By Tom Williams
This fall, the Boardman High School football team is hoping to go where no Spartans team has gone before.
“We preach to our kids that we’ve never been a playoff team two years in a row,” Spartans head coach Joe Ignazio said on the eve of his fourth season. “So that’s something we’re trying to build, that stability.
“Our expectations are to be in every year now.”
Last season, the Spartans overcame a 1-3 start to sweep their All-American Conference Gold Tier and qualify for the postseason.
Their season kicked into high gear with Week 7’s 18-14 win over Warren Harding. Two weeks later, Boardman defeated Austintown Fitch, 10-3. Boardman (6-4) finished in the top four of Division II Region 5 to earn a home game. Dresden Tri-Valley won, 27-2.
“It’s a really exciting time, especially for our team,” senior wide receiver/safety Austin Barone said. “We would all be excited to play in [the playoffs] again and get revenge from last year’s [loss].
“It was a lot of fun playing in it, but losing the way we did was bittersweet — being able to get there but not being able to capitalize on our opportunity.”
To be the first Spartans team to qualify for Week 11 twice won’t be easy. The schedule is loaded with challenges.
Ignazio has five starters returning on offense. Travis Koontz, who has committed to Bowling Green, and Barone are the wide receivers.
“We have a lot of new players who are going to step up and do big things,” Koontz said. “[They will make] a big impact on how we do this year.”
Ignazio said Koby Adu-Poku, who rushed for 800 yards backing up Mario Graziani, will start at tailback.
Senior J.R. Ryan and sophomore Michael O’Horo are battling to be the starting quarterback. Center Bob Toth and Justin Acevedo return up front.
Donovan Turney (defensive tackle) and Acevedo (defensive end) are among the five returning starters on defense. Ignazio said Koontz will get time at the other defensive end position.
“With his size, he should be able to help us as a good rusher off the perimeter,” Ignazio said.
Abu-Poku and Mike Melewski return in the secondary. Ignazio says Gaven Strine will be moved from cornerback to linebacker.
“We always have to stop the run first,” Turney said. “[If] everyone does their job, I think the rest will take care of itself.”
Noah Falleti returns as punter. Ignazio said several soccer players are competing to replace Adam Deeley as kicker.
Among Boardman’s non-league opponents are Cardinal Mooney, Ursuline, Steubenville, Canfield and Massillon Perry.
“With the way we beat Warren and winning the league, obviously our guys should probably be aware that they are going to have a target on their back,” Ignazio said.
“Those teams aren’t going to take us lightly and they are going to want payback, especially the way we won those games,” Ignazio said. “It was probably a tough pill for them to swallow.”
For Koontz, the win over Fitch was a major highlight.
“We love beating them, it was a good feeling last year,” Koontz said.
Turney said playing Mooney is equally as special.
“[Those] weeks come up, we all have a little extra pep in our step coming out to practice,” the senior lineman said. “They always play us tough.”