By Joe Scalzo
Faced with dwindling numbers and a brutal fall schedule, Boardman’s rookie head coach Joe Ignazio found inspiration in a strange place: a Cardinal Mooney graduate.
While Ignazio was at a coaching clinic in Columbus this summer, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer recounted a story about former Mooney standout John Simon, who played through an injured shoulder in a close win over Cal last fall. In the locker room afterward, Simon broke down while speaking to the team, prompting the coaches and players to ask themselves, “Do we care that much?”
So, as the school’s third head coach in four years, Ignazio adopted the motto “Rip Open Your Chest.”
“I just said, ‘If you’re just going to sit back and evaluate the new coaches and the new philosophy on offense and question everything, we’re never going to be successful,’” said Ignazio, a Boardman High graduate who spent the last decade as a Spartan assistant. “We need everybody to be all in.”
Despite being the second-biggest school in Mahoning County, the Spartans have just 40 varsity players, including a lineman, Doug Kephart, who will miss at least half the season with a knee injury.
“There’s not a whole lot of us, so we need everybody to give everything they’ve got for everybody else all the time,” said senior Nick Cordova, who will play guard and linebacker. “I love this game and all I can do is just play as hard as I can. That’s what everybody needs to do.”
Offensively, the Spartans return do-everything senior Turel Thompson, who had 600 yards receiving, 280 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns last season. Senior Jimmy Mikesell, a two-year starter at center, and junior Jason Young are back up front, while athletic junior Evan Crouch will play tight end, fullback and H-back.
Senior Darius Sanders will play quarterback. While he can throw the ball, look for the Spartans to use his athleticism as a runner whenever possible. Isaiah Lyle will be back in the mix at running back.
Defensively, Crouch and Cordova will man two of the linebacker spots, but the line will be all new.
Thompson will be back at DB, as will senior Ivan Adu-Poku (who played as a sophomore but missed last season with an Achilles’ injury) and Matt Filipovich (who played a half-dozen games at free safety last year).
Boardman lost its kicker and punter to graduation and the Spartans might not have those positions settled until the opener
“Everybody is all new on special teams,” Ignazio said.
Boardman has 48 players on its freshman team and the Spartans will be out of the Federal League in two years, so the future looks better than the present. In the meantime, the Spartans will rely on their speed and athleticism to survive.
“We’re going to be a very fast, physical team,” Mikesell said. “Very quick getting to the ball on defense and running around on offense scoring.”
Added Cordova, “We definitely have a lot of speed, but for speed to kill, you need guys up front to move the big guys out of the way, so our fast guys can be fast.”