Despite injuries, setbacks, and challenging schedules, coaches for all six diocesan high schools football teams are hopeful for improved records and births in the playoffs.
As the mid-season mark approaches, the combined record for the six schools—Ursuline High School (Youngstown), Cardinal Mooney High School (Youngstown), John F. Kennedy High School (Warren), Canton Central Catholic, Saint John School (Ashtabula) and St. Thomas Aquinas (Louisville)—stands at 11-13. Yet all the coaches—including two first-year head coaches—contend that their respective teams are improving each week.
Below is the mid-season gridiron report for Canton Central Catholic. You can find detailed reports on the other schools here: Ursuline High School, Cardinal Mooney High School, John F. Kennedy High School, Saint John School and St. Thomas Aquinas High School.
Canton Central Catholic football team looks to continue last season’s success
Canton Central Catholic, after a strong 2022 season, is looking to build upon a core of skilled players, Coach Jeff Lindesmith notes.
The Central Catholic Crusaders qualified for the OHSAA Division VI playoffs in 2022, winning the first round against Niles Mineral Ridge and losing to perennial powerhouse Mogadore 19-14.
“We had a team that was led by our quarterback QB Jeff Tarkington,” who earned Division VI All-Ohio honors at quarterback while also excelling at defensive back, Lindesmith said. Tarkington has moved on to play at Ashland University.
There were other graduation losses as well—notably among the offensive and defensive lines and the linebacker corps, Lindesmith explained.
So, the Crusaders are going with a combination of experienced players along with those seeing significant action for the first time this season.
Among returning starters are co-captains, Dan Boron, a senior wide receiver and defensive back, and Gabe Grisez, a senior offensive and defensive lineman. Central has gone with “mainly a spread offense, but we do a lot variations,” and a 4-2-5 defense.
For this season, at quarterback, senior Brennan Betz has served as Central’s primary starter but junior Louis DeRuzza stepped up in the Richmond Heights game when Brennan was sidelined because of an injury.
Rounding out the backfield are juniors Grady Noggle and Blaize Bunner.
As for wide receivers, Central has a number of experienced returning seniors—including Boron, Jack Hopkins, James Kane and Andrew Neal.
With all the graduations, Lindesmith said, “we knew that we’d be pretty young on our offensive and our defensive lines,” but Jonathan Stangl, a 6’8″, 318-pound junior, who also has a 4.3 grade point average, is anchoring the offensive line, Lindesmith said. “He already has a handful of Division I college offers.”
Other offensive linemen with some experience include Grisez and juniors Noah Berbari, Richard Salvino and Connor Thomas. Also getting playing time are juniors Josh Hammer, Connor Thomas, Crispin Kenton and John Fabek.
On the defensive line, Grisez, Salvino, Thomas and senior Zachary Gall-Montgomery are seeing action along with senior Chase Johnson, who was not on last year’s squad, and junior Issac Rey.
As for the linebacker corps, John Hofacre and Berbari are back from last season’s squad. Sophomore Brock Abbott has also seen action.
The defensive backfield has a lot of experience with Boron at safety, as well as Hopkins, Kane, Neal, Pieper and Gall-Montgomery, Lindesmith said. Junior Braylwyn Tabellion has also gotten some playing time.
So far, Central is 2-2, having lost to higher division opponents Massillon Perry and Norwayne in the first two outings but bouncing back by winning against Cleveland Richmond Heights and Youngstown Salem.
The Crusaders next face a string of mostly bigger school opponents—Alliance, Mentor Lake Catholic, Mogadore, Cleveland Collinwood and Massillon Jackson before concluding the season against crosstown rival Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas High School.
“We play a lot of schools with great programs,” but the formidable slate of regular season opponents has helped Central when they have advanced to the playoffs—including three runs for the state championships from 2014 to 2016 under Lindesmith’s tutelage. Central won a state title in 2016.
“To win, we have to stay healthy,” said Lindesmith.