Warren ready for Monday Night Football in Conneaut
One thing is certain.
Nothing is certain.
In a season of question marks, confusion and delays, Warren is scheduled to open its 2020 football season at 7 p.m. today at Conneaut.
The Dragons, having to quarantine for 14 days due to COVID-19, are back and as ready as they can be.
“We have been going steady since last Saturday, Sept. 12,” said Warren coach Mark Morelli, in his fourth season as head coach. “We told the players what we needed to do and what the expectations were for the past week and they responded. We took three days to review, then started preparations as best as we could for Conneaut.”
Warren returns a majority of starters on each side of the ball (seven offense/eight defense) and has had two straight winning seasons under Morelli. Returning include Micah Passmore at quarterback, James Swanson at running back, Donovan Fiscus and Ethan Wilson at wide receiver, and Alex Zeigler, Brent Young and Alan McAlister on the line. Passmore threw for 678 yards and seven touchdowns while running for 796 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Swanson ran for 458 yards and five touchdowns while Zeigler was named to the all-region second team as an anchor of the line.
On defense, Alex Zarcizny, Easton Hultburg and Zeigler are back at defensive end, and McAlister at defensive tackle. Zeigler is an all-region, second-team defensive lineman. Blake Arnold, Passmore and Young return at linebacker and Fiscus at safety. Passmore is a second-team pick on defense.
“Our coaches have seen every team play that is on our schedule,” Morelli said. “We are capable of having a very good year, a winning season and the playoffs are there, if we play up to our capabilities.”
That will be as difficult mentally as physically.
“At our last practice, this is what we told our kids, ‘All of you need to be thankful for this opportunity to play, we already dodged one bullet, as coaches we hear about other games being canceled throughout the area. Anything can happen at anytime. We are telling you this because you have to give it all you have, no regrets, leave it all out there on the field tomorrow night because we do not know what the future holds from week to week.'”
Conneaut is first up. The Eagles were 4-5 and last in a five-team region in 2019.
“We have not played Conneaut since my first year here at Warren,” Morelli said. “They have a veteran head coach in Pat Gould and, much like us, they have had their issues with COVID-19 as well. This will be the first game for both teams, although Conneaut was able to get a scrimmage in, I believe. Based on last year, we know they have a quarterback coming back who came in halfway through the season, they have several linemen back, they started off well last season then injuries took a toll. I am sure they will reflect the style of play that Coach Gould has always stressed and believed in, being physical up front and flying to the football on defense.
“As for Warren, at times we looked good when we did our 7 on 7 activities,” Morelli added. “As for what kind of a team will we have? I’d like to think our seniors have had a chance to experience two winning season in a row and know what we need to do to ensure a third winning season. That means play our type of game on offense and do not allow any big plays and limit Conneaut’s offense on defense.”
Morelli is urging his players to look at this season as an opportunity.
“At times, yes, it was frustrating, starting then stopping, but we have a veteran team, an experienced group,” he said. “We stress being able to handle adversity and everything that has happened since July is a lot of similarities as to what happens in real life. To be honest, our kids were ready to play last Wednesday. They have grasped the things we have implemented and are looking forward to the challenge. Our coaching staff has done an outstanding job of keeping our kids focused, staying positive and blocking out the ‘noise.’ The Warren school district and the administration have done a remarkable job in keeping things under control and supporting us.
“Conditioning is not as much as a concern as the contact, we have been running since July, even with two breaks since July because of COVID, our kids, picked right up where they left off,” Morelli said. “The contact and the hitting was what we were just getting into when we had to shut down for 14 days, so we had to make up for that in a hurry. All in all though, we should be fine. Mentally, we feel our kids are ready, they will be hyped up, this will be their first official PIAA activity since March.”
It still comes down to, “keeping our composure,” Morelli said, “capitalizing on the momentum swings and, as always, winning the turnover battle.”