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Ursuline leaning on returning skill players to fuel deep run

Staff photo / Neel Madhavan Ursuline senior quarterback Jack Ericson rolls out of the pocket and zeroes in on a receiver during a practice earlier this summer. Ericson returns under center this season after a stellar junior year.

YOUNGSTOWN — It’s a season of opposites this year for Ursuline.

Last summer, the Irish were faced with the prospect of replacing almost all of their skill position players on offense, while at the same time returning all five starters on the offensive line.

This summer, the opposite is the case. Ursuline returns most of its key skill position players, while needing to replace all five starters on the offensive line.

“(On the offensive line), we have a new bunch of young guys with ability that need reps,” said head coach Dan Reardon. “We have production back, but those guys up front — we need to bring them along as quickly as possible.”

All things considered, Ursuline is a program that has developed high expectations year-in and year-out, especially since Reardon returned for his second stint in north Youngstown five years ago.

That hasn’t changed, as the Irish remain a team chasing another deep playoff run after falling in the Division III regional semifinal 33-25 last year to eventual state champion Canfield.

“I’m fortunate to coach at a place where there’s high expectations and we welcome that — it’s part of our DNA and it’s part of who we are,” Reardon said. “Our goal is, first and foremost, to win the (Steel Valley) conference championship, and we feel like we can make a deep run in the playoffs, and that is the second goal.”

Staff photos / Neel Madhavan
Ursuline offensive linemen work through drills during a practice earlier this month.

OFFENSE

Ursuline likes to spread the ball around to its skill players, move the ball quickly up-and-down the field and put up a lot of yards and points.

“We like to spread the field, we like to play fast. That hasn’t changed,” Reardon said. “I don’t think our play calling is going to change all that much. We still are who we are and we want to do the things that we do, but we always evolve a little bit from year-to-year and just try to feature our best skill guys, whoever they are.”

With the skill players the Irish have returning, that won’t be an issue.

After winning the starting job at the end of last summer, senior quarterback Jack Ericson goes into this season with a different mentality.

He now has a season under his belt as the starter, during which he completed 63 percent of his passes for 1,715 yards and 13 touchdowns. Ericson also finished with 116 carries for 445 yards and nine more touchdowns on the ground. With that experience comes familiarity and comfort in the offense and the system.

“(I’m) able to be crisper in practice, and (I have) the trust of the coaches to where they don’t have to hold anything back in the playbook,” Ericson said. “(I have) the trust of my teammates, too. Last year, they didn’t really know what kind of leader or players I’d be, and I think I represented myself well last year and had a good first year starting. Just having that under my belt lets me go running into the season.”

One thing Reardon wants to see Ericson do this season, however, is cut down on the interceptions. The signalcaller threw nine picks last year.

“He really has the ability to make defenses pay with his feet, as well — he’s a run threat,” Reardon said. “He played really well at times, just threw a little too many interceptions. So that’s one thing we’re challenging him with this year. That and making timing and decision-making just a little bit sharper. If he does that, he’ll take that next big step.”

Returning in the backfield alongside Ericson is senior running back Christian Lynch.

After taking over the full-time starting role last year as a junior, Lynch exploded for 1,857 yards and 21 touchdowns on 290 carries, and he hopes to exceed those marks this year.

“Christian was close to a 2,000-yard running back, so I know his goal is to be over 2,000 yards and build off what he did last year,” Reardon said.

Leading receiver and all-purpose player junior DC Ferrell is also back for Ursuline. Ferrell does a little bit of everything for the Irish. He’ll line up wide and be a deep threat for Ericson, he’ll take snaps and throw the ball and he’ll even run the ball from time to time.

Last year, Ferrell caught 52 passes for 779 yards and six touchdowns. He also had 591 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground, while also completing 10-of-19 passes for 94 yards and a score.

Junior Tairan Davis is another returning receiver for the Irish, and he looks to step into a larger role for Ursuline’s offense this season.

“There’s some new faces in there at the other receiver positions,” Reardon said.

Up front is where the Irish have the most questions.

Kyren Stuart is Ursuline’s most experienced returning offensive lineman, and Robert Gilmore is another player who got some snaps on the line last season. But besides that, everyone else is young and new.

“Phil Bowser is a guy coming up who we expect big things from, Israel Rosario is a guy who’s going to have a chance, Bryce Crofford is a guy who’s going to have a chance,” Reardon said. “We have a good group of guys that we need to get reps and play varsity football. Many of them were JV football players for us a year ago. I think they have a chance to be a good unit, they just need experience.”

Staff photo / Neel Madhavan
Ursuline senior Ty’Req Donlow talks with running backs coach Clinton Lynch during a practice earlier this summer.

DEFENSE

The heart and soul of Ursuline’s defense will revolve around three players — two seniors and one junior.

The two seniors, Ty’Req Donlow and Lorenzo Rohrbaugh, have played a lot of football for the Irish. Donlow has started on the defensive line for the last two seasons, while Rohrbaugh started all of last year.

Donlow finished last season with 94 total tackles and Rohrbaugh had 79.

While Donlow has played primarily at defensive end and Rohrbaugh has played mostly at linebacker, Reardon said they both will see time at both positions this upcoming season.

“Up front, Ty’Req comes back with all the experience in the world,” Reardon said. “We’re going to look a little bit different, but it’s going to be a lot of the same names. We expect (Donlow and Rohrbaugh) to be big time players for us. Other guys, we’re going to figure out who our top three or four other guys are and rotate them in and keep their legs fresh.”

Donlow said he has his sights set on Ursuline’s sack record after finishing last season with 15.5, to go with 28.5 total tackles for loss.

The junior, John Frangos, however, led Ursuline in total tackles last season as a sophomore with 103.

“Those three, any way you look at the production metrics as far as TFLs, all those things — those are our top three guys and those guys need to have big seasons,” Reardon said. “We lost some good guys up front, but it’ll be a little bit by committee up front (this year). I think we have more linebackers back this year than a year ago.”

In the secondary, Ferrell and Davis both return. Ferrell was second on the team last year with three interceptions.

But an unheralded name to be on the lookout for among the defensive backs is sophomore Luke Kollar. After the first game of the season last year, Kollar started every game the rest of the way for the Irish, and he finished with a team-leading five interceptions.

Jy’Quise Liasion is another player that the coaching staff expects to take a leap forward in the secondary after earning a starting job during the second half of last season.

“We have a good core of young skilled guys fighting for those other positions, as well,” Reardon said. “We feel we have pretty good experience back there, and yet, I still feel like we’re young back there since a lot of those guys are only going to be juniors or sophomores. We have guys that have played a lot of reps, and we’re still going to have them for another year or two.”

SPECIAL TEAMS

In the kickoff return game, Ferrell and Liasion are the two main returners, as Liasion averaged 26.4 yards per return and even had a return for a touchdown, while Ferrell averaged 28.7 yards per return.

However, Ursuline will feature two new specialists at kicker and punter.

Reardon said two soccer players are battling it out for placekicker duties, while the punting position will be between Frangos and CJ Frasco.

“They’re battling through it right now, but I expect us to be strong in the kicking game,” Reardon said. “They appear to show a lot of promise so far.”

Ursuline opens the 2023 season against Steubenville at 7 p.m. Aug. 17 at home in Stambaugh Stadium.

2023 Schedule

Aug. 17 Steubenville 7 p.m.

Aug. 25 at Padua Franciscan 7 p.m.

Sept. 1 Ashtabula Lakeside 7 p.m.

Sept. 8 at Youngstown East* 7 p.m.

Sept. 15 Warren G. Harding 7 p.m.

Sept. 22 at Austintown Fitch 7 p.m.

Sept. 29 at Akron SVSM 7 p.m.

Oct. 6 Villa Angela-St. Joseph’s 7 p.m.

Oct. 13 Chaney* 7 p.m.

Oct. 20 Cardinal Mooney* 7 p.m.

*Conference game

^Home games are played at YSU

2022 Results (10-3)

Brookfield (10-2) W 52-14

Padua Franciscan (8-6) W 51-6

at Farrell (PA) (8-1) W 40-38

Austintown Fitch (10-2) L 34-42

at Warren G. Harding (2-8) W 28-14

at Chaney* (10-2) W 30-27

St. Vincent-St. Mary (8-4) L 28-35

at Villa Angela-St. Joseph (8-3) W 40-0

Youngstown East* (1-9) W 56-8

Cardinal Mooney* (6-7) W 13-7

#Hawken (8-3) W 43-12

#Tallmadge (9-3) W 45-28

#Canfield (14-1) L 25-33

*Steel Valley Conference

#Division III playoff game

Coaching staff

Head coach: Dan Reardon, 5th year at Ursuline, 13th overall at Ursuline, 20th season as a head coach, 143-80

Staff: Jim Campana (wide receivers), John DeSantis (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks), Hayden Dorion (freshmen), Brian Frasco (offensive line), Michael Frasco (offensive line), Matt Guarnieri (defensive backs), Chauncey Harris (linebackers), Clinton Lynch (running backs), Tim McGlynn (defensive coordinator), Christian Syrianoudis (defensive line)

Team facts

Division III, Region 9

Steel Valley Conference

Players on roster: 74

Returning Letterwinners (25): Lorenzo Rohrbaugh, Joe Balog, Ty’Req Donlow, Jack Ericson, Jerrell Galloway, John Frangos, CJ Frasco, Tairan Davis, Jy’Quise Liasion, Bryce Brown, Danny Cox, DC Ferrell, Karter Rudzik, Landon Duble, Yanni Hazimihalis, Luke Kolar, Christian Lynch, Angelo Angellili, Blake Daniels, Brandon Sztary, John Paul Pipala, Robert Gilmore, Kyren Stuart, Phil Bowser, AJ Snyder.

2022 season: Ursuline went on a tear at the end of last year winning five straight games, including two playoff games, before falling to eventual Division III state champion Canfield 33-25 in the regional semifinal.

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