Young Falcons prepare to soar


By TOM WILLIAMS

williams@vindy.com

AUSTINTOWN

With nine returning starters from a 6-4 team, the Fitch High School football team has a lot of players about to get a heavy dose of varsity experience.

Falcons head coach Phil Annarella, now in his 47th season of coaching, embraces the challenge of working with players wanting to learn.

“It’s still very rewarding when you can walk off the field and see the smiles on the kids’ faces,” Annarella said. “That they know they’ve given their best and that all the hard work has paid off.

“But they’ve also got to know what it’s like when adversity hits them in the face and they’ve worked hard and they’ve come up a little short.

“That’s always been the case and always will be.”

The Falcons, who finished ninth in Division I Region 1 in 2017, have four returning starters on offense and five on defense.

“This has been a good group of young men as far as chemistry,” Annarella said. “I’m hoping for their sake that we can have a pretty successful season because of the positive energy they’ve shown and the hard work that they’ve done.

“Overall, there is inexperience on both sides of the ball,” said Annarella who is in his 12th season as Falcons head coach. “We only have 10 lettermen back, which is a pretty low number for us.

“Not that we don’t have capable people but they don’t have varsity experience. For some, this is the first varsity experience they are having.”

OFFENSE

The Falcons run the spread offense. Returning starters are wide receivers Ralph Fitzgerald and Cory Vernon and linemen Tommy Leskovac and Nate Goleno.

Leskovac is one of the Falcons’ two players who have two letters.

“Ralph will end up playing both sides of the ball — wide receiver and defensive back,” Annarella said. “Tommy is going to start on the O-line and D-line.”

Competing at quarterback are Dom Montalbano and Ursuline transfer Bobby Cavalier.

Annarella said they’ve split the snaps in scrimmages against Canton GlenOak and Akron Buchtel and a decision is about to be made on who gets Friday’s start.

Noah James will be the featured running back.

DEFENSE

The Falcons run a multiple odd front scheme. Three starting line backers return: James and Roddell Bebbs on the outside and Maleek Cheatham on the inside. Christian Armstrong is back to anchor the line and Deondre McKeever again will start at safety.

“This year, I’m getting more time at running back,” James said. “It’s time to step up.”

His preference?

“Honest, it doesn’t matter — just go out there and let it fly offensively or defensively,” James said.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Cavalier will be the punter. Among the soccer players vying to be the placekicker are Zak Glavic and Carlos Walters.

OUTLOOK

Annarella said neither the offense nor defense “are ahead right now, partly because we’re doing a couple of new things defensively.”

The only Division I team in the Mahoning Valley, the Falcons’ schedule includes Boardman, Warren Harding, Massillon and Hudson.

Leskovac can’t wait for Friday’s opener at Hudson.

“They best us my sophomore and junior year, so we’re really looking to get after them this year.”

Of the schedule, James said, “They are all going to be tough, so we’ve got to go out and play our hearts out.”

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