By Steve Ruman
The 2017 Lakeview High football team opened its season with a heartbreaking four-point loss to backyard rival Howland.
The Bulldogs went on to record one of their best seasons in school history, winning nine straight and advancing to the Division IV playoffs.
“We had a tremendous season a year ago, but this is a new season and we have a lot of holes to fill,” Bulldogs coach Tom Pavlansky said. “We’re going to lean heavily on our returning lettermen.
“We’re young in a lot of spots but we’re happy with the progress we’ve seen throughout the summer.”
Pavlansky, now in his 20th season at Lakeview, is the longest tenured coach in Trumbull County.
Lakeview’s biggest challenge is replacing quarterback Zach Rogers, who threw for more than 4,000 yards during a three-year run. In fact, replacing Rogers is so challenging that Pavlansky is still uncertain who will be under center. Junior Noah Olejnik and senior Dakota Whitt shared snaps throughout the summer.
“Both Noah and Dakota have worked really hard, they both have a grasp on the offense and they are both very athletic,” Pavlansky said. “Both present a different look from the past, in that they are both a run threat. Defenses will have to account for their ability to run from the pocket.”
Senior running back Tony Crish also returns, providing further experience at the skilled positions.
Up front, the Bulldogs must replace nearly the entire line.
“We have to develop our line quickly, it’s going to be a key to our success on offense,” Pavlansky said. “Those guys are really working hard, but they just don’t have much experience.
“We’re excited about our skilled players. But depth is a major concern. We can’t afford injuries, and some of our younger players have to step up.”
Crish, a four-year starter, will man the outside linebacker position.
“It’s huge to have that type of experience and veteran leadership out there, a real boost to the defense,” Pavlansky said.
Also back are tackles Scott Wilcox and Dylan Gibson, along with Whitt, who led the Bulldogs last year with 86 tackles.
Senior Andrew Oakes and junior Elijah McMurdy lead an experienced defensive backfield.
“We’re definitely a bit more experienced on this side of the ball,” Pavlansky said. “We’re going to rely on our defense to put our offense in good position.”
Sophomore Brendon Kilpatrick is expected to handle the punting and kicking duties.
“He’s going to be a big weapon for us,” Pavlansky said. “Our skilled players will be our return guys, they all are threats when they touch the ball.”
On paper, it would appear as though Lakeview is in rebuilding mode. The Bulldogs return just three starters on offense, and five on defense.
However, this is a program which reloads rather than rebuilds. The Bulldogs have strung together 11 consecutive winning seasons. They haven’t experienced a losing season since 2002. There is no reason to believe the trend won’t continue this fall.
“We lost a lot of key players, but we also bring back some skilled athletes who have played a lot of football,” Pavlansky said. “This group is anxious to write its own story. We need to pay attention to detail, stay focused and improve each and every day.”
“We’re not there yet, but we’re on the road.”