By Brian Dzenis
The memories of 2015 are almost gone at Ursuline.
Just 10 seniors who saw the Irish advance to the state semifinals as freshmen remain on the team and not all of them were even on the football roster at the time. The recent memories — back-to-back losing seasons — aren’t great.
Seventh-year head coach Larry Kempe — who said he still has the support of the school — saw the Irish go 2-8 last season. All eight losses were to playoff teams, including six regional qualifiers, four state semifinalists and two state champions.
The schedule remains one of the Mahoning Valley’s toughest with a Division IV school playing five D-II schools and four D-III teams plus the Holy War with Cardinal Mooney. Ursuline’s first six games are on the road. The Irish will head into this season with senior Glenn Griswold out for the season with an unspecified injury. He was projected to start at quarterback, safety and punter.
“We’re trying to rally around that,” Irish senior Luke Pipala said. “All the seniors and I have been supportive. We’ve gone to his house and shown that we’re behind him 100 percent. We’re trying to rally and win.”
Issues present and past have prompted some adjusting of Kempe’s own coaching. He said he’s become “more old school.”
“I’m more demanding of the little things. Get out of the huddle, get to your line, get you hands down and get ready. When you’ve had success, you start letting things go,” Kempe said. “I’ve changed that approach. I’m charting every snap that’s good or bad. How many passes have we thrown in a period of time and have we completed them?
“What we’re looking at is we’re all accountable for everything we’re doing and these are tools to get better.”
To be competitive in 2018, Ursuline needs to grow up.
With Jared Fabry now at Youngstown State and Griswold out, the youth movement is in full swing at quarterback. Sophomore Ed DiFlorio and freshman Brady Shannon will fight for the starting job this month.
Kempe has a list of six players who could fill the shoes of graduated tailback Joe Floyd as well as H-back type players: junior Davion Jones, sophomore Dante Walker, senior Luigi Rohrbaugh, junior Matt Phillips and sophomore Anthony DeCato.
On the offensive line, seniors Louie DelColle, Dan Henry and Malcom Joyner are the only players considered to be starters. The other two spots on the line are up for grads.
It’s a similar situation at wideout. Junior James Phillips returns as starter and he’ll be joined by Pipala and junior Julian Johnson.
Kempe normally isn’t a fan of two-way players, but given the dearth of experience across the roster, his best 11 on either side of the ball may be a two-way guy.
“I’m all for it, you know? That’s what all the conditioning in the summer was and getting all that work in,” Rohrbaugh said.
Rohrbaugh is one such player at outside linebacker, where he’s joined by James Phillips, Matt Phillips, senior Nick Leombruno and sophomore Zack Simon.
“We’re going to have to play fast,” Leombruno said. “No missing assignments and we should be good.”
Junior Andrew Barkett and senior Devin Milentijevic will play of the defensive line with some of the Irish o-line scattered through the front seven.
In the secondary, Julian Johnson, Davion Jones and junior Daysean Harris will see time. Pipala and DiFlorio add depth.
If nothing else, the Irish’ defense is going to tackle. Few things made Kempe more red-faced in the past two seasons than missed tackles.
“We’ve had guys who’ve missed more than they’ve made,” Kempe said. “I’m still in charge of the defense and there’s two things we do every day: pursuit drills to run to the football and we tackle. The guys are doing a great job, but we have to have that transference to Friday.”
Senior Matt Feree will split time between the football and soccer teams this year to kick and punt. He’s the younger brother of former Austintown Fitch football player and wrestler Michael Feree.