By Brian Dzenis
Columbiana quarterback Mitch Davidson completed an area-best 173 passes last year. The Clippers’ only returning receiving target caught four.
Davidson, who owns nearly all of his school’s offensive records, will try to build on his breakout junior season with all new weapons. There may be no better QB to break in a new receiving corps, but it’s little solace for Coach Bob Spaite. It’s better to have an experienced quarterback with inexperienced wideouts, than the reverse, right?
“It’s pick your poison. If you don’t catch the ball, it makes no difference how good Mitch throws it,” Spaite said.
As a team, Spaite may have some unsettled positions heading into fall scrimmages, but he does have the core of a team that went 9-2.
The Clippers’ overall numbers jump from 32 players to 56. Spaite credits a 25-man freshman class, a half-dozen athletes who haven’t played football before and four transfer students for the increase.
Spaite is not a fan of the Inter-Tri County League falling apart at the end of this year. After the swan song season, Columbiana joins East Palestine, Leetonia, Lisbon, Southern, United, Wellsville and Toronto in the Eastern Ohio Athletic Conference.
“It’s a shame,” Spaite said. “Nobody tried harder than our superintendent to keep the league together. Our superintendent, Don Mook, got a lot of blame for what went down, but nobody tried harder than him to hold this league together ,and in my opinion, he tried too hard and I’ve told him that,.
“Trying to make 16 people happy is next to impossible. It’s not going to happen. Everybody has different agendas, especially with the playoffs and the pressure to win, especially with football.”
Statistically, Davidson was the best quarterback across the tri-county area, throwing for 2,735 passing yards and 30 touchdowns with one interceptions while rushing for 1,137 yards and 16 scores.
Davidson remains humble about his feats last year. He might be the face of the program in 2016, but he doesn’t enjoy the spotlight.
“I wish my teammates would get as much attention as I do,” Davidson said. “Take my offensive line, so much of what I did last year doesn’t happen without them.”
Davidson and Spaite are thrilled to have all of the Clippers starting offensive lineman back. Center Matt Fay, guards Caleb Rupert Jr. and Sean Congemi and tackles Keenan Green and Tim Davin are all seniors.
“That’s going to be the thing that makes us go as much as anything,” Spaite said. “Hopefully Mitch will have time to settle in and get things going.”
Running back Tanner Pearl is the only player on the team with game-experience catching passes. He caught four balls all of last year.
Senior Connor Stacy; juniors Zack Phillips, Jerrett Nemick and Dustin Bennett; sophomores Jayden Graham and Brandt Virden; and freshmen Joe Babel and Chase Franklin will fill out the receiver and tight end roles.
Like the Clippers’ offense, the defense gets more inexperienced further away from the trenches.
“Like in baseball, up the middle we’re pretty good,” Spaite said. “We have to work on our perimeter people.”
Green, Davin, Rupert, fellow senior Tucker Cope and junior James Hum return on the defensive line.
Congemi returns as a three-year starter at inside linebacker and junior Frank Rupert will rotate from defensive line to linebacker as needed.
Stacy and Pearl are the returnees at defensive back.
Jared Bryarly will be the kicker.
The Clippers will rely on Davidson and a veteran offensive line to take the team where it wants to go. They open the season with three weeks of playoff teams: Western Reserve, Crestview and East Palestine. Spaite can’t find a better leader for the season than his quarterback.
“On the field, there’s no difference between him throwing a touchdown pass or getting sacked. His mannerisms and emotions, he’s as steady as they come. He’s as humble as a kid as I’ve been around,” Spaite said. “In our system with what we do and what we ask him to do, obviously I’m extremely biased, but if he’s not the best, then he’s one of the best.
“You’d be splitting hairs if you want to say somebody’s better.”