Upper Arlington's Ackley valuable asset
The Upper Arlington High School football team lost several of its offensive threats from last season to graduation, including 6-foot-1 wide receiver Frank Epitropoulos, who is playing at Ohio State.
Epitropoulos had 25 receptions for 459 yards and seven touchdowns last year, as the Golden Bears went 9-3 and qualified for the playoffs, losing to Hilliard Davidson 15-6 in a Division I, Region 3 semifinal after beating Troy 21-20 in overtime in the first round.
Among the other skill players who graduated were quarterback David Smith, who was 101-for-175 passing for 1,315 yards, 13 touchdowns and four interceptions last year, wide receiver Garrett Powers (26 catches, 381 yards, 3 touchdowns) and running backs Ryan McSheffery (594 yards, 5 touchdowns on 112 carries) and Francis Wilamosky (571 yards, 5 touchdowns on 85 carries).
The Bears did return their leading rusher, however, in 5-11, 181-pound senior Gus Ackley, who is playing a hybrid running back-receiver role this season after rushing for 774 yards and 12 touchdowns on 126 carries last year.
His new role is anything but unfamiliar, though, and he's made himself a threat all over the field, accounting for 195 all-purpose yards in a season-opening 43-20 win against Walnut Ridge on Aug. 24 and running for touchdowns of 78 and 83 yards in 45-7 losses to Cincinnati Elder (Aug. 31) and Gahanna (Sept. 7), respectively.
It's not that the coaching staff is looking to involve Ackley in various fancy schemes. They simply are trying to take advantage of his talents and those of their first-year starting quarterback, senior Alex Husted.
"It's not that I'm actually in a receiver's position, but we have an up position for the running back, which is the same thing as receiver," Ackley said. "I've been doing it since my freshman year, so it's not really a new thing for me. We do a lot of screen plays and quick flat routes and occasional straight-up-the-seam looks. It's nothing different, really, but it's definitely different having Alex because he's a lot more mobile than Dave."
Although he's filling a familiar role, Ackley, who had only three receptions for 8 yards last season, wasn't sure where he'd fit in as recently as this past spring, when projected starting quarterback Jared Drake transferred to Westerville Central, where he is the starting quarterback. As a running back last year as a sophomore, Drake had 30 carries for 353 yards and seven touchdowns.
Husted, who also plays defensive back and was a wide receiver in the past, thinks Ackley's best attribute might be his ability to fool defenses with his size.
"He's very fast, very quick, but they don't expect that out of a guy his size," Husted said. "You might see more 6-2 bruisers or 5-11 speedsters, but his combination is great for us. ...
"I can always rely on him to catch the ball in the flats and up the seam. He's an important part of our offense. If we need a couple yards, I always can rely on him to get us the yards."
Ackley had 118 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries against Walnut Ridge, as well as three catches for 78 yards and another score. Against Elder and Gahanna, he produced the Bears' only points and accounted for the bulk of their offense. All but 19 of his yards against Elder came on his touchdown run, and he was held to 7 yards on 14 carries by Gahanna outside his touchdown with five seconds left in the first half.
UA brings a 1-2 record into its OCC-Central Division opener Friday, Sept. 14, at Thomas Worthington. Despite early setbacks, the Bears think they still have time to make a quality run at their second consecutive postseason appearance.
However, they still have questions to answer. Coach Mike Golden pulled Husted in the second half against Gahanna, opting to play junior Harrison Heath and sophomore Kyle Kaparos to little avail against the Lions' defense.
Even so, hopes of a league championship remain intact. UA, which last won the OCC-Central title in 2008, went 6-1 in the league last year to place second to Hilliard Davidson (7-0). Dublin Coffman (5-2) finished third.
"We're definitely a contender," Husted said. "I think we're right there as much as anybody. We're a contender right there along with Coffman and Davidson. If we play well and we don't have many bad games, we have a pretty good shot at winning it."