By Tom Williams
Dropping out of the All-American Conference means Beaver Local has more opportunities to build local rivalries.
This fall, the Beavers are independent again. Off the schedule are Hubbard, Howland, Canfield and Jefferson. Replacing them are East Palestine, Oak Glen, Cambridge and Ashtabula Edgewood.
Head coach Jeremy McElroy, who is beginning his second season, said there still is an AAC flavor to the schedule.
“We still play three teams that were in our league,” said McElroy, referring to Poland, Niles and Struthers. “We’re playing Oak Glen [again], a traditional rival in the area, being across the [Ohio River]. They’re back on the schedule after a year off and our kids are excited about playing them.
“And [adding] East Palestine, being right up the road here, makes for a nice local game.”
Asked which team is the school’s biggest rival, lineman Stefan Lucas responded East Liverpool.
“They are a big rival, but in the last few years we’ve been dealing with Crestview,” Lucas said. “First game, it’s definitely going to be rough.”
Lineman Morley Marsden believes the Beavers will be more competitive by staying close to home.
“We’re going to be playing more local teams,” Marsden said. “That will make a little bit better competition around here.”
The Beavers, who run the multiple on offense, have four starters — all linemen — returning. They are Lucas, Cody Martsolf, Jason Sims and Austin Lawrence.
“It allows you to do some [easier] things,” McElroy said.
Sophomores Trevor McKenzie (quarterback) and Robbie Johnston (running back) will man key positions.
“Trevor throws an accurate ball, but we’re going to have to break him in,” McElroy said. “Robbie is pretty quick and he has good vision as a runner.”
McElroy’s goal is to use only about half as his starters as two-way players.
Lucas said that’s a big reason the Beavers won’t miss playing bigger schools like Howland and Canfield, who rarely use two-way players.
“They would be fresh and we weren’t,” Lucas said. “It was tough to go head-to-head.”
McElroy said three-year letterman Martsolf excels despite being smaller than many of his opponents.
“For his size, he’s pretty quick and powerful for being a short, stocky kid,” McElroy said. “He’s a wrestler and went to the district finals and almost made it to state.”
Justin McCoy is the Beavers’ punter and kicker.
Shedding the biggest AAC schools can only help the Beavers’ chances for a .500 season. Dropping to Division IV won’t make much of a difference, McElroy said.
“It doesn’t really make a difference because most of the schools who were [with us] in our Division III region are in Division IV with us,” said McElroy, referring to Poland and Marlington.