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Comets charged, but need big men
Comets charged, but need big men
By TONY LANGE
With guys like Darian Hicks, Khoury Crenshaw and Drew Barksdale, Solon football will be athletic and skilled this season with a touchdown always lurking one play away.
The Comets have good team speed and playmakers all over the field, said Jim McQuaide, who is 84-22 in nine season as head coach.
"We run, and we run well. We have some guys who are very athletic and have played a lot of football in the past," he said. "The opposite side of that is up front on the offensive and defensive lines. We have a lot of new guys playing there. So we have experienced guys making plays on the field, but we need some guys who are protecting them. They've got to get some experience and fast."
After graduating 31 players, the Comets return this season with 17 seniors, 27 juniors, 27 sophomores and one freshman, a 263 pounder, on their varsity squad.
The 2011 Comets were 10-2, losing only to Mentor - once in the regular season, 44-20, and again in the regional semifinals of the state playoffs, 42-40.
Previous to that, Solon was 12-1 two years straight, losing in the regional finals in both 2009 and 2010.
"I don't know if it's a challenge, but sometimes we kind of rely on what we've done in the past," McQuaide said. "That doesn't mean anything to what we're trying to accomplish right now. We have new guys that have to step up and do what they're supposed to do. The returning guys, they have to create new goals and accomplishments for themselves. What they did last year, that doesn't mean anything."
Starting at quarterback for the Comets come Aug. 24 will be Barksdale, a 6-foot, 180-pound senior.
The Boston College recruit spent the majority of his minutes playing wide receiver and safety last season but did take a good chunk of snaps as the No. 2 quarterback.
Barksdale mostly rushed or handed off those snaps, however, as he only tossed the pigskin downfield 17 times with nine completions in 2011.
Sharing time with Barksdale at quarterback will be Brandon Byrd, a junior who saw a lot of fourth-quarter varsity action in 2011.
"Brandon has proven up to this point that he's a legitimate candidate, so I would envision them both playing a lot of quarterback right now," McQuaide said.
Second-year starting running back will be Crenshaw, a 5-foot-10, 160-pound senior who is the fastest runner in Ohio. He won the 100-meter dash in 10.76 seconds at the Division I state track meet in June.
As a junior, he averaged 4.8 yards per carry but missed nearly half of the season because of an injury.
During Crenshaw's injury, George Berry, a starting linebacker, led the Comets' ground game, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Berry returns this season as a 5-foot-10, 175-pound senior.
Crenshaw and Berry will be top rushers for the Comets again this season, but seniors CJ Hanna and Dione Gibson, junior Antwain Hamilton and sophomore John Sensibaugh will provide plenty of other options, McQuaide said.
While the Comets graduated a core of wide receivers, they have just as many, if not more, guys competing for playing time at that position.
Hicks, a 5-foot-10, 172 pound senior, collected 25 catches last season for 275 yards. He also returns this season as a third-year starter at cornerback and as a driving force returning kickoffs. He averaged 44.2 yards on 12 kickoff returns last season, including 92-, 91- and 84-yard touchdowns.
Besides Hicks, Crenshaw, Barksdale, Byrd and Hamilton, other guys competing for defensive backfield spots, as well as wide receiver minutes, include senior Shubhpreet Janda and juniors Kollyn Crenshaw, Michael Stanton and DJ Rowell, McQuaide said.
At linebackers, Hanna and Berry will be the backbone for the Comets. Hanna tallied 92 tackles and Berry 69 in 2011.
On the defensive line, Ryan Pastor, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior, will lead Solon, along with Brandon Reynolds, a junior end, and Shiloh Smalls-Moore, a senior.
Pastor may help out on the offensive line too, and Smalls-Moore and Reynolds will likely see some minutes at tight end, McQuaide said.
Sandip Janda, a 5-foot-11, 250 senior, Nick Spitaleri, a 6-foot, 250-pound junior, will primarily shoulder up on the offensive line, McQuaide said.
There are a number of other big men who will have to step up and prove themselves in a hurry, he said.
On special teams, the Comets will have to fill a void left by graduated kicker Alex Knight and graduated long snapper Ryan Schwenke - two consistent pieces to Solon's puzzle for the past two seasons.
Junior Keon Hemerlein is the top candidate for kicks, while competition is still open for the long-snapper position, McQuaide said.
The only new opponent on the Comets' schedule is Cleveland Glenville, which replaces Worthington Kilbourne in week two.
Shaker Heights is Solon's season opener at 7 p.m. Aug. 24 at Stewart Field.
"I don't think focusing on Shaker Heights is an issue," McQuaide said. "We've been working since January, and there are only 10 opportunities, so we're not going to look past any of them.
"We have a lot of good teams on our schedule, but right now Shaker Heights is the only team we're thinking about."
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