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Boardman sticking to the process to improve

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Boardman senior quarterback Tomas Andujar looks for an open receiver during a 7-on-7 passing tournament at Salem High School. Andujar returns under center for the Spartans after totaling 1,778 total yards and 17 touchdowns.

BOARDMAN — When DJ Dota took over at Boardman last year, it was all about teaching the “what.”

Now, as he prepares to begin his second season with the Spartans, it’s about teaching the “why” and “how.”

“Last year we were teaching a lot of what everything was, from football, to philosophy, to expectations,” Dota said. “Now we’re implementing those things and teaching why and how we’re doing them. We’re making progress towards everything we’re doing.”

It’s all part of a process for Dota and his coaching staff, with the goal to lead towards better results for the program and for the team, as they work towards the Spartans’ first winning season since 2018.

“That should hopefully result in a way better performance and better outcome for us,” Dota said. “I don’t know what that means on the scoreboard, but I know it’ll be a better outcome for us because we’re all on the same page understanding each other.”

Dota has already seen the way that process is beginning to take hold within the program. From Year 1 to Year 2, he said the difference has already been night and day.

“Just from day one, being in the building was 100 percent better,” Dota said. “There’s a lot more accountability towards each other, a better understanding of each other and a better knowledge of each other. I think the kids have a better feel for me, and I have a better feel for them. I have better knowledge about their skill level and about their academic performance, and all those things that will help me in our evaluation process as we build from this point on.”

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes
Boardman head football coach DJ Dota looks on during a 7-on-7 passing scrimmage at Salem High School earlier this summer. Dota is entering his second season at Boardman and is looking to continue the process in hopes of improving the program.

OFFENSE

Boardman returns four offensive starters from last year’s team on its multiple-set offense.

At the top of those returnees is senior quarterback Tomas Andujar, who finished his junior campaign with 1,778 total yards (1178 passing and 600 rushing) and 17 touchdowns.

Joining him in the backfield is senior running back William Torres. Torres is a playmaker for the Spartans and they like to get him the ball in a variety of ways. He ran for 329 yards, while also having 209 receiving yards last year, and totaled eight touchdowns.

After the graduation of Ke’juan Robinson, senior receiver Phil Clark is a player that will likely see his workload go up this season. Aiden Berg is another name to look out for out wide, as well.

“Those guys coming back, they’re doing what we ask of them,” Dota said. “I think there’s other guys that are stepping up. We did implement some new things (offensively), but I feel we’re learning at a faster pace than what we did a year ago.

With those skill players all being seniors, Dota is leaning on them in a variety of ways this season.

“Those guys are all seniors and we’re getting what we thought we would from them,” Dota said. “Whereas, a year ago, we didn’t get to have that same evaluation process because we didn’t get to coach them. I could only go by what I saw on film. So I feel really good about those guys being senior leaders and senior players.”

Up front, returning senior Ryan Conti will be the heart of the offensive line this year. Junior Sean O’Mellan is also back for the Spartans.

Some newcomers could end up filling out some of those lineman spots for Boardman as well, including senior Mason Pekar or juniors Aaron Glista, Nico Mariani and Chase Conner.

“I feel like even though we have some young guys up front — we lost a lot of linemen last year and we lost some skill guys — I feel like guys have stepped up and are putting their best effort and I think we’re getting better,” Dota said.

“We feel good about our results. We won’t know though until we go against somebody else. Until we go do it in a scrimmage against somebody else, we won’t get a true evaluation of where we’re at at this point.”

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes
Boardman wide receiver Vince Atwood turns up field during a 7-on-7 scrimmage against Lisbon at Salem High School.

DEFENSE

It will be tough for Boardman to replace the production generated by graduated defensive lineman Kyle Barnett and linebacker Jared Mahood, but Dota likes the influx of youth that will be stepping in at spots around the defense this season.

“We have a lot of younger guys that are going to be happy to step in that haven’t played that I think have done a great job in the weight room this offseason to put themselves in a great position to play for us,” Dota said. “They were really good JV players for us a year ago. (They) played some special teams and were maybe hit or miss and played five or six plays a game for us that are going to step in. I feel really good about where they’re at at this point.”

The Spartans have several returners at linebacker, but the defensive line will consist of all new starters.

Torres will continue to feature prominently at linebacker after recording 23 solo tackles last year, while a group of juniors look to fill out the rest of those positions, including Connor Congemi, Thomas Amon, Vince Atwood and Ashton Hoover.

Chris Anderson is a newcomer to look out for on the defensive line.

With Boardman’s returning skill players, the secondary looks to be the strongest part of the defensive unit. Berg, Clark and Andujar will all reprise their roles at defensive back. Berg had two interceptions, Clark finished with 26 tackles, while Andujar had 20 tackles last season.

“The secondary are all guys we have back from a year ago,” Dota said.

“That’s where we’re strongest right now. We have the most guys back that have played in those positions.”

One of the things Dota stressed last year when he took over the program was physicality, and he wants that to continue to be the case this year.

“I think if you play fast, you’re going to hit harder,” Dota said. “We do want to have that mentality of playing physical.”

SPECIAL TEAMS

Boardman is in a good spot on special teams.

The Spartans return two of their kickers from last year in senior Austin Congson and junior Kosta Cvercko, while also bringing back junior punter Tony Pincario.

“I feel like we’re going to have a really good kicking and punting game,” Dota said. “We have to replace our snapper. But everywhere else, I feel like we’re pretty strong with our specialists situation.”

The schedule doesn’t do Boardman any favors.

Eight of the Spartans’ 10 opponents made the playoffs last year, while five had double-digit win totals, but that’s the way Dota wants it to be.

“We’re going to have to compete and we’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game every single week,” Dota said. “Most won at least one playoff game and some won two games, so I feel really good about that and where we’re at.”

Boardman opens the season Aug. 18 on the road at Kenston. Kickoff at 7 p.m.

2023 Schedule

Aug. 18 at Kenston 7 p.m.

Aug. 25 Uniontown Lake 7 p.m.

Sept. 1 at Chaney 7 p.m.

Sept. 8 Howland 7 p.m.

Sept. 15 at Riverside 7 p.m.

Sept. 22 Cardinal Mooney 7 p.m.

Sept. 29 at Harding 7 p.m.

Oct. 6 at Dover 7 p.m.

Oct. 13 Austintown Fitch 7 p.m.

Oct. 20 Canfield 7 p.m.

2022 Results (4-6)

at Cardinal Mooney (6-7) W 10-7

Chaney (10-2) L 14-40

Jackson (6-6) L 14-43

at Howland (2-8) W 40-13

at East (1-9) W 42-8

Benedictine (0-10) W 20-12

Warren G. Harding (2-8) L 21-24

Dover (5-6) L 10-28

at Austintown Fitch (10-2) L 20-42

at Canfield (14-1) L 6-35

Coaching staff

Head coach: DJ Dota, 2nd season, 4-6 with Spartans; 65-65-1 overall

Staff: Jacob Zinni (offensive line), Corey Snyder (quarterbacks), Mike Popio (defensive coordinator/linebackers), Paul Butto (offensive line), Jason Congo (wide receivers), Ryan Wolf (defensive backs), Tramaine Pixley (defensive line), Steve Stuhura (linebackers), Ron Weeks (defensive line), Anthony Sluss (running backs/defensive backs), Sam Caputo (fullbacks)

Team facts

Division II, Region 5

Independent

Players on roster: 65

Returning letterwinners (14): Tomas Andujar, Aiden Berg, Phil Clark, Austin Congson, Ryan Conti, Andrew Cvercko, William Torres, Connor Congemi, Kosta Cvercko, Kyle Hoffman, Ashton Hoover, Mason Nawrocki, Sean O’Mellan, Tony Pincario

2022 season: Boardman opened the season with a hard-fought victory over Cardinal Mooney. After a pair of losses, the Spartans then managed to rattle off three straight victories. However, once it got into the meat of its schedule, Boardman struggled, dropping each of its final four games to end the season and narrowly missing out on a playoff spot.

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