Aurora -- Another big off-season for the Aurora High football program is coming up after the Greenmen continued to excel in 2013 with a ninth straight state playoff berth, and shared a league title for the eighth time in the past nine seasons.
At the start of 2013, AHS head coach Bob Mihalik said the race for the Chagrin Valley Conference Chagrin Division title would be four or five deep. He was right, as going into the regular season's final week, the locals were in a three-way tie for first place.
In the end, AHS tied with Chagrin Falls for the top spot, and both went on to the playoffs.
"We have a strong graduating class each year, but these kids knew[it would be a great season]," said the mentor, who guided his troops to a 10-2 record. "We had a tremendous senior class that played in 10 state playoff games in three years -- that's almost like another season for them.
"It was amazing for our seniors and I was extra proud of them to make it nine years in a row," added the coach, who noted next year will be the last year that Aurora competes in the CVC.
The Greenmen opened the Division III postseason with a 24-21 win at undefeated Louisville. Then came Hubbard, which had beaten eight teams with winning records, including a 42-14 win over Marlington, and the Eagles surprised AHS 49-19.
"I think our success was seen in us having four kids [including two underclassmen] who made first-team all-district," said Mihalik.
GREAT CROP OF SENIORS
Justin Wazbinski has been a veteran starter and the 6-foot-3, 270-pound right guard earned first-team Associated Press all-Northeast Ohio Inland District in Division III on offense, where he opened holes and helped Aurora rush for 3,219 yards and 41 touchdowns.
On defense, Wazbinski was active on the front line, where he had a whopping 68 tackles, a lot for a lineman. He had six tackles for losses, four sacks and three quarterback hurries.
Quarterback George Bollas is headed to Kent State University. The all-CVC performer will be sorely missed as he also made first-team all-district. He finished with 2,678 total yards and 30 touchdowns.
A versatile leader, Bollas completed 56 percent of his passes for 1,355 yards, 13 TDs, and only six interceptions. He also led the team in rushing with 1,323 yards on 180 carries and 17 TDs and a 7.4-yard average. He amassed 102 points.
Romel Pollard and Kirk Janoch are seniors who also made honorable mention all-district.
A defensive end and fullback, Pollard was valuable. On defense, he was in on 58 stops and had eight tackles for loss, recovered two fumbles, caused two fumbles and had a sack.
On offense, Pollard had eight touchdowns, 48 rushes for 340 yards, seven TDs, a 7.0-yard average and caught five passes for 73 yards and one score.
Janoch was a do-it-all type of athlete. He lined up all over the field -- at tailback, wide receiver and in the slot, and also returned punts and kickoffs.
With 1,076 all-purpose yards and seven scores, Janoch ran the ball (77 rushes for 382 yards and four TDs), caught the ball (28 grabs for 400 yards and two TDs),and posted 294 return yards, bringing one punt back for a TD.
A versatile athlete, Janoch also played outside linebacker and safety on defense. He had 33 tackles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
Other key seniors were CB-RB James Mackell, RB-FB-safety Mitch Lackey, WR-LB Anthony Quaranto, RB-LB Brendan Kimes, DL-OL Griff Petersen, OL Mike Nemeth, TE Luke Calcei, WR-DB Patrick Heraghty, OL Aaron Rataj, OL Chad Jubell, WR Andrew Rinicella and CB-RB Tom Branstein.
Aurora was also motivated by a fallen teammate. This season would have been Paulie McGhee's last, but his life was claimed in a car accident in November 2011.
McGhee was an honorary captain, along with Bollas, Wazbinski, Janoch and Pollard, and his number 57 was worn on his teammates' helmets.
"Our seniors are a special group and they've been through a lot of adversity with the loss of Paulie," said Mihalik.
"I developed a special relationship with the kids and it was tough, but I am proud of the way they conducted themselves on and off the field. It's difficult to say goodbye."
PLAYERS COMING BACK
Aurora does have some talented underclassmen. Junior defensive lineman Brandon Zamary was first-team all-district, and plays on the offensive line.
Zamary was in on an incredible 98 tackles this year, with seven sacks, five tackles for losses, four quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery.
Junior Michael Stratton was a first year starter at linebacker and had a breakout campaign, as he also made first-team all-district. He led the team with 125 total stops, including a whopping 60 solos. He had a team-high 10 stops behind the line, four caused fumbles, four sacks, three QB hurries and two interceptions.
Ryan Devine is another top-notch junior defender who will return after placing second on the team in tackles with 108, including 49 solos.
Devine was a second-team all-district player. He added seven sacks and four tackles behind the line. Cornerback Mitch Evans also came on strong and had 41 stops, two interceptions and a team-high seven pass deflections.
Junior OLB-QB Alex Smierciak will play a larger role next season. He was an honorable mention all-district selection. On defense, Smierciak was in on 74 stops and had nine tackles for loss, three sacks and two picks. On offense, he played quarterback and was 4 of 6 passing for 66 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He also rushed six times for 27 yards.
Several junior linemen -- led by Brian McNamara and Nick Ferrando -- will be back along with wide-receiver-cornerback Joe Dinardo.
The latter amassed 762 all-purpose yards and seven TDs with his receiving (24 catches for 297 yards and four TDs), rushing (12 rushes for 78 yards and two TDs) and the return game, where he had 387 yards and a 25.8-yard average on kickoff returns with one score.
Support in the running game came from a host of Greenmen, as 19 different athletes carried the ball and 11 scored on the ground. In fact, Aurora had 16 total players score a touchdown.
AHS will return its entire kicking game team, including junior placekicker-punter Joey Melchiori, sophomore placekicker Andrew Seidel and Smierciak, who can punt.
Melchiori was 42 for 47 on extra point kicks and a perfect 4 for 4 on field goals. Seidel was 7 of 10 on PATs.
Lackey was second in rushing with 491 yards, a 7.2 average and four TDs, followed by Janoch, Pollard and Branstein, who had 100 yards on six carries (16.6) and a TD. Kimes rushed for 87 yards on 19 carries and two scores, while Devine had 13 attempts for 84 yards and a TD.
Luke Calcei had 11 catches for 137 yards and was one of seven athletes to catch a touchdown pass.
Also aiding in the passing game was Stephen Pigza (10 catches, 195 yards and four TDs), Quaranto (11 for 127), Rinicella (6 for 86 and one TD), Lackey (6 for 53 and one TD) and Heraghty (3 for 27). The latter also ran for 41 yards and a TD.