Swanton’s football program had one of its most successful seasons last year when it reached the playoffs for just the second time in school history and captured the program’s first-ever postseason victory.
The Bulldogs were also NWOAL champions for the first time in two decades, sharing the crown with Wauseon.
And although there will be some turnover from last year’s team, the Dogs do get back a total of 29 letter winners, 12 of whom are seniors, and six starters each on both offense and defense.
“We are looking forward to the season,” said coach Mike Vicars who enters his third season at the helm. “We have strong senior leadership by some fine young men. This group overall is very professional in their everyday approach.”
This Swanton roster has many talented players returning that will make an impact on the 2016 campaign.
The first of those returnees is senior Gunnar Oakes, who was first team All-NWOAL as a receiver in 2015 and special mention All-Ohio as a safety. On offense, Oakes caught 40 passes for over 700 yards.
The Dogs also return senior offensive lineman Zach Dziengelewski, who made second team all-league a season ago. Dziengelewski recently received a scholarship offer from Bowling Green State University and has committed to play for the Falcons.
Also back to help the offense are a pair of running backs who had success last season, Michael Lawniczak and Tim Rankin.
Lawniczak, a sophomore, was second team all-league after rushing for 1,100 yards and 16 touchdowns. Rankin is a senior who rushed for 500 yards and three TDs in 2015.
Swanton will also get back senior running back Chase Avalos, who missed most of last season with an injury.
Returning on the offensive line for the Dogs are Aaron Hazlett, Connor Yaney, and Ben Burke. Yaney has committed to play football at Concordia University next fall.
Their kicking game will not be lacking, as Nick Koback returns for his senior season. Koback has made All-Ohio as a place-kicker in each of the past two seasons.
Other returning letter winners are Jonathon Shanks (honorable mention all-league), Brennan Spiess (honorable mention all-league), Dakota Straub, Evan Lutz, Marek Spiess, Gage Pachlhofer, Kody Reyes, Crew Oberheim, Zack leahey, Cameron Hitchen, Anthony Howard, Zach Rankin, Josh Kohlhoffer, Hunter Albert, Dustin Sego, Lukas Reiner, Keaton Davis, Isaac Thomas, Ethan Frost, and Reece Pawlowicz.
“Size, strength, and speed,” said Vicars on the strengths of his current group. “This group of kids has put in a lot of time in the offseason in the weightroom with coach Tim Spiess.
“Experience in skill areas is a bonus with a big offensive line. We are hoping our defense will carry us while our offense builds in the early going.”
Vicars also points to the number of returning starters coming back, as well as players from a successful JV program a year ago.
But much like any other team, there are some concerns the Bulldog coach has.
“We need to break in a new QB (Marek Spiess), but we are confident in him,” said Vicars. “It is always nice to have a coach’s son at QB.
“Offensive and defensive lines are a work in progress, we were hit very hard in that area.”
The veteran coach would also like his team to avoid injuries as much as possible.
“Health is always a concern,” he said. “Last year, we were hit hard all year long with injuries and a lot of young guys had to play. In that end, it had an impact on our season. We need some luck in that area this year if we are to be successful.”
Like last year, when Swanton shared the league title with Wauseon, the NWOAL race looks like it will be a dogfight once again.
“The league is on an upswing and will be strong as usual each Friday night,” concluded Vicars.
Swanton begins the season on the road at Ottawa Hills this Friday. The Bulldogs throttled the Green Bears to begin last season, 44-14.
Max Householder can be reached at 419-335-2010