alberts, Gordon, Kaufman, Neu-meyer and senior Nick Prokup.
With 75 kids out this year, Brungard said it is the largest group he’s had since he’s been at Anthony Wayne.
“To have that many bodies at practice to play on scout teams or special teams and having kids that can fill in at different positions has been unique and has given us a lot of different personnel packages that we can try,” he continued.
“These guys are also very unique in the fact that they all get along with each other and they all communicate well. They are a very fun group to be around.”
The Generals will open the season by hosting St. Francis 7:00 p.m. on Friday, August 24.
“The (21-14 first-round playoff) loss to Medina Highland did not sit well,” Brungard said. “It was very motivating through the offseason. There’s a lot of hunger.
“This year’s seniors have been behind two great classes that have come through Anthony Wayne and I think they are just excited to prove themselves and also to leave our program in a better place.”