Graduated starters will be tough to replace
But Bobcats think players will step up
By Lonnie McMillan / Contributor
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
ATHENS – The Ohio football team returns 15 of 25 starters from last year and was voted a unanimous pick to win the Mid-American Conference East Division title. But replacing the 10 starters lost will not be easy.
The Bobcats were hit hardest on offense with the loss of their top two receivers, both tackles and their starting running back. It is at the wide receiver spot where the lost where the production lost statistically seems most daunting.
Ohio broke all kinds of offensive records in 2011 and LaVon Brazil was a big part of that as a team captain who set multiple school receiving marks, making 74 catches for 1,146 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts.
Gone also is Riley Dunlop, who was good for 43 receptions, 586 yards and six scores. Versatile Phil Bates, had 15 catches for 197 yards and a score while also throwing a pair of touchdown pass, while backup Jerry Gross also finished up his career after making eight grabs for 68 yards and a touchdown last year.
“We have four guys who graduated last year who caught over 120 balls and that’s a lot of big plays and a lot of catches to leave on the table,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said. “Someone’s got to step up within our system in order to replace guys like LaVon Brazill, Riley Dunlop, Gross, Phil Bates, so there’s a lot of openings there.”
Running back Donte Harden had a breakout senior season, rushing for 986 yards, averaging 5.3 yards per attempt. He added 27 pass catches and 267 yards through the air with four total touchdowns.
Right tackle Joe Flading and left tackle AJ Strum paved the way for those players’ successes, who both started every game for Ohio. They combined for 93 pancake blocks.
Defensively, the toughest loss is that of middle linebacker Noah Keller, a two-time captain who finished with 116 tackles. Some of what Keller brought to the Bobcats cannot be replaced, Solich said.
“It’s difficult,” he said. “Sometimes you just don’t. You just hope the guys that are playing at that position step up and play good football and are very consistent and don’t make critical errors.”
Graduated also is defensive end Curtis Meyers, who finished with 29 tackles, including four for loss. Cornerback Omar Leftwich left the program with a year of eligibility remaining because a serious injury. He had 38 tackles and one interception in 2011.
On special teams, Ohio will be without punter Paul Hershey, who averaged 40.7 yards per punt and had 76 rushing yards in his career. Long snapper Jeremy LaVoie also has moved on.
The new starters will have big shoes to fill, but tight end Jordan Thompson said he thinks those players will be ready after having waited their turn.
“One thing you have to look at is the guys that were ahead of those guys, they’re either in the NFL or they had a shot at the NFL,” he said. “The talent-level that those guys had, there’s a reason why younger guys weren’t playing in front of them. I think we have a lot of athletic guys here that in other programs they could have been playing last year and years past. … To have guys who are athletic who just haven’t proven themselves on the field, I think they’re taking care of that here in practice. I think that’s exciting to see. Guys are finally getting the opportunity to play and I think we’ll just be fine and they’ll take advantage of that.”