With a new system installed, the Swanton football team has a positive outlook on the 2019 season.
“The team’s picking up what we’re trying to do. There is some excitement around the program,” said first-year coach Denton Saunders. “I would say, overall, the camp has been positive. And we want to keep that going. We want to continue to learn and grow, and develop our fundamentals on offense and defense.”
The Bulldogs could have some question marks on their offensive line, according to coach Saunders, so they will look to their skill players to thrive in the new coach’s spread offense.
“We’ve got some athletes who can do some dangerous things with the football in their hands – especially in space,” said Saunders. “I’m excited to have all those guys.”
One of the main returnees is senior running back Tyler Gowing, who was honorable mention All-Northwest Ohio Athletic League in 2018.
“Tyler Gowing has stepped up big at the running back position,” said Saunders. “More importantly as a leader. I think he’s been a great leader for our team so far. Doing the right things on and off the field.”
They also have junior quarterback Andrew Thornton, standing at 6 feet, 2 inches, who should be a big part of the offensive game plan. Thornton saw a considerable amount of time under center after Dylan Gilsdorf (honorable mention All-NWOAL) was moved to running back during the season.
“He works his tail off every day,” said Saunders of Thornton. “He’s picking up the offense well at the quarterback position. Still making a few mistakes here and there, but that’s to be expected at this point. He’s got a great arm. And he’s a big, tall quarterback who can stand in there and deliver the football.”
Other returnees for the Dogs are Josh Vance (honorable mention all-league), Connor Cass (honorable mention all-league), Ian Saunders (honorable mention all-league), Xavier Wiemken (honorable mention all-league), Riley Hensley (second team all-league specialist), Justyn Bartlett, Damien Boyer, Brendan Keith, Devon Crouse and Sam Dominique.
Newcomers to the squad are Trent Weigel, Bryce Marvin, and Eric Bettinger.
While there is a lot of potential on offense, depth is a concern at the skill positions.
“The scary thing is, if one goes down, we don’t have a whole lot of depth,” said Saunders. “So, we are going to try to spread the ball out, keep the touches fairly even so we’re not banging up the same players every play. Hopefully make it through the season injury-free. We can’t prepare for that, so we got to get other guys ready to go.”
Another weakness is the loss of several all-league performers. Although injured for much of last season Xavier Williams and Michael Lawniczak were both first team all-league in 2017. Others lost to graduation are Derek Floyd (second team all-league defense), Hunter Mix (honorable mention all-league), Kodi Jones (honorable mention all-league) and Ryan Marvin (honorable mention all-league).
Saunders was impressed with the execution of the Bulldogs’ defense early in camp. At the NWOAL coaches meeting Aug. 11, he highlighted how well they performed during their first scrimmage against Montpelier two days prior.
“Hopefully we can continue to fly to the football, defeat blocks, make tackles and force turnovers. Those are four things that we work on every day in the defensive practice,” said the new coach. “And we preach if we can do those four things: pursue to the football, defeat blocks, make tackles, and force turnovers, we’ll have a decent defense.”
Swanton was just 3-7 overall in 2018, winning one game over the final seven weeks of the season as they battled injuries. Therefore, it’s hard to predict how the 2019 campaign will go, and Saunders isn’t interested in trying.
“I don’t want to put a wins and loss mark on it,” he said of the season ahead. “I just want to improve every week and grow every week. If we continue to grow week-in and week-out, from year to year, the wins will add up.”
Growing up in Liberty Center and graduating from Patrick Henry in 2008, Saunders is quite aware of the rigors of competing in the NWOAL. He says the league season, as usual, will be a grind.
“The NWOAL is the oldest football league in the state of Ohio. There’s something special (about it),” said Saunders. “I’m getting goosebumps right now just talking about the league. It means a lot to me to be back in this league. It’s always tough, top to bottom. There’s no off weeks. You’ve got to prepare week-in and week-out, and you got to bring it week-in and week-out. You can’t overlook anybody in this league.”
Swanton has road games versus Rossford and Bowsher to begin the season, then they host Rogers Friday, Sept. 13 to finish the non-league slate. The Dogs open NWOAL play when Evergreen comes to town Sept. 20.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010