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Taking that next step
Tuesday, June 05, 2012 11:22:00 AM

As always, the work away from Wasmer Field will pay huge dividends.

By Eddie Dwyer, Copyright June 2012

Before the 2012 Saint Ignatius Wildcats took part in Monday afternoon’s first mini-camp of the preseason, Saint Ignatius head football coach Chuck Kyle ’69 addressed his players in the middle of Kyle Field.

Yes, Kyle Field, a natural grass and dirt surface that brings back fond memories of those days when Wasmer Field was also a combination of dirt and, on a good day, some facsimile of grass.

Wasmer Field’s now rich-in-glowing-green turf surface was unavailable on Monday because of some surface touchups that were being applied to its accompanying all-weather track.

In many ways, it was a fitting start to a new season – practicing on a field very similar to the one that assisted in honing the skill and character of Saint Ignatius’ early state championship teams.

Just ask Hall of Fame inductees Mike Buddie ’89, Joe Pickens ’90 or Trent Zenkewicz ’91 how much character it took to practice on the old Wasmer Field, when by late September rocks were popping up through the dirt more frequently than grass.

Now in his 30th season as the author of the most successful story in the history of the OHSAA big-school playoffs, Coach Kyle reminded his returning state-champion seniors, the juniors who are coming off an undefeated junior varsity season and this summer’s wide-eyed sophomores that the tradition-rich foundation on which Saint Ignatius football was built includes the willingness to do the extra work on your own.

“It’s what you do when the coaches aren’t there,” said Coach Kyle. ''That’s how you become a champion. It’s time to get in great shape.”

At Saint Ignatius, getting into great physical shape means the Wildcats will be the stronger, more conditioned team in the fourth quarter, something that has come to the fore in each of their record 11 Division I state championship seasons and three national title falls of 1989, 1993 and 1995.

Since 1988, the ‘Cats have shown the ability to hold their course when the gales of November come early. And that was oh so true last season, when Coach Kyle’s program, whose gridiron pedigree was questioned by the media the year before, was purring to the tune of “Eleven in ‘11” by late November and early December.

AIR ‘CATS – “I’m just glad everyone’s here and healthy,” said Wildcats veteran offensive coordinator Nick Restifo of his first-day impressions of Saint Ignatius’ quarterbacks. The Wildcats will have a new signal-caller handling the Jesuit Preparatory School’s celebrated position. Eric Williams, part of Saint Ignatius’ recent graduating Class of 2012, did an exceptional job last fall and is now taking his QB skills to Yale.

This corner was impressed with some of the first-day throws by senior Mike LaManna and juniors Pete Mahoney and David Black. Mike, a left-hander, had an outstanding game at Erie (Pa.) Cathedral Prep last season while filling in for an injured Williams.

Although the ‘Cats graduated two standout wide receivers in Jake Mooney and Tim McCoy, this old-timer sees the wide-out position as one of strength and depth. Along with returning senior starter Conor Hennessey, Saint Ignatius’ sure-hands club includes, among others, seniors Rocky Zingale, Ian Riley, Randy Buffington, Dan Ward, Ian Woidke and Ryan Spicer, and juniors Jack Hyland, Mike Siragusa, Nick Fabian, Jack Lavelle (also a DB) and Eric Black (6-foot-6 WR/TE and David’s twin brother).

The candidates for the tight end spot, which said good bye to All-Ohioan and Ohio State recruit Blake Thomas, are seniors Aaron Buynak and Matt Gawlik. Matt is also a mainstay on the defensive line.

“THE MASTER OF DISASTER, THE KING OF STING, THE COUNT OF MONTE FISTO”: Wildcats veteran defensive coordinator Dan Corrigan ’78 walked into Kyle Field on Monday carrying a bag of boxing gloves that were colored in the red, white and blue of the American Flag. It was like watching “Apollo Creed” entering the arena to face “Rocky.”

The wily Coach Corrigan, in order to prevent some of the wear and tear a lineman’s hands undergo throughout the season, had his D-Line use the Creed-like gloves during some of Monday’s hand drills. But then as we all know, the ‘Cats’ D has always been able to take a punch.

ROUND TWO: Saint Ignatius’ next mini-camp will be June 14 on Wasmer Field. The sophomores will report at 3 p.m., and the juniors and seniors will take the field at 4:30. There is a chance the Wildcats will vote on a third captain as part of the June 14 session. Senior defensive end Kevin Kavalec and senior tailback/safety Tim McVey, All-Ohio selections in 2011, were selected as the first two captains during last winter’s annual football banquet. A fourth captain, from the area of special teams, will be decided on when two-a-days take place later this summer.

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE INQUIRED: Saint Ignatius’ preseason opponents will be the same as in past summers. During the week of August 7, the Wildcats will face Coach Jim McQuaide’s highly regarded Solon Comets (at Wasmer Field) for a controlled practice and various drills, and on August 10 Saint Ignatius will travel to talent-laden Twinsburg for the official first scrimmage at 10 a.m.

On August 17, it’s the annual bus ride to football-rich Fawcett Stadium to face the Canton McKinley Bulldogs in a preseason Jamboree. The ‘Cats will scrimmage McKinley on all three levels – freshman, junior varsity and varsity, with the varsity matchup scheduled for 7 p.m. The Bulldogs are under the direction of new head coach Todd Filtz, who did a tremendous job with the football program at Maple Heights.

The 2012 varsity Wildcats open their regular season on Saturday, Aug. 25 against defending Division III state champion Youngstown Cardinal Mooney. The kickoff from Browns Stadium will be 7 p.m. We’ll analyze the overall schedule during the corner’s annual preseason preview in August, but for a peek at the schedule go to the athletics page and click on football.

A MAJOR CONCERN ON ALL LEVELS: With concussions on the rise in almost all sports, Coach Kyle and the Wildcats’ outstanding veteran Faculty Trainer, Hank Gaughan A.T.C., emphasized to the players more than once on Monday how important it is to keep their helmets properly inflated.

Anyone who has attended a Saint Ignatius practice has seen Hank constantly assist the players with the process of inflating the helmets. As Hank pointed out, Saint Ignatius is involved in the ImPACT testing process for concussions and their symptoms and will continue to do so. Most of the Wildcats athletes test through the Cleveland Clinic or University Hospitals. If a Saint Ignatius athlete suffers concussion symptoms, he is sidelined for a minimum of seven days.