A tradition of excellence continues into 2023 under first-year Head Football Coach Ryan Franzinger ’02. Since 1983 the Wildcats have been led by legendary coach Chuck Kyle ’69. After the 2022 season, “Chico” retired from coaching, handing the reins to his protege Franzinger.
Perhaps one of the bigger storylines during the offseason is Franzinger’s additions to the coaching staff as he adds three coaches with NFL experience. Le’Charles Bentley ’98 leads the offensive line and is the Director of Player Development for the Wildcats. Bentley was a Pro Bowl Center for the New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns. Ike Charlton was a second-round pick for the Seattle Seahawks in 2000 and played professional football for over a decade as a defensive back. Kevin Spencer has a decorated resume of coaching in the NFL, including a stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was on the coaching staff that won Super Bowl XL.
Saint Ignatius will host four home games this season. However, the regular home venue of Byers Field will be used once in the regular season when the Wildcats host their Jesuit rivals in the St. Xavier Bombers. Two home games will be on the campus of Saint Ignatius on Wasmer Field and one at Euclid Community Stadium at Euclid High School. September 1, 2023, will be the home opener for the Wildcats, which will have significance for coach Franzinger.
“It is extraordinary. The continuity of coach Kyle’s final regular season home game and my first regular season home game will come from Wasmer Field,” says Franzinger. “We asked the kids about playing on Wasmer and everyone loved it. I am thrilled that administration and security were open to allow us to play two home games to show off our campus in the heart of Ohio City.”
The Wildcats concluded the 2022 season with an 8-4 record and fell in the OHSAA Regional Semifinal for the third consecutive season. 51 letter winners are back for the Wildcats in 2023, with 15 of those players who earned a start in 2022.
In his second year as the Offensive Coordinator, Carter Welo ’03 has a talented quarterback room, with three varsity quarterbacks, all capable of being the starting quarterback in 2023.
“We talk a lot about improving each other in that quarterback room. They all have done that; it is a competitive room,” explains Welo. “Unfortunately, one guy gets to play most of the snaps, but the nice thing is that there is mutual respect in the room. They understand what a Saint Ignatius quarterback entails.”
Returning at quarterback for the Wildcats, who appeared in all 12 games last season, is senior captain Joshua Papesh. Papesh would complete 61.5% of his passes in his junior season, throwing 1,541 yards and 13 touchdowns. He developed his ability to avoid pressure in the pocket and become a threat with his legs late in the year, having 33 carries for 161 yards and a touchdown.
Josh was tough and resilient last season,” says Welo. “Anytime you get a player returning, it’s a good thing. Josh has a familiarity with the playbook.”
Returning from injury last season is junior quarterback Quinn Woidke. Woidke saw action in four games last season before his injury and was primarily used as a runner. He would go 10-of-18, throwing for 54 yards, but his speed made Woidke dangerous.
Woidke would have 15 attempts for 73 yards and a touchdown in 2022. The final game of his sophomore year came against St. Edward in the regular season contest.
He comes into this season looking much more poised in the pocket and becoming a dual-threat quarterback, potentially sharing time with Papesh, similar to last season. Woidke is coming off an extraordinary summer on the basketball court, impressing multiple college scouts and gaining interest from Kent State, Ohio University, Duquesne, Furman and many more.
Waiting in the wings is sophomore Peyton Frontino. Frontino was the first freshman quarterback in the Chico era to appear in a varsity contest when he appeared in the Regional First Round against John Marshall. He will look to gain valuable experience with an entire season on the varsity roster. He will be the starter on the JV level in 2023.
Frontino was a member of the varsity baseball team in the spring of his freshman year.
In 2022, the Wildcats running back group was stretched thin due to injuries, but they look to give the Wildcat offense a spark with multiple hard runners that round out the tailbacks in 2023.
Junior Grant Washington is this season’s lead candidate as the starting running back. Washington was exceptional throughout last season’s campaign but was sidelined with an injury late last season. As a sophomore, Washington split reps with Steven Favazzo ’23 and now senior Sean Martin. Washington would tote the rock 30 times and gain 211 yards, including an 85-yard touchdown against Euclid last season.
With their injury situation, Martin was asked to give a lot more, starting at running back and at cornerback. The University of Toledo commit had a breakout season that kept the Wildcats in many games. He would total 88 carries for 364 yards and six touchdowns, which included a three-touchdown performance in the triple-overtime victory over Mentor in Week Two. Martin is also dangerous out of the backfield in the passing game, recording 18 receptions for 174 yards and two touchdowns last season. Martin will begin the season primarily at cornerback.
Junior Trenton Latkovic is another workhorse looking to have a standout year for the backs. Latkovic fights for the extra yards and is a bowling ball with his 5’10”, 193-pound frame. Latkovic was called up for the OHSAA Tournament and saw his first varsity action against John Marshall, where he got four carries for 32 yards. Latkovic may also see time as a linebacker for the Wildcat defense in 2023.
Some sophomore call-ups include Owen Colwell, Zach Putka and Jake Bobinski. The running back core has reloaded and has a balance of veterans and underclassmen that can carry the load of the offensive carries.
Max Ritt was a player that stepped up for an injury-riddled running back group in 2022. Ritt was primarily used as a return specialist in his junior season, but near the end of the season, Ritt would split time with Martin in the backfield and do a stand-up job.
Ritt would tote the rock 15 times for 65 yards and find pay dirt twice when he was called upon to run the football for the Wildcats. Ritt joins the receiving core for the Wildcats in 2023 and will line up in the slot. Ritt brings tons of speed and shiftiness to the receivers and could be a big target for Papesh.
The headliner to the receiving core a season ago was Jonathan Merimee. Merimee is coming off a season where he led all Wildcat receivers in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns. Merimee would haul in 35 catches for 526 yards and six touchdowns. Listed at 6’4”, 215-pounds, Merimee will begin this season in the secondary as a free safety.
Jordon Rodman returns to the receiving core after gaining time as a rotational receiver in his junior season. In his limited time, Rodman caught three passes for 21 yards and is expected to play a more significant role in the offense in 2023.
Junior Cody Haddad is expected to see time at the receiver position after a season that saw him catch five passes for 47 yards. Haddad’s valuable athleticism will be crucial on both sides of the ball.
Junior Danny Raffin was a late-season JV call-up in 2022 for the Wildcats and saw his first varsity action against John Marshall, where he caught one pass for seven yards. He was also used as a kick returner for the special teams unit.
Gavin Vollmer was brought up to the varsity level as a sophomore to back up Joshua Papesh at the quarterback position but moved to wide receiver in 2023, looking for rotational time, using his 6’3”, 195-pound frame.
Aiden Roche, Quinn Kennedy, Caleb Cupp and Luke Simms are just a few of the sophomore call-ups that had a phenomenal year at the freshman level with a great connection with quarterback Peyton Frontino. Cupp, Kennedy and Simms may have an elevated role on the offense this season.
Senior Patrick Mattimore will step up as the number-one tight end for the Wildcat offense in 2023. In his junior season, Mattimore split time with Hunter Moriarity ’23 and was primarily used as a blocking tight end. He would appear in all 12 games last season.
Junior Charlie Young saw some time at the varsity level as a sophomore as he comes in listed at 6’3”, 235-pounds. Young and Mattimore can be excellent safety valves for the Wildcat quarterbacks.
“Charlie will look to have a breakout season for us; he has put in a ton of work during the offseason,” explains tight end coach Mark Ruddy ’90. “Patrick is the group leader; he has physically changed his body. We have a very good one-two punch with them.”
Shane O’Leary is also a name to keep in mind for the tight-end position. He has been called up to the varsity level as a sophomore and will be primarily used on special teams, but he should see rotational time on the field with the Wildcats.
“These guys have to have a block-first mentality,” says Ruddy. “If we don’t establish the run, we will never get into the passing game. They are terrific blockers.”
The offensive line is in a unique position, something the Wildcat football program has yet to see in quite some time. This season the Wildcats will roll out four starting sophomores on the offensive line, with one returner that saw starting snaps in 2022.
Junior Leo Rick is the lone man on the line with starting varsity experience as he filled in at center when Patrick Lavelle ’23 went down with an injury.
Saint Ignatius could not have asked for a better coach with this situation than the offensive line whisperer himself in LeCharles Bentley ’98. Bentley worked with the offensive line multiple times throughout last season but was officially brought on the coaching staff in December of 2022. The former NFL all-pro lineman looks to build a strong foundation with his young offensive lineman in 2023.
“This is a unique challenge for me,” says Bentley. “This will be a fun year, watching these guys grow and develop. But we are laying a strong foundation for this program that can be special.”
One of those sophomore starters will be Michael van der Oord at left tackle. Van der Oord comes into this season listed at 6’7” and 250-pounds. The right tackle appears to be sophomore Will Conroy. Conroy was one of two freshmen brought up to the varsity level a season ago and saw his first varsity action against John Marshall. Conroy is listed at 6’3” 280-pounds.
At the guard position, sophomores Andy Todaro and Alex Miller will see time on the offensive line. Rick may flip between center and guard as the lone junior on the line. Scottie Puhalsky, who has been placed at guard and center, is rounding out the sophomores.
At the JV level, three freshman offensive linemen will potentially start. One of those freshmen is Josh Hanson, the younger brother of Greg Hanson. He will be the initial freshman that will join the varsity roster.
“This is my home. I profoundly respect coach Franzinger in his mission,” Bentley explains. “I never wanted to get into coaching at any level, but here I am now at the high school level. Simply because I believe in the mission of coach Franzinger. We have so much youth and I am happy to develop it.”
Bentley understands that getting the program to the level it once was begins with the offensive line and with the young talent working their way up the ranks, the future looks strong up front.
A couple of juniors that may earn time up front that adds depth will be Lawrence Shockley III, Charles Glowe and Trevor Sherman. Both Glowe and Sherman earned a varsity letter in their sophomore season. For Shockley, this is his first season with the football program, joining the team in the off-season.
With Franzinger taking over the program for the first time since 2015, the Wildcats will have a change at Defensive Coordinator. Entering his 11th season at Saint Ignatius, Dave Cicetti will take over the Defensive Coordinator role while primarily working with the defensive line. Cicetti has worked alongside Franzinger with the linebackers since the 2013 season.
“My role changes, but working with coach Franzinger on the defense over the years, there won’t be much change,” says Cicetti. “The guys this year have put in a lot of work and the defense has responded well to our tough coaching.”
Returning on the defensive front are Garrett Butchko and Greg Hanson Jr. The duo has brought tons of energy to the defense and has a nonstop motor. Butchko is one of those athletes that is first in and last to leave the field, dedicating many hours to improve heading into his senior year. He comes into 2023 with a 6’1”, 240-pound frame and looks to have a breakout year after a successful junior season which saw him total 22 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble.
Hanson answered the call on the offensive line last season when he had to step in to play guard for the injured Mitch Hyland. He will be primarily used as a nose guard for the Cats this season. In the limited time on the defensive line in 2022, Hanson collected eight tackles and an interception against Archbishop Moeller.
The other names to watch this season include juniors, Jacob Papesh and Colin Southworth. Papesh looks to start on the opposite edge of Butchko and is now listed at 6’3”, 225-pounds and is coming off a successful year, starting for the rugby program.
Southworth will be in the rotation on the line with Hanson at the nose guard role and is 6’1”, 245-pounds. Sophomore Ryan Taylor will add depth to the defensive line and got the call-up after a successful freshman football season.
An athletic group rounds out the Linebacker Legion for the 2023 season with two returning starters. Outside linebackers, Patrick Cooney and Ryan Ardire anchor the linebacking core for this season. Both are coming off impressive junior seasons.
Cooney totaled 11 tackles and two sacks a season ago, while Ardire had 13.5 tackles and a sack. Both are dual sport athletes, Cooney is a rugby team member and Ardire is a lacrosse team member.
“Ryan was selected a captain during the preseason and does such a good job mentoring the younger guys,” says linebacker coach John Pieschalski ’89. “Patrick is a leader by example; he puts all his heart and effort on and off the field. Those two stand out to me as leaders of our group.”
Senior Michael Krebs, another member of the rugby program, will be the middle linebacker. Krebs was a crucial piece in the special teams units his junior year and has earned the starting job with the linebacking core.
The linebackers have plenty of depth coming into 2023; some names to watch for breakout junior years will be Adam Bornhorst, Connor Bender and Jake Presley. All three are letter award winners from the 2022 campaign.
The defensive backs will be an exciting group to watch in 2023. The secondary features four returning starters, headlined by seniors Sean Martin, Ben Taliak, Max Woidke and junior Cody Haddad.
Martin is committed to continuing his academic and athletic career at the University of Toledo as a defensive back after an incredible junior season which saw him total 22 tackles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries at the cornerback position.
It’s only a matter of time until Haddad begins receiving Power Five offers as he brings incredible athleticism on the field for the Wildcats on both sides of the ball. As a sophomore, Haddad started at safety, collecting the second most tackles on the team in 2022 with 64. He has already received interest from Ball State, Buffalo, Central Michigan and visits to Penn State and Oklahoma. Haddad looks to have a year to remember for the Wildcats in his junior season.
Former NFL Defensive Back Ike Charlton will lead the secondary this season as he enters his first season with the coaching staff. Charlton had an incredible career at Virginia Tech that earned him a second-round selection by the Seahawks in 2000 and brought his vast knowledge of the game to Saint Ignatius.
“I have to slow it down a bit, but teaching the guys the game’s nuances,” explains Charlton. “Here at Saint Ignatius, we’ve got some smart kids who are coachable. I’ve had my time; I get a kick now out of watching these guys fly around and be successful.”
Senior Jonathan Merimee will also see time in the secondary as a safety. Merimee is primarily a wide receiver but gives the defense different looks for the new season. “That kid is intriguing cause he can do so many things; he is a jack of all trades that I think will be on the radar of many colleges,” says Charlton. “He understands the game and to have someone with that size is exciting.”
Another name to watch out for in the secondary that earned starting reps near the end of the 2022 season will be Leo Ference, who will rotate with the defensive backs.
This season, headlining the kicking game for the Wildcats appears to be senior Tommy Kilbane. Kilbane appeared on the scene for the Wildcats during the week eight contest against Archbishop Moeller when he took over the PAT role. Since Kilbane took over that role, he went a perfect 16-for-16 on conversions. Kilbane also went 4-for-5 on field goals, with his longest coming from 35 yards out. Junior Chris Haney has also shown promise in the kicking position.
Former NFL coach Kevin Spencer will lead the Special Teams unit in 2023. “Teaching them accountability is the biggest key,” says Spencer. “We have to take care of the little things and be dependable; those little things will pay dividends.”
For the third consecutive season, handling the long snapper duties will be Alexander Shuran. Shuran is as dependable as they come for long snapping.
Kick and punt return guys will be familiar faces from 2022. Max Ritt and Cody Haddad will handle the assignment after both were masterful last season. Both were integral in the 28-point comeback vs. Cleveland Heights in the Regional Quarterfinal the previous season. Junior Danny Raffin will also have his opportunities in the punt return game.
The kick-off to the season will come on Friday, August 18, from Springfield Wildcat Stadium. The SIBN will have live video coverage for the week one contest of the Battle of the Wildcats.