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Lake County Sentinel
Willoughby South poised to make a jump with their record in 2023 

(WILLOUGHBY, OH) — "There's no place like home". Something I just said to myself out loud while pulling up to Willoughby South High School. A place where I graduated from 20 years ago. A place where I also poured my heart and soul onto the field of Harry E. Winters Stadium as a player of the same program. Some things are wildly different. A new high school building. A renovated sta-dium and turf field. Some gray in my hair (or what’s left of it). Some things, however, were exactly the same. Especially as I walked up to talk to Head Coach Matt Duffy who when I played exactly 21 years ago was the defensive coordinator. This year will mark Coach Duffy's 20th year as head coach of South. We embraced and as the players were walking onto the field. He let me know I had access to anything I wanted, and we both got to work.

South had a rocky year in 2022, going 4-6 in the regular season and losing in the first round of the playoffs to Archbishop Hoban. The story this year seems to be one of leadership and redemption. As I walked onto the field a tall young man jogged past me. A player yelled catch to him, he spun around, jumped, and caught the ball with one hand. He did it with no effort at all. He was South Senior WR/DB Delond Moss. This would be far from the only time I would be impressed by a player.

As practice started, I wandered around from station to station watching the receivers, going to the quarterbacks, the lineman, linebackers, defensive backs, and so on. I kept writing down numbers of players to watch for in different drills, especially seven on seven and full team drills. By the time those drills were about to start, I think I had every starter written down.

As the drills began, I realized I was right to keep an eye on so many players. There is a ton of talent on this Willoughby South team on both sides of the football. Senior QB Gabe Hanslik was able to put some nice touch on his passes hitting a myriad of different receivers, includ-ing Seniors Delond Moss, WR/DB Tyrone Singleton, WR/LB Niko Frizell, and WR/DB Gavin McArther. The Offensive line was big and quick off the ball. They are anchored by Senior OL/DE Luka Soric.

Defensively I was just as impressed, as Senior LB's Jordan Ivy and Joe Porter anchored the front seven, seeming to always find the ball, as well as Senior DE's Brain Varner and Quintin Wilson battling with the offensive tackles.

The team I saw on the field was both having fun, but also extremely focused. It almost seemed choreographed. You never heard any coach yelling over the other. One coach would give directions, then another, and another. Each position coach tells their players what to look for, but always in a way that everyone can hear and get a word in. every player than taking that info and applying it into the play.

If a player went down, Athletic Trainer Renee DeSalvo was there on the spot to get that play-er up and going. During the practice cramping seemed to be an issue, but her student aids, Freshman Gabby Vilk and Kassidy Fridley were on the sideline making sure the players were getting plenty of water during seven on seven, while Sophomore Ramya Walker and Junior Corrine Martin made sure the lineman didn't dehydrate in the endzone drills.

Everyone on the field had a job to do. Whether it was the coaching staff, the training staff, or players, everyone seemed in sync. There was no wasted motion and no wasted time. When a new drill started everyone was running. When it was time for a quick water break, you ran. Any issue was quickly resolved. If a player missed an assignment, they were subbed in for, told what to look for and coached on what they missed, then put back in. Again, no wasted time. I was amazed at not just how in tune the whole team and coaching staff are, but how quickly the coaches could diagnose an issue, call over the player and the player have it fixed in the next play. It takes a great coaching staff and a team that wants to win to make it look that easy.

When Coach Duffy talked to the team at the end of practice. Everyone was on one knee. At-tentive. Listening to every word he said. You could see the focus in their eyes and the re-spect they have for Coach Duffy. They broke down and were now getting ready to hit the weight room.

I looked in my notebook for who I wanted to talk to, and realized there was no way I would be able to talk to every player who impressed me. I grabbed Seniors Delond Moss, Tyrone Sin-gleton, Luka Soric, and Niko Frizell for a quick interview.

I asked Luka about his goals for the offensive line. "Definitely communication, especially be-cause we have two sophomores on the line. It starts with me at center. I need to be able to know everything and communicate." I turned to Delond and asked what is the team motiva-tion for this season. "I feel like when we are on the same page, we are unstoppable, no one can stop us. When we have everything clicking it's going to be really hard to stop us." I asked the same question to Tyrone, and he just added to what Delond said by saying "Going off of what he (Delond) said, being on the same page, going out and do the best we can all togeth-er." I next asked Niko about his role as a player on the team that moves all over. He plays receiver, tight end, outside linebacker, and safety. I ask what type of preparation he puts into that. "It's a lot of work off the field. I need to know every play and know the play for multiple positions. I try and feed off of my teammates as much as I can as well." My last question for the group was what are their goals for this season. Luka started "I want the TFL (tackle for loss) and sack record for South." Delond thought for a second and said, "win every game." Niko without hesitation said, "deep playoff run." Lastly, Tyrone said "win the State Champion-ship." everyone seemed to agree that is the main goal.

The Rebels may have not ended last season on a high note, but they now have something to prove. They have experience at every position with a lot of depth. Senior leadership. Loads of talent from top to bottom, and players who want to get better every day and go out and prove themselves. When you mix that with a coaching staff who has their team prepared, South is looking like a team ready to breakout this season.  
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​POSTED 08/15/2023 20:13