Red Dragons start Year 2 under Parry after promising start
By STEVE RUMAN
The 2018 season was a season of transition for the Niles High School football program. The Red Dragons were guided by first-year coach Jim Parry, who introduced new ideas to a wealth of underclassmen.
The combination of change and youth resulted in some early-season struggles as Niles lost its first four games. However, the Dragons rebounded to win four of its next six contests, including three straight to end the year.
“It’s time to take off the kid gloves,” Parry said of the upcoming season. “I told our players that this year there are no excuses. We can’t point to a coaching change, to youth, to a new system as a reason not to succeed. Everything is laid out for us.”
“We can’t walk through the door, we have to knock it down.”
The biggest challenge for the Niles offense will be trying to replace All-Ohio running back Robbie Savin.
The answer may be the utilization of a committee of backs. Seniors Joseph Gallo and Seth McMillon are expected to get plenty of touches. Junior Travis Molnar opened eyes last year as a sophomore, and could step into the spotlight this fall.
Niles also returns quarterback Zack Leonard, who started all 10 games last year as a sophomore.
“Zack was telling me earlier this summer that his biggest challenge last year was learning all the plays, all of the formations and such,” Parry said.
“Right now he’s a veteran and he understands the game. He’s way ahead of where he was a year ago.”
Adam McGinnis (6-foot-5, 320 pounds) anchors an offensive line which includes five senior lettermen.
“We’re definitely optimistic about what we bring to the table offensively,” Parry said. “Experience is a great asset. We were excited about the talent last year, but concerned about the lack of varsity playing time. This year we bring back a lot of veterans.”
Seniors Aaron Cline, Sean Weese and Brandon Hayes will anchor an experienced front line, while senior David Mays (6-foot-2, 225) — who Parry describes as “your prototypical linebacker” — leads a veteran corps of linebackers.
The secondary brings back three starters in seniors Kyle Lundgren and Jayden Davis along with junior Doug Foster.
“Defensively we have the talent and the experience to really make a statement this year,” Parry said.
The most noticeable change on defense will be with the coaching staff. Former Ursuline head coach Larry Kempe returns to Niles to serve as the defensive coordinator.
Kempe held the same role with the Red Dragons for several decades before taking over the Ursuline program in 2012.
“The kids are going to get to a point to where they’ll run through a wall for that guy,” Parry said of Kempe. “He brings a ton of passion and knowledge to this program. He is a tremendous asset.”
One of the Dragons’ biggest weapons returns in the form of kicker/punter Chase Sudzina. Though just a junior, Parry said that Sudzina has already established himself “as a household name” within the high school football community.
“It’s huge having someone who can put the ball into the end zone on kickoffs,” Parry said. “From a punting standpoint, he’s really good at placing the ball in the right locations. As far as his field goal range, we’re comfortable with anything inside 50 yards out.”
There is plenty of optimism within the Niles camp, and rightfully so. The program features 74 players (grades nine through 12), including 57 on the varsity roster.
The Dragons return eight starters on both offense and defense, and 23 lettermen.
Parry said he believes that a league title and a playoff berth are goals very much within reach.
“I’m sure that I told everyone last year that bringing in a new coaching staff and a new system wasn’t a big deal, but looking back now I can say that it was a big change,” Parry said. “This group is way ahead of where it was last year at this point. Nothing is new to them. We all came into camp on the same page.”
“I also believe that Girard’s playoff run last year helps. Having a small area public school play 15 weeks into the season is no longer mythical. Our kids saw it happen, they know it can be done.”
Niles opens its season at home against archrival Howland,
“It’s kind of a bonus to play Howland right off the bat, because we know no one is looking beyond week one,” Parry said.