Hake, Western Reserve seek return to playoffs
By MIKE McLAIN
Sitting still isn’t an easy accomplishment for Western Reserve Blue Devils coach Andy Hake.
It’s obvious then that Hake isn’t resting easy after the Blue Devils missed qualifying for the playoffs last season after an eight-year streak of success that began in 2008. With eight starters back on both offense and defense and 15 seniors returning on a roster of 60, don’t be surprised if another playoff streak begins this season.
“We’re going to get into the playoffs,” Hake said with enthusiasm. “We won the [ITCL] league last year, so we’re happy with that. I think you start there and win the league.”
The loss of the multi-talented Wyatt Larimer is significant, but don’t feel sorry for Hake. Senior Dom Velasquez, who passed for 1,200 yards last season, is a talented thrower. He split time last season with Larimer, who spent considerable time at receiver.
The focal point will be senior fullback Jack Cappabianca, who rushed for 1,100 yards in 2016. Adam Gatrell will split carries with Cappabianca.
“Cappabianca is one of the better players in the area,” Hake said. “He’s a real good player.”
The receivers have experience and will provide dependable targets for Velasquez. Senior Kade Hilles starts at wideout, with Caleb Quinn getting the call at flanker. Seniors Aaron Posten and Ryan Demsky back them up.
The only starters back on the line are senior right guard Dallas Smith (5-6, 192) and senior left tackle Rob Hively (5-11, 222). Rounding out the starting five are sophomore center Gavin Jackson (5-11, 220), senior left guard Cody Hladun (5-10, 204) and senior right tackle Ryan Musch (6-3, 307).
Senior tight end Joe Clegg will be a key part of the attack.
Hake preaches relentless aggressiveness, and he’s confident the unit will deliver. Outside linebacker Ryan Slaven is a big hitter. Cappabianca will provide a punch at middle linebacker, and Brycen Jackson is a strong run-stopper at nose tackle.
The ends will be Smith and Hively. Gatrell completes the front six at outside linebacker. Posten will log time there also.
The cornerbacks are Demsky and Todd Henning. Brandon Jarvis is the weak safety, with Clegg starting at strong safety. Jimmy Mayberry gets the call at free safety.
Cody Wise will be the kicker and punter. Hake considers Wise one of the area’s best. Demsky, Mayberry, Henning and Gatrell will split return duties.
The Blue Devils begin play in the fledgling Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference, which also includes Springfield, McDonald, Mineral Ridge, Waterloo, Jackson-Milton, Lowellville and Sebring. Hake named Springfield and McDonald among the favorites to win the crown, and said you can put Western Reserve “wherever you prefer.”
Hake obviously feels like a conference title can be achieved. The Blue Devils won the ITCL five of the last six seasons.
Western Reserve opens against Columbiana, which won a 63-52 shootout last season. The Blue Devils lost three of the first four games in 2016 before winning the final six.
“We have to be ready to go when this league starts,” Hake said. “We’re going to play very physical with Columbiana in Week 1. They beat us the last two years. That’s upsetting for our kids.”