Veteran lineup raises expectations
Making it back to the postseason a year ago after it had gone 4-6 in each of the previous two seasons whetted the appetite of the Ready High School football team.
With all but four key players returning and headed by a coach who has experience at the state's highest level, the Silver Knights are hungry for more than just a comeback story this fall.
Coach Joel Cutler, who was an assistant at Upper Arlington when the Golden Bears won the Division I state championship in 2000, has a group of players with eyes on titles of their own.
"It's great that we've got a lot of experience, but with success comes greater challenges," senior running back Akili Taylor said. "We have to get better every day."
Ready opens Friday, Aug. 30, against Newark Catholic at Hilliard Bradley in a matchup of potential Division VI powers after the OHSAA's expansion to seven divisions.
The Knights went 7-3, including losing 42-21 to Genoa Area in the first round of the Division IV, Region 14 playoffs a year ago, while the Green Wave fell 28-21 to Marion Stein Marion Local in the Division VI state championship game to finish 12-3.
Taylor and senior left tackle and defensive end Brady Taylor (no relation) are two of the biggest reasons for Ready's high expectations.
Akili Taylor (5-foot-9, 195 pounds) rushed for 1,125 yards and 10 touchdowns and made special mention all-district in Division IV a year ago while splitting the carries with 2013 graduate Doug Strickler (1,034 yards and 13 touchdowns).
Brady Taylor (6-5, 275) verbally committed to Virginia Tech on July 29.
Also back on offense are senior quarterback Matt Yoho (6-5, 210), senior wide receiver Kelly Culbertson (5-10, 175) and junior tight end Alex Eblin (6-2, 225).
Others expected to see time in the backfield are seniors Bran-den Bailey (5-9, 195) and Nickolas Chapman (6-3, 215).
Senior Deandre Golden (6-0, 195) rushed for 398 yards last season for Watterson but will sit out the first five games after transferring.
Also at wide receiver along with Culbertson (14 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns) should be juniors Anthony Havens (5-11, 165) and Connor Lancia (6-2, 195) and senior Austin Carnes (5-9, 170). Senior Myles Fowler (6-2, 185) is a transfer from Westland who will sit out the first five games.
Eblin had 13 catches for 251 yards and four touchdowns.
Joining Brady Taylor on the offensive line are seniors Andrew Hurd (5-11, 235) at center and Jacob Koch (6-3, 215) at left guard.
Seniors Nick Skordilis (5-11, 230) and Andy Rinehart (6-2, 235) competed during the preseason at right guard. Senior Zach Jarrett (6-3, 260) takes over at right tackle for 2013 graduate Luke Hackney, who is playing for Ashland.
Yoho was special mention all-district and finished 69 of 133 passing for 1,085 yards with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
"The big difference is that we've got 17 seniors and this is the second year in our system," Cutler said. "They understand the language and the learning curve is not what it was. (Yoho) has matured greatly. He went from a teenage football player to a young man."
Culbertson is back to lead the defense at cornerback after being one of the area leaders in interceptions with nine.
Lancia returns at safety and Bailey and Chapman are back at linebacker. Skordilis, junior Tre Windham (6-2, 235) and sophomore Kyle Usner (6-3, 200) also should contribute on the defensive line along with Brady Taylor. Junior Alvin Knox (5-11, 210) is back at middle linebacker after totaling a team-best 74 tackles and Carnes returns at cornerback after intercepting five passes.
Golden and Fowler are others who should contribute in the secondary when they become eligible. Junior Aiden Dulin was honorable mention all-district after making one field goal and 40 extra points and again will be the kicker. Lancia, who also made honorable mention all-district, averaged 36.5 yards per punt. Culbertson, Havens and Fowler all should return kicks and punts, with Koch and Carnes serving as long snappers.
Ready -- which had bounced between Divisions IV and V in recent years before the expansion to seven divisions -- beat Newark Catholic 34-20 in its opener last season en route to a 6-0 start.
The Knights lost to Hartley 42-8 in their regular-season finale, marking the third consecutive year the regular season ended with a setback to the Hawks.
"They're all tough kids," Cutler said. "Every day they get a little more disciplined and focused on preparation. I was an assistant when we won the whole thing in 2000 at (Upper Arlington) and this group prepares like that group. They eat right and they live right. They lift like crazy and go through practices with high intensity. ... We have high expectations. Our goal is to win all of our games and get into the playoffs. That is the standard we live by."