Die Hard Dragons

Die Hard Dragons
Posted on 07/27/2018
(Fred Cay reporting for Ohio.com/Akron Beacon Journal)

Once the hopeful underdog, East is now one of the powers in City Series football.

East coach Marques Hayes has guided a turnaround in his program’s fortunes the past two years. Starting his ninth season leading the Dragons, Hayes overcame some lean times in the early years but is now enjoying recent success.

He joined coaches and players from the other five City Series teams Thursday at the annual football media day at the Akron Education Association building.

East faces five nonleague road games against rugged competition, starting at Jackson on Aug. 24.

“We’ve got five pretty tough games right off the bat before we hit the City Series,” Hayes said. “But we’re looking forward to it. The summer’s been great to us. The guys are really believing in what we’re doing.”

East won the City Series championship game over Buchtel last year, avenging its lone league loss to the Griffins. That followed an undefeated mark in the league in 2016 before winning a first-round game in the Division III state playoffs.

Hayes brought seniors Derell Glover, starting his third season at center, and Yah’seen Franklin, a second-year starter at defensive back.

“Both of them are die-hard Dragons,” Hayes said. “They love being around us, we love being around them. I know they can’t wait to go out and have a great senior season.

“We wish everybody luck in the city except for when you play us. We’ve got to keep something for ourselves.”

Chuck Shuman, a long-time assistant at Ellet, starts his second season as Orangemen head coach. His City Series experience goes back to his days as a student and player at East.

He was accompanied by seniors Trevor Pittman, a wide receiver/defensive back, and outside linebacker Christian Whack.

“The kids have come back — last year they were disappointed,” Shuman said. “They fought every game, great effort. We’re really looking forward to the attitude they brought back. They think they’ve got a winning attitude.

“We’ve got 52 guys right now, and I think they’re 52 guys who want to be a part of Ellet football. The end goal is to bring back that tradition of winning.”

Firestone was represented by assistant coach Lamarr Jackson.

“With me, it’s always team first,” Jackson said. “We have a lot of returning starters, sprinkled in freshmen and some younger guys. We’re looking forward to competing every Friday, being able to go out and put our best foot forward.”

Jackson brought seniors Josh Mitchell, a four-year starter at running back, and linebacker Mitchell Riggins.

“We have the ingredients,” Jackson said. “We’ve got a chef in coach [Eric] Mitchell. He gets the opportunity to cook it up come Friday night. We’ll get the chance to eat.”

Kenmore-Garfield first-year assistant coach John Hafford, who said his title is “college and career coach,” brought an inspirational fervor to the event.

“We will be a winning program,” he said. “My favorite quote is, ‘Change starts with a whisper.’ I can hear right now, that change is happening.”

Seniors Anthony Wright, starting quarterback and defensive back, and running back/defensive back Zyeir Saunders participated with Hafford in his walk-off.

“We represent ourselves,” they repeated after Hafford, “our families, our team, our school, our community, with pride, dignity and strive for our personal best each day. And that makes us a winner every day.”

Joe Vassalotti, athletic director for Akron Public Schools, joked that he was prepared to “put on the pads” after that.

“You got me a little fired up,” he said.

North coach Sonil Haslam brought seniors Trent Ball and Mezekiah Tobias.

They have recently been working with others on furnishing a new weight room at the school.

“We just want to hold up our end of the bargain,” Haslam said. “This is a great league. We produce guys that go to school, we produce guys that go to the NFL, coming out of this league. And the coaching that they get here is the foundation.”

Buchtel went undefeated during the league season last year and is looking for bigger things now, said assistant coach Johnnie Mundy.

“We’ve got a lot of returning starters coming back off of last year’s team,” Mundy said. “The mantra of our team right now is we’ve got some unfinished business. And that is, we need to get in the state championship. I’m pretty sure that’s everyone’s common goal.”

Mundy brought two seniors — offensive left tackle Winford Dowdy and quarterback Mike Leno.

“Our community needs something positive going on,” Mundy said. “What’s more positive than a winning football team in your community, something you can stand on.”

“We will be a winning program. My favorite quote is, ‘Change starts with a whisper.’ I can hear right now, that change is happening.”

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