Groveport Madison: Cruisers battled more than on-field foes to post winning record

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Groveport freshman fullback Keyon Shaver is expected to be one of the top returnees next season for the Cruisers, who finished 5-3 to post their second consecutive winning season.

Groveport Madison football coach Mitch Westcamp said he and his team needed a little time after the season to catch their collective breath. 

“You name it; they threw it at us,” Westcamp said, referring to a year in which the Cruisers went 5-3 overall and 3-1 in the OCC-Buckeye Division, lost a game because of a COVID-19 coronavirus quarantine and recorded their second consecutive winning season. “We had the time before the season where we couldn’t even practice (because of the pandemic shutdown). We had to quarantine during the year. COVID definitely existed for us.

“But through all of that, I reminded our guys that most of them never had a losing season on varsity. They helped us achieve some big things and bring our program back.”

After going a program-best 10-3 overall in 2019 and advancing to the Division I, Region 3 final, Groveport was led this season by a record-setting run game and an opportunistic defense.

Senior Jalil Underdown ran for 813 yards and eight touchdowns on 71 carries, becoming the program’s all-time leading rusher. Classmate Jashaun McGraw added 113 carries for 506 yards and three touchdowns.

Underdown finished his career with 2,692 yards and 34 touchdowns – both program records – on 319 carries. McGraw had 2,400 yards and 20 touchdowns, and neither lost a fumble in four seasons.

“I don’t know that we realized how lucky we were in that aspect,” Westcamp said, referring to the lack of fumbles. “They gave so much to this program.”

Led by senior linebacker Clarence Gossett IV’s 56 tackles and five interceptions from junior defensive back Delaney Wilburn, the defense recorded 21 turnovers – 11 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries. That exceeded the unit’s nine interceptions and 19 total turnovers in 2019.

Wilburn returned two interceptions for touchdowns. According to Westcamp, he could be in the mix to play quarterback next season along with classmate Markell Holmes.

Junior linebacker Brayden Gauthier added 55 tackles and Holmes had 44 at defensive back.

The Cruisers opened with two lopsided home wins, 38-0 over Westland on Aug. 28 and 45-14 against Reynoldsburg on Sept. 4 in the OCC-Buckeye opener for both teams. Groveport followed that with a 16-13 win at Lancaster on Sept. 11 before a 43-3 home loss to Pickerington Central on Sept. 18.

Six days later, the team was forced into quarantine, cancelling a Sept. 25 league game at Newark. Groveport returned to the field Oct. 2 and defeated visiting Central Crossing 28-24 despite being without several offensive lineman and about half of the coaching staff because of the quarantine.

Seeded fourth in Region 3, Groveport lost 28-7 to 13th-seeded Hilliard Bradley in a Region 3 first-round home game Oct. 9.

The Cruisers split two regular-season home games to end the year, defeating Independence 17-14 on Oct. 16 before losing to Canal Winchester 29-26 on Oct. 23.

Other players eligible to return include juniors Jaxson Kelly (OL) and Hunter Rathburn (FB/LB) and promising 215-pound freshman Keyon Shaver (FB), who scored both touchdowns against Independence.

“We’re going to be young but the kids are excited already,” Westcamp said. “We’ll be going back to where we were two years ago with replacing some key players but the big difference, hopefully, is we’ll have the offseason we need. We didn’t have that three or four weeks (last summer) where the kids got even more familiar with each other and everything we want to do, but ultimately they responded really well. We’ll get into the weight room again soon and work hard.”

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

•Record: 5-3 overall

•OCC-Buckeye standings: Pickerington Central (5-0), Groveport (3-1), Central Crossing, Lancaster and Reynoldsburg (all 2-3), Newark (0-4)

•Seniors lost: Isaiah Abercrombie, Elyjah Aekins, Jeffrey Asamoah, Mitchell Ashburn, Foday Camara, Te’Ron Coleman, Michael Davis, Daron Elder, Malachi Gill, Clarence Gossett IV, Kyle Gossett, Marques Holmes, Juwan Humphrey, Jordan Mayes, Jashaun McGraw, De’Vion Meeks, Donjuillian Moore, Makarius Mosley, John Motton, Cole Neeley, Garrett Ottman, Cameron Rajamountry, Teshawn Chappell Reed, Isaiah Rogers, Leland Slaven, Carl Smith, Angel Solis, Johnathan Thompson, Jalil Underdown and David Williams

•Key returnees: Brayden Gautier, Markell Holmes, Jaxson Kelly, Hunter Rathburn, Keyon Shaver and Delaney Wilburn