Now entering his third year as coach of the Swanton Bulldogs’ football team, Denton Saunders hopes his team can rise up the ranks within the Northwest Ohio Athletic League.
Saunders wants his boys to take advantage of every opportunity they get and take nothing for granted.
“We’re gonna be tough, disciplined. We want to have fun playing this game. We want to be positive. And we just want to leave it all out on the field. Have no regrets. Play every game, every snap as hard as we can. And whatever the result may be, leave that field with our head held high and leave no regrets on that field,” he said on the primary message for his team going into the season.
A major change on the offensive side of the ball comes as leading receiver from last year, Cole Mitchey, shifts over under center as the new quarterback. Saunders and his coaching staff feels the move gives them the best chance for success on Friday nights.
Mitchey, who was honorable mention All-NWOAL at receiver in 2020, began throwing in the winter to get prepared for the position change.
“Cole is a fantastic leader. He’s a great athlete,” Saunders said on making the move. “We talked to him towards the end of the season last year about maybe moving him to quarterback, and he was for whatever’s best for the team. That’s just the kind of kid Cole is. We felt with his athleticism and his experience on Friday nights, and his leadership, just getting him the ball every play was what’s best for our team.”
Mitchey has been adjusting to the move, according to his coach, but there will still be challenges ahead for him.
“I’m really pleased with his decision-making on the field. He’s been playing quarterback for really (only) two months, so I mean he still has to work on some things. And he knows that. But he’s the best guy for that spot for this team,” the Bulldog mentor said.
The new signal caller will have some help around him, starting up front on the offensive line and also at skill positions.
Returning on the line are Drew Smigelski (honorable mention all-league), Bryce Marvin, Aaron Thomas and Austyn Gossett. Experience is a common trait among those four.
“We got three seniors up front. We’ve got Aaron Thomas, who’s the biggest guy on our team, anchoring us at left tackle. We really like how he fires off and moves people. We have Bryce Marvin as our center. He’s a three-year lettermen at center and on our football team. Great leader. Really can trust him to get the job done and we’re gonna be hurting next year when we have to replace him. Then we have Austyn Gossett at our right guard. Who’s not the biggest but he plays hard. He gives us everything he’s got and we can rely on him,” Saunders said.
Smigelski, a junior, will be at right tackle and the left guard position was up for grabs in the preseason.
Some key pieces back at skill positions are running backs Nate Vance and Kamon Molina, tight end Lathan Pawlowicz, and receivers Kayden Davis and Ethan Hensley (honorable mention all-league specialist).
Saunders likes what Vance brings to his backfield. “I think Vance can run the ball well. There’s no doubt about it. Vance will, if he can stay healthy, he’ll be a workhorse for us,” the coach said.
He also mentioned Caleb Ostrander running the ball well in Swanton’s scrimmage at Montpelier Aug. 7.
The Dogs hope that Davis, standing at 6’3” and a state placer in the high jump back in June, gives them a threat on the outside to fill in for losing Mitchey.
“He’s a great athlete. He’ll be our ‘X’ receiver. He played a lot last year and made an impact in our passing game. We’re gonna expect more out of him this year,” Saunders said of Davis.
Hensley was named by Saunders as a player to look out for this season. He has impressed the coaching staff in the preseason.
“He catches everything that he touches pretty much,” stated Saunders.
Xander Wiemken and Mike Cohn are two other returning letter winners for the Dogs this season.
On defense, Swanton will be stout along the line, hoping to make up for a youthful core of linebackers.
“We’ve got six defensive linemen who I think can play. Which is the best we’ve had in awhile. We got some size there too with Lathan Pawlowicz (6-4, 225), Ben Wilson (5-9, 225), Bryce Marvin (6-0, 210), Aaron Thomas (6-4, 240), Drew Smigelski (6-2, 220),” said Saunders.
“They all got nice size to them, so hopefully we can control the line of scrimmage better and keep our linebackers clean. We do have some inexperience at linebacker, but hopefully we can keep those guys clean and let them run to the football and make plays.”
Marvin was a second team all-league and All-Northwest District defensive lineman a year ago, and Pawlowicz was honorable mention all-league.
Swanton begins the 2021 campaign at Rossford this Friday. They close out the non-league slate with a pair of home games versus Ottawa Hills and Rogers the following two weeks, then visit Patrick Henry to open up league play in week four.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010.