Last year was stressful for everyone, for a variety of reasons … that’s why just being able to play at all was huge for the Olentangy Orange football team.
Still, though, with all the safety protocols in place, sometimes it was hard to just go out and have fun. Fortunately, Pioneers coach Zebb Schroeder said that hasn’t been an issue for his group this year.
“This crew coming back finished the season strong and they love football,” Schroeder said. “They love Orange and they enjoy playing ball together. That’s a great place to start. If you put a ball down in a parking lot, they’re going to play with energy and enthusiasm. That’s what I love about them.”
Returning starters on the offensive side of the ball include senior lineman Connor Kemmerling, senior tight end Rico Franklin-Davis and senior receiver Andre Robinson.
Kemmerling will be joined by some combination of seniors Jake Burre, Ty Miller, Jason Graf, Adrian Acheapong and junior Jack Evans.
“We have a lot of inexperience on the offensive line,” Schroeder said. “We have good size there, but the guys have to go play for real.”
Junior Bobby Ogles and seniors Josh Pearson and Luke Houston will be involved in the running game, Schroeder said, while seniors Max Reidelbach and Jordan Rudolph and juniors Drew Dunham, Kenny Thompson and Jacob Lattig will look to make plays along with Franklin-Davis and Robinson at receiver.
“Rico has excellent size (6-foot-3, 235 pounds) and is a very good football player,” Schroeder said. “Andre is an explosive player for us and Max has a high ceiling at 6-4 with good speed.”
Seniors Isaac Campbell, Ryan Sevilla and Jeff Asante are all competing for time at fullback while senior Jake Werling and junior Michael Clouse are competing for the starting quarterback gig.
On the other side of the ball, leaders include Franklin-Davis at defensive end, Houston at middle linebacker, senior Brandon Fedio at weak-side linebacker and the duo of Rudolph and senior Junior Sarpong at corner.
“We think Rico is one of the top defensive linemen in Central Ohio,” Schroeder said, “and Luke is one of the top linebackers to come through Orange. He’s a three-year seater who will be in on a lot of tackles. Brandon and Junior are returning starters and Jordan has really come on; he has elite speed (4.4-second 40) and is a Youngstown State commit.”
Others who will look to make an impact include junior Zach McDowell (DT), Campbell (DE), Sevilla (OLB), junior Evan Eichol (OLB), Asante (LB), juniors Liam Robb (LB) and Niko Rores (LB), Robinson (DB), and juniors Alex Wong (S) and Tyler Wallace (S).
Schroeder said this group’s strengths include team speed, competitiveness and, well, strength — all things the Pioneers will need as they navigate through a loaded schedule.
“We have to continue to get motivated week in and week out with a run of 10 straight perennial playoff-caliber teams, realizing it’s going to get us ready to play our best football at the end of the year,” Schroeder said. “It’s going to be imperative we stay fresh and healthy.”
Orange opens the season against host Hilliard Darby (Aug. 20) before welcoming in Olentangy Berlin for its home opener (Aug. 27). After that, the Pioneers host Toledo Central Catholic (Sept. 3), travel to Olentangy (Sept. 10) and host Pickerington North (Sept. 17) to round out it’s non-league slate.
Then, it’s on to the always-competitive OCC-Central Division featuring a five-game stretch against host Hilliard Davidson (Sept. 24), visiting Dublin Coffman (Oct. 1), host Upper Arlington (Oct. 1), visiting Hilliard Bradley (Oct. 15) and host Olentangy Liberty (Oct. 22).
“In our league, it’s anyone’s guess (who will come out on top),” Schroeder said. “It’s going to come down to who stays healthy, keeps improving and stays hungry.”