By Greg Gulas
For two seasons, Mark Asher slowly rebuilt the East Liverpool football program, turning it into one of the most respected in the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference and Eastern Ohio.
He took a team that had won just two games the previous three seasons, led them to a 4-6 mark his first year and then an 8-2 record and Division III playoff berth.
The Struthers Wildcats are now hoping that he can work the same magic this fall.
Speaking to the Curbstone Coaches during Monday’s final luncheon meeting of the season at the Blue Wolf Banquet Center, Asher said he welcomes the challenge of rebuilding the Wildcats.
“The Struthers opening appealed to me for a variety of reasons,” said Asher. “First, it’s an excellent football town; second, it has a rich athletic history in all sports and finally, a tremendous football tradition; one that is fast approaching 100 years now.
“The players over the years have helped establish that tradition while coaches like Pete Pirone, Mike Gottfried, Ed Strauss and Dick Hartzell are just a few who made sure that the tradition continued,” Asher said.
The Wildcats were a combined 8-22 the past three campaigns.
Senior accountability and leadership will play a big part if they expect to enjoy a turnaround this fall.
“Seniors have to take ownership of the season because this is their class,” Asher said. “You hardly ever point to your sophomore or junior seasons, but everyone remembers their senior year.
“As a staff, we will do our best to restore attitude and belief while helping them to realize once again what it takes to become a champion.”
Asher was named Eastern Ohio and Big 33 Coach of the Year and on June 30 at Geneva College, the 24-year coaching veteran will serve as head of the Ohio team in the Penn-Ohio All-Star Football Classic.
The Wildcats have already started offseason conditioning while Asher adds that his players will be very visible in the community under his watch.
“We’ve implemented an offseason conditioning program, going four days a week with the hopes of increasing our strength and speed,” he said.
“Also, we want the entire community to rally behind us; kind of like a 12th man when we are playing.,” he said.
At Sunday’s hall of fame banquet, the organization handed out $1,000 scholarships to three area seniors — Mike Lopuchovsky of Hubbard (football), Jacob Jaros of LaBrae (boys basketball) and Jennifer Bjelac of Newton Falls (girls basketball).
The organization will break for the summer with weekly meetings set to resume again in September.