Hawks expect to contend for state title
The way Hartley High School football coach Brad Burchfield sees it, it shouldn't be surprising if one of his players emerges as one of the state's best over the next few months.
To not expect it would be bucking a recent trend.
During the Hawks' 2010 Division IV state championship season, senior running back Noah Key shared state Offensive Player of the Year honors with Kenton's Maty Mauk.
Then in 2011, Ja'Wuan Woodley emerged as a two-way standout at running back and linebacker and went on to become a two-time state Player of the Year.
A senior such as Alonzo Saxton or Kalil Morris could step forward as a player-of-the-year-candidate this season.
The Hawks went 13-1 a year ago, posting their second consecutive perfect regular season before losing 45-21 to eventual champion Clarksville Clinton-Massie in a state semifinal.
Hartley takes a 22-game regular-season winning streak into its opener Friday, Aug. 30, at Amanda-Clearcreek.
"We've been fortunate to have gotten some good players," Burchfield said. "I think the best teams in Ohio all have good kids. Nobody knew about Ja'Wuan two years ago."
Saxton had just nine rushing attempts last season, but the 6-foot, 185-pounder who verbally committed to Duke earlier this year likely will find himself in a key role on offense. He scored three touchdowns last season at wide receiver.
The leading returning rusher is senior Sam Mackowiak (6-0, 215), who totaled 771 yards and 10 touchdowns on 88 carries.
Junior Mateo Saxton (5-10, 175), who is Alonzo Saxton's brother, and classmates Cavell Bennett (5-11, 185) and Jack Zang (5-10, 175) are others at running back.
Senior Jacob Mercier (5-10, 160) is at wide receiver and Morris will be the tight end.
Senior Jared Brandewie (6-4, 210), who completed 53 of 94 passes for 1,071 yards with 15 touchdowns and just two interceptions, is back for his third season at quarterback.
Brandewie also will punt again after averaging 37 yards on 10 attempts. Senior Collin Barringer returns at kicker after making 71 of 77 extra points.
The offensive line returns senior tackle Nick Boeriu (6-3, 225), senior center Max Steele (5-11, 250), senior guard Austin Kirkbride (5-11, 200) and junior guard Ben Reis (5-10, 200).
Senior Salvatore Reedus (5-9, 300) and sophomores Jared Croswell (5-11, 240), Tyler Sweeney (6-0, 250) and Ross Wirthman (6-2, 210) are others on the line.
In addition to Woodley, Hartley lost its second-leading rusher, Marcellus Calhoun (1,685 yards rushing, 26 touchdowns), leading receiver Dominique Scott (19 catches for 439 yards, seven touchdowns), first-team all-state tight end Jacob Matuska (16 catches for 348 yards, four touchdowns) and first-team all-district offensive lineman Tyler Schaffer to graduation.
Woodley was the ThisWeek Super 25 captain and is playing for Toledo, while Matuska also made the Super 25 and is at Notre Dame.
"Any time you lose people like Jacob Matuska, Marcellus Calhoun, Ja'Wuan, it's tough, but we've still got some stuff to work with," Brandewie said. "It's a new season and we play a bunch of teams we haven't played before. Most of the starters will be seniors and we know what we need to do."
Morris, who verbally committed to Kent State in July, will lead the defense at an end position.
He should be joined on the line by Boeriu, Sweeney, Reis, Wirthman, junior Tayron Washington (6-2, 240) and seniors Les Moxley (6-0, 200) and Logan Rahe (5-11, 190).
Hartley runs an odd stack as its base defense, with Zang, junior Patrick Heinmiller (6-0, 185), Bennett and sophomore Quri Hickman (5-11, 205) at linebacker. Hickman is a transfer from Madison Christian.
The Saxton brothers should be joined in the secondary by Mercier, sophomores Rian Anderson (6-2, 175) and Richard Jones III (5-9, 155) and freshman Jake Ruby (5-10, 180).
Hartley has five opponents it did not face a year ago, including defending Division V state champion Coldwater on Sept. 6 at home. Coldwater defeated Kirtland 10-9 in the championship game after finishing as state runner-up the previous three seasons.
While Coldwater is competing in Region 16, the Hawks have dropped to Division V and were placed in Region 17 after the OHSAA's expansion to seven divisions.
Also on the schedule are City League-power Marion-Franklin (Sept. 13 at home) and a pair of CCL-Silver opponents in St. Charles (Sept. 20 at home) and Watterson (Oct. 4 away).
Hartley travels Nov. 1 to meet Ready, which it beat 42-8 a year ago for the CCL-Gold title.
"I think we have a deep team," said Burchfield, whose team will face the Silver Knights at Hilliard Bradley. "We think a lot of the teams we're playing and we like our team. Obviously we'll be one of the contenders to win the state title in Division V."