Walsh Jesuit Football has completed the reconstruction phase.
The Warrior program, which exploded back on stage after a 4-36 record from 2016 to 2019, is thriving again.
Third year Walsh head coach Nick Alexander and his staff are busy.
There are around 20 players this fall with starting experience from last year, plus a number of lettermen from a 5-2 Warrior club that recorded their first playoff win since 2011 with a win over Garfield Heights.
The Warriors’ only defeat in the regular season came against the eventual champions of Division III, Archbishop Hoban. Walsh was eliminated by Cleveland Benedictine 27-20 in overtime in the Division II playoffs.
Incidentally, Walsh was set for a home game of the playoff loss on August 20 against Benedictines.
Another big factor this fall is the debut of the Crown Conference.
The Crown Conference includes Cleveland Heights Beaumont (no football as an all-girls school), Mentor Lake Catholic, Chardon Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin, Parma Padua Franciscan, and Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph.
All six schools were members of the former North Coast League.
Alexander was also thrilled that in 2020 Walsh won the regular season for the first time in five years against rivals Lake Catholic and Padua, winning his first season opener since 2011.
The Warriors lost six starters to graduation, including the All-Ohio Offensive lineman and University of Kentucky recruit David Wohlabaugh and do-it-all wide receiver safety Dom Grguric (Valparaiso).
Senior Matt Natale (6-1, 185) is back after setting multiple school records last year. Last fall, Natale hit 60 percent of his passes for 971 yards, 11 touchdowns and just seven interceptions and a roaring TD.
“Matt had a great off-season,” explained Alexander. “He accepted every challenge that was put in his way and never flinched. He’s done a lot of work in the weight room and is ready to go. “
Junior Ryan Kerscher (6-2, 175) also has limited experience after adding a rushing TD in 2020.
Walsh suffered a blow when senior all-star back Will Rumple underwent ACL surgery and was lost for the season.
“Will is recovering well,” said Alexander. “He was there and is a great leader of the team.”
The Warriors will turn to Senior Leshon Crenshaw, who has played tailback, slot, third down back, and return game throughout his career.
Crenshaw was a strong receiving target (seven catches for 50 yards and one TD) and averaged 9.2 yards in 2020 with 276 yards and three TDs.
Crenshaw will help carry the burden, standout defender Jack Romanini who started two years ago before focusing on defense. He’s also a good blocker.
Alexander is enthusiastic about the warrior duo.
“Crenshaw has really moved on and it was great to see him grow into the role,” remarked Alexander. “Romanini started out as a second grader and is a backcourt force.”
There might be other answers to backfield repetitions, and they all involve some great athletes.
Justin Bremner, a Warrior baseball player who was a novice soccer player, is one possibility. Bremner (5-11, 185) is a junior.
Senior linebacker Kasey Kish might get some touch, but the talented Kish is needed on defense.
On the offensive, Wohlabaugh’s absence is tough, but three starters and five experienced athletes help.
Senior Center Joe DeAngelis (5-9, 220), Senior Guard Dom Fallon (5-10, 210), and Junior Dom Bernard (6-1, 245) all have launch experience.
DeAngelis is now a three year starter. Senior Nick Khalil (6-0, 205) also has solid experience and started, while Senior Tyrin Rodgers will also start.
Rodgers is a defensive leader who will also play in the trenches on offense, having started with the right defenses against Hoban in 2020.
“All of our O-linemen started at least one game last year,” explained Alexander, who seeks depth.
Walsh is going to need a running game this fall and that depth could come from junior lettermen trio Joey Passarallo, Rocco Grguric and Tommy Perebzak, as well as junior Mike Ticchione.
At the head of the wide receivers is Senior Christian Ocher (6-1, 185), an all-district wide out who had 23 catches for 387 yards.
Ochei had a great track season and was also the top ranked athlete at the Recruit Nation Showcase Camp in Hebron. It is gaining a lot of attention from colleges.
“Christian had a great off-season,” said Alexander. “It got bigger and stronger while maintaining its speed. He is one of our captains and has earned this title with his work this off-season. “
Another threat is Senior Kenyon Marshall (5-11, 175) who added 18 catches for 201 yards and two touchdowns.
More depth comes from experienced Senior WR Josh Campagna (5-10, 165) and Junior Trey Bell, who, like Ochei, has maddening speed.
Campagna (nine catches and a TD in 2020) also completed a 30-yard pass in the state’s quarter-finals against Benedictines. Ochei and Bell might also get some carries from time to time.
Marshall and Campagna will be in the slot while the other wide outs, including fast senior letterman Bryan Blackwell, will be out.
Rodgers on the nose guard holds the front of the Warrior Defense.
Rodgers has tremendous strength and is difficult to move. He was an honorable all-district player in 2020.
JP Fyda (5-10, 185), the undersized senior end, has just as much starting experience as the junior end Drew Erdmann (6-3, 190), a baseball team from the University of Cincinnati.
Noah Brock (6-4, 195) was strong as a newcomer at the end of last year and is only getting better.
Senior Letterman Mason Bailey (6-1, 200), Junior Hunter Knauf, Junior Letterman Keith Rivers (6-4, 190), Fallon, and Bernard can also help.
Kish (5-11, 205) is a star in the making of a linebacker as he is a non-stop athlete with constant pursuit. As a second team all district athlete, Kish had 78 tackles, 10 tackles behind the line and 4.5 sacks.
Romanini (5-8, 190) has a lot of experience on the outside and can also play on safety. It was mentioned with honor in All-District with 56 stops.
“Kasey Kish, Jack Romanini, Tyrin Rodgers and Charlie Klug are the leaders of our defense,” said Alexander. “This experienced group has been playing at university level for three years and they are all ready for a great senior year.”
Senior RJ Bentley (5-9, 175) returns and is also battle-tested outside with the linebacker.
Brock Sherman (5-10, 190) is an emerging sophomore who will join the Backer Corps along with Junior Zach Grogan, a letterman.
In secondary school, Klug (5-10, 165) is an experienced senior starter after advancing to the second team’s all-district as cornerback last season. This preseason, too, he gets a job in safety.
Klug helped run the run with 22 tackles in the corner, but he had six pass diversions and one interception – one pick of six to win the playoff!
Romanini is also used in safety, while junior returnees Josh Grogan (6-0, 170) can play at both safety points.
Bell (6-0, 170) could see some action in secondary school after being pushed into service in the playoffs due to an injury.
Junior Letterman Quinton Walton (6-1, 180) could also be present as a corner kick and even as a receiver this fall.
Junior Platzkicker Cooper Kirda is back in 2020 after a brilliant first season.
Kirda scored 36 of 37 extra points last fall and hit a 32-yard field goal. Kirda has a good range and can also punt.
In addition, senior owner Nate Ost is back along with junior long snapper Charlie Shaw. Bell, Ochei and Crenshaw can pose great threats in the second leg.
Other returning lettermen are Juniors Gabriel Gardner (WR), Gavin Gubanyor (WR-DB), Nick Herbele (WR-DB), Robert McFarren (DB), Christopher Salek (LB), Matt Serdinak (DB-WR) and Lukas Simone (DB).
Other seniors are David Brown (DB-WR), Luke Kiesling (DB-WR), Keaton O’Donnell (WR), Mario Pace (WR), Ethan Sears (WR-DB), Irish Sullivan (OL-DL) and Peter Sutyak (LB).