There is perhaps more excitement surrounding the Swanton football program than in recent years as new head coach and Swanton alum Eric Keller takes over. They hope it translates to success on the gridiron this season and in the years to come.
For the 2022 campaign, the Bulldogs are rallying behind the new coaching staff. A sign of that is in the additions to the team, as a total of 52 kids have come out for football.
“Really excited about our coaching staff. Really excited about the energy the kids have; they’re buying in to what we want to do. The numbers, kids have recruited friends. We’ve got several kids to come back — either they did not play the last couple years or they were in another sport. We’re really thrilled with 52 kids. So it’s been mostly positive,” said Keller of the team.
Swanton will be switching to more of a pro-style offense this year, looking to have more ball control.
“We have to slow the game down,” admitted Keller. “We talked about it. Last year if you (the opposing team) got the ball, you’re scoring. I think we had nine running clocks last year out of 10 games. The goal is none (this year).”
The Dogs will have at least four players who can tote the rock this season, but fans will primarily see two.
“There’s a senior named Kamon Molina. He played last year, he was a running back. Obviously in the spread a different style of running back. Trent Eitniear is a sophomore, he started last year. Cam Kirtz is our fullback, he started last year,” said Keller of his ball carriers.
“We have two kids (Molina and Eitniear) — and they’re both big — to run the trap, to run the wedge, to run the belly. They’ll be effective.”
Both Eitniear, Molina and Kirtz were honorable mention All-Northwest Ohio Athletic League in 2021.
But those running backs will need a steady offensive line in front of them to block, and that is one area that concerns the new Bulldog mentor.
“There’s only one senior (Drew Smigelski). He’s a three-year letterman. You know and he’s technically a really good lineman; he’s 190 pounds. But o-line is a concern — especially tackle,” explained Keller.
Among those concerns with the o-line is depth. The same is true across the board, both offensively and defensively.
“When we get past the first level it’s pretty ugly,” Keller said. ”I had a really good team at Northview one year, and we knew that we were one deep. And if anybody got hurt (we were in trouble). That’s pretty much how we are now, we’re one deep.”
Other notable returnees for Swanton are Cole Mitchey (TE/SS), Ethan Hensley (QB/CB), and Toby Solarek (OT/LB). Mitchey was first team All-NWOAL and second team All-Northwest District as a specialist, while Hensley and Smigelski were honorable mention All-NWOAL.
The Dogs will have to replace key players such as Bryce Marvin (second team All-NWOAL, honorable mention all-district), Austyn Gossett (honorable mention All-NWOAL), and Aaron Thomas (honorable mention All-NWOAL).
Keller is hopeful his team’s defense will be more effective under the tutelage of new coordinator Chris Bueschen.
“We changed the scheme I like that,” he said on what he likes about the defense heading into the season. “I like having a d-coordinator that I’ve known for 27 years. I’ve known him longer but this is our 27th year coaching together.
“He knows exactly what I want and he’s high-energy. The kids love him. So I like our defense; I like our secondary. And we’ll see.”
Hensley and Mitchey will be crucial to the success of the Bulldog defense, according to Keller.
“Mitchey, he’s a strong safety. And Hensley’s playing corner. He (Hensley) looks good. But he’s also our quarterback, so I don’t know how much corner (he will play). He was a free safety last year, but we thought as a corner it might be a little less physical. Free safety is probably gonna take some shots,” he said.
Keller is also encouraged by the play of his linebackers in the preseason, in particular Eitniear. He is a fan of Smigelski at defensive end as well.
The new coach has much respect for the league, one of which he is very familiar.
“We feel that the NWOAL is one of the most competitive small school leagues in the state of Ohio,” Keller said. “Four different football programs have won state championships in the last 30 years. Teams are tough, physical, and well-coached. We aspire to be described by these terms.”
Swanton kicks off the season by hosting Rossford this Friday. The Bulldogs will then hit the road for their next two non-league games before returning home to face Patrick Henry in the league opener Friday, Sept. 9.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010.