Transitioning to a new head coach in 2017 couldn’t have gone any better for Firelands football.
The program turned to Ryan O’Rourke as its sideline general after the departure of Mike Passerrello, who compiled a 34-28 record over six seasons before moving on to Amherst Steele.
An 8-2 record in 2017 was a one-win improvement over Passerrello’s final campaign. In fact, the Falcons narrowly missed out on an undefeated season, dropping consecutive games to Patriot Athletic Conference heavyweights Buckeye and Black River by respective scores of 25-22 and 27-25.
Despite a generally successful year, a top-heavy PAC kept Firelands on the outside looking in when it came time for theplayoffs.
O’Rourke thinks the postseason snub will be a powerful motivator for his team this season.
“When we get into the meat of our schedule, the kids need to understand competition is going to ramp up,” he said. “Last year they did understand that. That’s evident when you lose two games by five points. There’s nothing bad you can really say about what happened last year. This is a special group of kids but sometimes the ball just doesn’t fall your way.”
“We want to become an area name, not just Division IV Firelands,” O’Rourke said. “We picked up a game against Ashland, a Division II team, for week four. That’s possibly the biggest school Firelands has ever played. We want this community to know our goal is to build something special here.”
Seniors Blake Ruffner and Matt Kovach will help provide leadership for a team that includes 22 freshmen and 16 sophomores.
The loss of proven offensive weapons like quarterback Michael Bansek, who passed for 19 touchdowns, and the running back duo of Nick Denney and Logan Strader, who combined for 1,422 yards and 15 scores on the ground, will also have to be mitigated.
“Last year, we had a great team but lost a lot of seniors,” said Ruffner, who takes snaps at running back, wide receiver, and also plays defensive end. “A lot of our starters are going to be sophomores and juniors. It’s a young team but that’s not going to stop us from keeping our heads in the game. All we can worry about is what we’re doing right now.”
“Coach O’Rourke was still playing football not that long ago, so he knows what we’re going through right now,” Kovach said. “Football culture is changing and he has good knowledge of that from being in the game so recently. He knows how to adjust to things and more modern parts of game planning.”
Sophomores Jacob Farley and Donald Crawford are both expected to make an impact, with the former being the front-runner to start at quarterback and the latter slated for a sizeable number of carries out of the backfield.
Offensively, the Falcons will roll with multiple looks that O’Rourke likens to Boise State University’s wide-open attack. Firelands is not committed to one base defensive front and will switch between a 3-4 and 4-3 depending on match-ups and game situations.
“We’re going to use a lot of formations and a lot of motion on offense,” said O’Rourke. “We consider ourselves to be a game plan team, where we don’t really try to attack weaknesses and instead just look at our own strengths.”
Firelands will open its season Aug. 24 at home against Edison.
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.