It will be difficult to duplicate the success of the last three seasons, however, the Swanton Bulldog football program will give it their best shot.
The Bulldogs are coming off three straight winning seasons, a Northwest Ohio Athletic League title in 2015, and playoff wins in each of the past two seasons.
That success came under the direction of former coach Mike Vicars who stepped down in March. He remains with the district as its Director of Student Services.
The program is now left in the hands of Randy Kerns, who was approved as the Bulldogs’ coach in May. Kerns is optimistic heading into his first season at the helm.
“Even with a new coaching staff, and mass graduation that included two D-I signees, this is still a talented football team,” he said. “Numbers have improved, and there’s an established, energetic, winning culture. Our season will depend on some talented, but inexperienced players stepping into varsity roles and performing well. This team can potentially be contending for the top of the NWOAL again. Our goal is to return to the postseason in Division V.”
Swanton returns five starters on offense and five on defense.
One of their primary returnees is Michael Lawniczak, a second team All-NWOAL and second team all-district running back from a year ago. He is someone who coach Kerns thinks can be the top player in the league this season.
Another notable returnee is lineman Lukas Reiner (first team All-NWOAL), someone Kerns says has “loads of talent.” The Bulldogs also get back honorable mention all-league performers Gage Pachlhofer (RB/DB), Xavier Williams (OL/LB) and Zack Leahey (RB/DL).
Crew Oberheim is a returning tight end and linebacker for the Dogs.
However, they did lose a lot to graduation, including five players who received All-Ohio honors. Highlighting that list were wide receiver Gunnar Oakes and defensive lineman Zach Dziengelewski who both were named first team all-state at their respective positions.
They both received scholarships to play at the Division I level, Oakes at Eastern Michigan and Dziengelewski at Bowling Green. Other all-state players gone via graduation are kicker Nick Koback who made the second team, as well as Aaron Hazlett and Jonathan Shanks who were special mention.
They will also be without Marek Spiess (second team All-NWOAL, second team all-district), Tim Rankin (second team All-NWOAL, honorable mention all-district), Ben Burke (second team All-NWOAL, second team all-district), Connor Yaney (second team All-NWOAL), Brennan Spiess (honorable mention All-NWOAL), Cam Hitchen (honorable mention All-NWOAL) and Chase Avalos (honorable mention All-NWOAL).
Strengths for the team are a talented defensive front, good leadership, and a physical running game with the return of Lawniczak.
“Winning culture is implanted off back-to-back playoff appearances,” added Kerns.
Another positive is that they will be running the Wing T again this season, which is the same offense Vicars used. On defense they will run a 3-4.
The coach does have some concerns heading into the season.
“Must find other playmakers on offense (other than Lawniczak),” he said. “Talented but inexperienced at some positions because of transfers out of program.”
He particularly mentioned the loss of their quarterback and some defensive backs as well.
Although Kerns is new to the program and the league, he still has the confidence to pick them to finish third behind Liberty Center and Wauseon.
Swanton is at Richwood North Union Friday, followed by a trip to Start Sept. 1, and then home against Rogers on Sept. 8 to close out non-league competition. They open NWOAL play at Bryan on Sept. 15.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010
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