The mind-set remains the same for Lakota East High School’s football team this season.
Ninth-year coach Rick Haynes is emphasizing fundamentals over flash after the Thunderhawks went 6-4 last year, losing three of their last four games while dealing with some internal problems that kept key players off the field.
“I think our kids work hard. They’ve got a great work ethic,” Haynes said. “We’re going to play hard and be physical and try to control time of possession and win games in the fourth quarter.”
PRESEASON PREP FOOTBALL POLLS
East has finished in the top half of the Greater Miami Conference five times in the last six years and placed fifth in 2017.
The Thunderhawks are staying with their triple-option offense and have one of the GMC’s top runners in senior fullback Jack Dobrozsi (5-10, 215).
Dobrozsi missed the last three games a year ago, yet was still the No. 4 regular-season rusher (159 carries, 974 yards, 19 touchdowns).
Haynes said Dobrozsi has returned in good standing and looks strong.
“He’s a downhill runner,” Haynes said. “He had a great offseason. We’ll do a couple things different to make sure we can just hand him the ball and take pressure off our quarterback.”
Replacing two-year starter Dylan Fry at quarterback will be senior Sean Church or junior Mark Krajewski. They combined to throw six varsity passes last season.
“They’re getting the same number of reps,” Haynes said. “I think the kids have confidence in both of them. Mark’s a little bigger, both can throw it pretty well, and both are pretty good decision makers.”
If Krajewski is the quarterback, Church will start as a running back — he averaged 6.5 yards per carry in limited action last year. If Church is the QB, Haynes said junior Corey Dick will likely start in the backfield.
Senior Evan Yablonsky returns at split end and junior tight end Adam Hundemer is also back, though he’s moved to defensive tackle. Seniors Korey Hicks and Logan Spille, who’s 6-foot-9, are also in the receiving mix.
Haynes said East will be bigger on the offensive line this season, although no starters return.
Senior Tyler Wilkerson (5-10, 240) will likely be the center. Competing for starting jobs are fellow seniors Sam Florence (6-2, 230) and Shane Kelley (6-0, 215), along with juniors Evan Yockey (6-6, 325), Daven Green (6-1, 330) and Jonathan McElhiney (5-11, 270).
“Finding five new linemen is our biggest challenge,” Haynes said.
Senior free safety Avi McGary heads a 50 defense that’s experienced in the secondary, but not really anywhere else.
“He’s got great ball skills, and he’s physical,” Haynes said of McGary, who has the team’s only Division I college offer (Air Force) at this point.
Seniors Jackson Leahy and Quinton Moss are back at strong safety and cornerback, respectively. Senior Dylan Sawyers, junior R.J. Heath and Dick are competing for the fourth starting spot.
Haynes noted that Thunderhawks track coach Rodney Heath is in charge of the secondary, and more than a dozen track kids have boosted the squad’s overall athleticism.
Hundemer (6-3, 240) and juniors Aaron Sharp (6-0, 270) and Vince Kornau (5-11, 175) are leading the way on the defensive line.
There are no returning starters at linebacker. Vying for inside positions are juniors Michael Howard and Troy Reisner, along with sophomore Justin Katona … the outside linebackers are seniors Kyrell Metts and Nolan Warren, junior Connor Bryant and sophomore Jordell Smith.
“I think defensively we’ve got some really good players, especially in the secondary,” Haynes said. “I’d say on defense we’ll probably be quicker and more athletic than we’ve been.”
Junior Gavin Myers is set to do East’s place-kicking. Myers or junior Fernando Rivera will do the punting.
The Thunderhawks will have two scrimmages, traveling to La Salle on Aug. 10 and Mason on Aug. 17.
LAKOTA EAST THUNDERHAWKS
Coach: Rick Haynes, ninth season (43-41)
OHSAA designation: Division I, Region 4
Playoff history: 2-2 in 2 appearances (2012, 2014)
2017 record: 6-4 overall, 4-4 in the Greater Miami Conference (fifth, tied)
Schedule: Aug. 24 — Walnut Hills, 7 p.m.; Aug. 31 — Kings, 7 p.m.; Sept. 7 — at Middletown, 7 p.m.; Sept. 14 — at Princeton, 7 p.m.; Sept. 21 — Fairfield, 7 p.m.; Sept. 28 — at Oak Hills, 7 p.m.; Oct. 5 — Lakota West, 7 p.m.; Oct. 12 — Colerain, 7 p.m.; Oct. 19 — at Hamilton, 7 p.m.; Oct. 26 — Sycamore, 7 p.m.