Groveport Madison: Cruisers excited to 'line up and play'

DAVE PURPURA
dpurpura@thisweeknews.com
John Motton (right) and the Groveport football team will play host to Westland in the season opener Friday, Aug. 28.

Groveport Madison football coach Mitch Westcamp sighed when discussing one aspect of preparation for the Cruisers' opener Friday, Aug. 28, at home against Westland.

With an abbreviated preseason because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic -- the Cruisers did not have a full-contact practice until Aug. 15 -- Westcamp anticipated that he and his staff would spend more time than usual answering questions about their own team, let alone learning about the Cougars.

"You can't explain it," said Westcamp, who is making his head-coaching debut after 12 seasons as an assistant at his alma mater. "(Aug. 15) was our first day of hitting, literally, because we were suspended at one point (abiding by a recommendation from Franklin County Public Health). We had to stop. We couldn't start Aug. 1 when a lot of the other schools (outside the county) were able to go.

"Our kids were a little upset seeing the other teams practicing the whole time so why couldn't we? I had to remind them just to control what we can control, and we couldn't control that. We're still going to line up and play football."

Groveport is eager to build on last year, when it went 10-3 overall to set a program record for wins, 4-1 in the OCC-Capital Division to share first place with Canal Winchester and New Albany, and lost to eventual Division I state champion Pickerington Central 23-7 in the Region 3 final.

Westland is coming off its third consecutive 1-9 season and has not finished above .500 since the program's only playoff appearance in 2006.

Groveport returns two of its top three rushers from last year in fullback Jashaun McGraw (206 carries, 1,113 yards, 11 TDs) and slotback Jalil Underdown (119 carries, 1,028 yards, 14 TDs) behind an offensive line with three returning starters. Senior Isaiah Rogers is in line to be the Cruisers' new starting quarterback.

"They were very physical (last year) and that's a trait of a wing-T offense. They're a dominant running team that is going to grind on you a little," Westland coach Rick Rios said. "It's always important for us to get out of the gate fast. Right now, I'm pleased with the way things are going, but we have a long way to go."

The Cougars graduated their top two running backs in Peterson Iresne and Johnny Douglas, who combined for 1,253 yards and 12 touchdowns on 235 carries last year. Junior Tim Smith is expected to be the featured back along with first-year starting quarterback Jovaan Cooper and a veteran line led by senior center Hayden Hughes.

This will be the teams' first meeting since Oct. 12, 2007, when Groveport won an OCC-Ohio game 63-8. The Cruisers went on to qualify for the playoffs for the second consecutive year and finished 8-4.

This also is the only scheduled non-league game for both teams in the regular season.

Westcamp said Gov. Mike DeWine's announcement Aug. 18 that all fall sports can proceed provided renewed enthusiasm for his team.

"We started the practice going over that. Kids perked up knowing they will play," Westcamp said. "They're excited. They've been out here for six or eight weeks. I did not want to be the one to tell them no, I can say that."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

WEEK 1

WESTLAND at GROVEPORT MADISON

*When: 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28

*Last meeting: 2007, Groveport 63-8

*Top Cougars: Colton Bogle (OL), Jovaan Cooper (QB), Payton Hayes (OL/DL), Hayden Hughes (OL/DL), Jakob Hurley (LB), Jack Little (WR) and Tim Smith (RB/DB)

*Top Cruisers: Elyjah Aekins (WR/DB), Te'Ron Coleman (SB), Clarence Gossett (LB), Leland Slaven (OL), Jashaun McGraw (FB/DL), Makarius Mosley (OL/DL), John Motton (WR/DB), Isaiah Rogers (QB) and Jalil Underdown (RB)