Having Johnston, Darkadakis return is plus for South Range
John Less will succeed Ryan Maxwell at quarterback and also play safety.
By JOHN KOVACH
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
NORTH LIMA -- The South Range High football team returns two of its top players from last year's Inter-County League championship team, that also made the Division V post-season playoffs and finished with an 11-1 record, including 7-0 in the ICL.
And both players also happen to lead both the offense and defense, which bodes well for the Raiders' chances to repeat as ICL champs and make the playoffs again in coach Dan Yeagley's 10th season at the helm.
The two aces are Ben Johnston and Tony Darkadakis, a pair of strong running backs and linebackers around whom South Range is building its 2004 team.
The two-way veterans are among eight returning starters and 22 lettermen back this year, as the Raiders seek their eighth ICL championship and eighth post-season berth.
"Those two were the crux of the offense last year and with [quarterback Ryan] Maxwell [who also] was a big part of offense," said Yeagley. "We lose Maxwell but we get back both of the others [Johnston and Darkadakis]. They were the main part of our team last year and will carry over to this year."
Johnston rushed for 1,078 yards on 171 carries and 17 TDs and added 336 yards receiving on 22 catches and two touchdowns.
Darkadakis rushed for 828 yards on 129 carries and six TDs, and added 145 yards receiving on 13 catches.
"Ben is a hard runner," said Yeagley. "He keeps his feet moving all the time. He is a big strong player and powerful running back."
And, "Darkadakis also is a big, strong runner. They are a lot alike. Tony has good vision and sees things and gives out 110 percent."
On defense, Johnston will return at middle linebacker while Darkadakis will be back at outside linebacker.
"Johnston and Darkadakis also again will be the crux of the defense this year as linebackers, along with Brandan Bierdeman, who was a starting inside linebacker with Ben Johnston last year," said Yeagley.
Maxwell, who will continue his football career at Mount Union College, passed for 1,302 yards on 79-0f-142 and 10 TDs last season, and added 759 yards rushing in 123 carries and nine TDs.
Less will play quarterback
Yeagley said John Less, last year's starting safety, will succeed Maxwell at quarterback while doubling as the safety.
Yeagley feels Less is up to the job, especially as a leader.
"Less has more than what a lot of people think [he has]," said Yeagley. "He has a nice throwing arm and runs well and he can lead the team and direct them."
Johnston will get support in the receiving corps from Craig Miller and Justin Carolyne. Miller is a returning starter.
"They both have some experience catching the ball last year [from] Maxwell," said Yeagley.
The coach said Johnston probably will punt again this year, but may share punting duties with David Maxwell, Ryan Maxwell's, in order to get a break from some of his duties.
Pat Majernik also returns to handle the place-kicking.
Besides Maxwell, another top player lost to graduation was linebacker Russell Dawson.
"[He] was one of our key defensive people last year," said Yeagley of Dawson, noting that Dawson will continue his football career at John Carroll University.
Anchors on offensive line
The Raiders' offensive line will be anchored by three returning starters -- Mark Beverly, Mike Geffert and Greg Snyder.
"[They] are three starters from last year to give us something to build around," said Yeagley.
But, overall on the line, "[we] will be young and inexperienced in the trenches on both sides of the ball."
There are no returning starters on the defensive line.
"This is a young team with only nine seniors and 20 juniors, basically a young team, but the leadership the seniors have given us has be really been impressive," said Yeagley, who is assisted by Wayne Allegretto, Rich McClellan, Alan Kimmel, Dave Purins and Gary Knittle.