Lowellville looking to take next step
D-VII playoff berth
and more in 2018
By Dan Hiner
The Lowellville football team made progress in 2017. After going a combined 1-18 in 2015 and 2016, the Rockets put together a 4-6 season.
The next step is finding consistency. Lowellville started last season 2-1 before winning and losing games in pairs the rest of the season.
Rockets head coach Doug Velasquez is entering his third season, and said the reason for the lack of consistency was due to a “young mentality” from his players.
“Our kids just need to learn to play consistently and play every down,” Velasquez said. “A lot of times we sleep-walked through the third quarter and that hurt us a little bit.”
The next step for the program is to make the Division VII playoffs, but Velasquez and the coaches don’t want to stop there. They want to see the Rockets host a game in Week 11.
“I really feel this community deserves a home playoff game,” Velasquez said. “I don’t know the last time they’ve had one. We want Week 11 here at home, where this community can really get behind us and pay them back for the tradition they had.”
The Rockets have key players returning at the skill positions.
Senior quarterback Jake Rotz is returning, but has had competition in camp. Sophomore Cole Bunofsky and receiver Matt Hvisdak have also taken reps under center.
Micah Mamula-Zarlingo, Evan Zupko and Hvisdak are returning at receiver.
Senior Joe Ballone is back at running back. Fullback Vinny Kacir is out with a collarbone injury, so Will Enyeart has been his replacement.
Ballone was a second-team All-Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference selection last season and Kacir received first-team honors. Both were All Northeast Ohio Inland District honorable mention selections.
“We’re happy with the way the offense is looking with the quarterbacks doing what they’re doing,” Velasquez said.
Performance along the offensive line could become an early problem. Junior Jake Jarvis is the only linemen on the team with starting experience. Jarvis started 20 games over the last two seasons.
“We do have [Jarvis] back and the leader on the front line,” Velasquez said. “We have a couple kids out [on the field] that haven’t played in the past that are really gonna help us out.
“The key is to get ‘em strong in the offseason, and we did. That’s half the battle. The other half is getting that confidence and being aggressive. Early on in camp I’d say were aggressive enough to compete.”
The Rockets’ defense made major strides in Velasquez’s second year with the program.
In Velasquez’s first season, Lowellville allowed 41 points per game. Last season, it nearly cut that in half at 23 points per game.
During their winless 2016 season, the Rockets lost eight of their nine games by 15 or more points. Last year, the Rockets only lost five games by the same margin.
“We’ve played pretty good defense since I’ve been here,” Velasquez said. “We’ve gotten better each year and I really expect that to be the strong point.”
Enyeart is returning at linebacker after a 58-tackle season. He also led the team with six sacks. Kacir is out, so Lowellville is trying to find another linebacker to fill his position.
Rotz and Zupko will return at the safety positions and Hvisdak is returning at corner.
The Rockets are also rebuilding their defensive front. Sophomore John Loshuk, junior Bryce Bunofsky and senior Andrew Krotky are new faces along the defensive line.
While the offense and defense are changing, the special teams will be similar to 2017.
Mamula-Zarlingo will return at kicker and Ballone will return at punter. Velasquez said “a lot of the same faces” will contribute on special teams this season.