A tall task for Tornadoes
The whistles had been blown, the huddle had happened and the bulk of the team had headed back into the warmth of the locker room in the bowels of Frost Kalnow Stadium following Wednesday night’s practice.
But Donovan Walker, Josh Flint and Nate Hoyda could be seen bundled up and practicing still, with Hoyda and Smith running their routes and Walker firing pass after pass.
Sometimes it takes a little more.
In the case of Toledo Central Catholic, it’s going to take a little more and then some.
The Irish are riding a 16-game win streak which includes being the reigning Division II state champions.
“Sure, everybody would take that problem,” Central Catholic coach Greg Dempsey said of motivating a team coming off a state title. “There’s been challenges along the way. We’ve brought back some star kids but we’ve had to replace a lot of kids and we weren’t sure how that’s going to go. The kids have just played outstanding in every phase of the game.”
And they doing it on the shoulders of DeShone Kizer, a Notre Dame verbal commitment at quarterback.
The senior gunslinger has thrown for 2,424 yards and 27 touchdowns with just three interceptions. He’s also a bit of a threat on the ground with 362 yards with five scores.
“They’re the real deal. They’re the complete package. They’re physical up front. They have speed at receiver and the trigger man at quarterback really makes them go,” Columbian coach Brian Colatruglio said. “All the accolades and all the attention he’s received is well deserved. He’s an excellent football player. One of the better ones I’ve seen in high school. He’s always been a good athlete with a big arm and you can see this year he’s really turned into a quarterback. He’s got command of their offense. His timing is so much better than it was the last couple of years. He’s got command of what they’re doing.”
Hoyda knows he has his hands full this week.
“Offensively, they’re quick and their quarterback throws some (deep) balls. Right from the snap they run and go,” Hoyda said. “You know 50, 60 yards downfield, that’s where it’s going to be tough for me. I’m usually covering 30, 40 yards.”
One of the guys he’ll see deep down there are Jermiah Braswell (718 yards receiving, 10 TDs on 30 catches) and Marcus Winters (24 catches for 570 yards, 8 scores).
Dempsey said they knew early on they had something special with Kizer.
“We knew when DeShone Kizer was a freshman, we thought of looking at the future of the program, we could spread it from sideline to sideline,” Dempsey said of the switch to the spread offense.
In his third year at the helm, Kizer has grown in his maturity.
“It’s just the game has really slowed down to him. He’s borderline underrated, really,” Dempsey said. “He’s the kind of guy who stand in the face of the rush and look down the field. He’s taken his game to another level.”?
But he’s not the only offensive weapon the Irish (11-0) have. Tre’Von Wade has rushed for 1,301 yards and 19 scores.
Colatruglio said their offense will be a challenge.
“They put pressure on you from sideline to sideline and 50, 60 yards downfield,” Colatruglio said. “He can make every throw and they have the guys who can get to those spots. It’s a little bit different. A lot of times we play guys, that once it gets to a certain point we don’t have to continue to cover, and with (Kizer), that point is a little further back.”
Dempsey said Columbian presents its own share of problems.
“They’re huge. We’ve not faced a team this big this year,” Dempsey said. “They’re multiple in how they can attack you with the run game. They have the athleticism in the quarterback, with the run and the throw. I’m very impressed with Tiffin’s physicality and their offensive package.”
Dempsey said the Tornadoes defense will be a puzzle to figure out.
“One of things I’ve seen is they’re a very disciplined, sound defense,” Dempsey said. “We’re going to be interested to see how they attack us because they do some different things every week. They’re a very sound, physical defense. They don’t give up very many big plays, if any.”
Last week in Columbian’s double overtime victory against Norwalk, the Tornadoes (10-1) used a lot of blitzes to keep the Norwalk offense out of sync. Colatruglio said his squad will have to mix things up to have a chance.
“You can’t give them the same look every down, that’s for sure, because he’ll find your holes,” Colatruglio said. “You got to mix up on them. You got to move and try to put some doubt in his mind about where we’re going to be and where he needs to go with the ball. We have to show them as many different looks as we can.”
The Irish employ a similar strategy on their multiple front defense.
“They put a lot of pressure on you. They feel they have the athletes. They’re going to play man coverage and they’re going to bring pressure,” Colatruglio said. “Most of the time, they’re going to have all 11 guys within five yards of the line of scrimmage. They really try to force the issue defensively.”
Colatruglio said it won’t change their weekly goal: a balanced offensive attack.
“That’s always our key, if we can establish that run game and keep them honest. They’re going to play man coverage so we’re going to have chances to make plays and we’re going to have to throw and catch the ball.”
Running back and linebacker Ryan Lynch said there’s no sense in putting TCC on a pedestal.
“I don’t have any concerns really,” Lynch said. “It’s just another team. We play one every Friday.”
Hoyda said he and his teammates will have to be ready, even if it means a little extra practice.
“They’re a tough team. We all know that. They’re the state defending champs,” Hoyda said. “But if we come out with our A game, we can do it. We can win.”