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Canfield’s Pavlansky, JFK’s Prologo back at states 17 years after Canfield’s 2005 run

Canfield head coach Mike Pavlansky (left) and Warren JFK head coach Dom Prologo (right) both return to the state finals 17 years after heading to the state finals as a part of Canfield's coaching staff. Pavlansky was the head coach that season while Prologo coached defensive backs.

When the Canfield football team takes the field at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton it will have a large contingent of black and red in the stands.

But, the Cardinals will also have a group of supporters from Warren John F. Kennedy, led by head football coach Dom Prologo.

“I’m taking my entire team and coaching staff and we’re going to Hall of Fame Stadium and we’re watching Canfield play for their state championship,” Prologo said.

Prologo has plenty of connections to Canfield. It’s where he lives, where his kids went to school, and his daughter is currently engaged to one of Canfield’s assistant coaches, Matt Kalbfell. But for the Kennedy coach, who is coaching in his fourth state championship game on Saturday, it starts with his relationship with Canfield head coach Mike Pavlansky.

SHARING THE SIDELINES

Prologo coached under Jeff Bayuk at Canfield from 1986-90 and made his way back to the Cardinals after a brief stint at Hubbard when he rejoined the Canfield coaching staff, this time under Pavlansky as a defensive backs coach in 2001. That same year was Pavlansky’s first as the head coach at Canfield, and Prologo coached under the longtime Cardinals skipper for the next decade.

During their time together at Canfield. Prologo and Pavlansky shared a special run to the state championship in 2005. Now, the two will return to state championship weekend but this time around they will be leading their own teams.

Pavlansky and his Cardinals will play Bloom-Carroll on Friday at 3 p.m. and Prologo will lead his Eagles against New Bremen almost exactly 24 hours later. It will be a special moment for two friends who have dedicated their lives to molding young minds on the football field.

“I’m really excited for Dom because you knew early on that when he became an assistant coach here (Canfield), he was going to be a tremendous football mind and a great advocator for kids and student-athletes,” Pavlansky said. “I always knew that if he had the opportunity to be a head coach, he would be a tremendous head coach and he’s certainly been that and more at JFK and I’m excited to see him in his second state final as a head coach, especially for the second time in three years.”

The friendship between Prologo and Pavlansky began during their 10 or so years together at Canfield and as Pavlansky said, he could always tell that Prologo would be a great head coach someday and he saw it in the way that he approached the game. He was always willing to learn, he was always willing to take the extra step and he always put the kids first.

“You just knew that you were getting a quality individual No. 1,” Pavlansky said about Prologo. “Fortunately for us, he’s a heck of a football coach for us and you want quality people around your kids and Dom is definitely that and then he had a wealth of football knowledge. The thing that impressed me about Dom was he was willing to travel to the University of Florida, Illinois, and different colleges just to see what they were doing and bring some ideas back. He was always looking to grow in the game.”

As Prologo has done throughout his stops around the Valley, he always took something away from the head coach he was under.

Prologo said he learned his physical approach to the game from Ursuline coach Dick Engel and Bayuk, and he still showcases that mentality to this day at Warren JFK.

While Pavlansky instills a physical approach with his Cardinals as well, Prologo said that it was the way Pavlansky approached his preparation and his attention to detail that stood out.

“He was a guy that was detailed to the core but he also believed that physicality wins football games,” Prologo said. “But the detail Mike taught me, there’s a certain way that you practice and that you play and that’s the way Jeff taught me too. That’s Dick Engel too. Physicality comes from that. But I think from Pav, our detailed approach to practice and every other thing that we do comes from Mike.”

Although they are on different staffs now, the two coaches still trade advice on ways they can improve their coaching approach. Prologo said he and Pavlansky will meet in the offseason for lunches and will take a trip to Columbus each year. While most of the conversation is between two friends, it’s hard for football not to come up.

“Mike and I are still very close and we stayed close after I left in 2011,” Prologo said. “We go to Columbus every year together, we talk on the phone several times a year and we get lunch during Christmas break and we get lunch in June before the season starts every year.”

Along with their longtime friendship, Pavlansky and Prologo also share that special 2005 season when the Cardinals made a run to the Division II state championship.

A RUN TO THE STATE TITLE

When it comes to the memories that Prologo and Pavlansky share on the sideline, no moment, or season, tops the Cardinals’ run to the state championship game in 2005, when they faced off with Toledo Central Catholic at Massillon’s Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.

“It was just nice to get the community to that level because they had never experienced that,” Prologo, whose nephew Angelo Babbaro was the standout running back that season, said. “The excitement around the community was really high — the pep rallies, the crowds, it was just electric around Canfield in 2005. Then obviously the kids we had on that team were really good football players.”

Their state title appearance, the first in Canfield history, was the culmination of a special season. The Cardinals had won 14 straight games heading into the state title game and handed Louisville and Tallmadge their only losses of the year during their playoff run.

The special season ended in heartbreaking fashion though.

After building a 16-10 lead with 1 minute and 37 seconds left in the first half, Central Catholic scored with 30 seconds left on a 39-yard pass to take a one-point lead into halftime.

The Fighting Irish never relinquished that lead again as they battled back and forth through the remainder of the game, but the Cardinals couldn’t quite pull ahead before falling, 31-29.

Pavlansky and Prologo both agreed that what made the season special was the kids. They had a special senior class but also had the perfect mixture of underclassmen as well and it all came together at the right time.

“I just remember what a tremendous senior class that we had and we had three really good classes together, but that senior class, their leadership was off the charts,” Pavlansky said. “There were some guys on that team that played maybe two ways before that year and played just one way as seniors because we were so fortunate to have good juniors and sophomore classes.”

It was a disappointing ending to a great season and it was one the Cardinals didn’t want to end. Prologo said that their season-ending banquet was scheduled for the Sunday after the game and it was one of those events where no one wanted to leave.

“It turned into an eight-hour marathon,” he said.

A CHANCE AT REDEMPTION

Seven years ago, as an assistant on Bayuk’s staff with JFK, Prologo had the opportunity to exercise some demons when the Eagles captured the state title in 2016. That’s why when it comes to Canfield’s game on Friday against Bloom-Carroll on Friday, you might not find a bigger Canfield supporter than Prologo.

The Kennedy coach said that the loss in 2005 was one that stung and it was remembered until he got his vindication in 2016.

“That feeling of relief kind of took all those bad feelings away from ’05,” Prologo said. “Because believe me, I lost a state championship in 2020 as a head coach and it did not sting anywhere as much as that loss that we had in ’05.”

With that thought in the back of his mind, Prologo said he knows what is on the line for Pavlansky this season and he is just hoping for the best for a longtime friend who deserves the opportunity.

“Seeing him have an opportunity to go back and play is phenomenal,” Prologo said. “Seeing as how I had the opportunity to exercise some demons in 2016 and win one with JFK, I know how important this is for Mike and him personally to exercise those same demons.”

Pavlansky said he never had regrets about how that season ended but always knew that he wanted to get back there at some point because those are the aspirations every season.

“That’s the goal of any team and any coach,” Pavlansky said.

Now, he gets that shot. They both do.

gmacafee@tribtoday.com

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