Just one of five starters return for the Saint Ignatius secondary, but that doesn't mean the Wildcats lack for talent.
The men of Ohio City will be plenty good at defensive back this season.
With several returning lettermen and a wealth of incoming talent, the secondary may be a strength for Saint Ignatius this season. In fact, the position may be one of the most underrated on the squad.
Here's how the position shakes out.
The lone returning starter is Emmett Hanna, and boy, is this kid talented.
The 6'2, 205-pound safety finished third on the team as a junior, tallying 32.5 tackles. Hanna also notched an interception and two passes defensed, making a big impact in the secondary.
Hanna will continue to start at free safety this season. With his frightening combination of speed, athleticism, and crushing strength, Hanna will be the leader of the secondary this season.
This we know because of the leadership he demonstrated during the offseason, along with Andrew Chime.
"This year, we have a couple guys who bring some veteran leadership and experience, with Emmett and Andrew. Those guys took the lead in the offseason, and it was a crazy offseason," says Defensive Backs Coach John Pieschalski '89. "Emmett played all season last year in a starting role. As far as experience on the field, Emmett is the leader there."
Chime also stayed busy in the offseason, lifting weights and wrestling with the Mat Cats (Hanna played basketball). His coaches have been impressed with his dedication.
Chime figures to play at the Wildcats' Hawk position after a nice junior year. Chime figured into the rotation, and played plenty of special teams. In 2019, the St. Albert the Great grad accrued 7 tackles, showcasing good form and athleticism. He'll be a dependable player this season.
"Andrew Chime is another senior leader. He played in spots and was a huge special teams contributor last year," says Pieschalski.
Also figuring heavily into the mix at Hawk will be Lair.
Lair will likely open as the starter at the position, based on a promising sophomore campaign. Lair tabulated 5.5 tackles for the season, seeing significant playing time. It's tough to see the field as a sophomore sometimes, but Lair looked right at home.
"We pulled Braeden Lair up from the JV last year to play for us on varsity, and he played at Hawk during the latter part of the year," Pieschalski says. "He's earned that starting spot back."
Taliak's time to shine
A name Wildcats fans will want to learn quickly is Griffin Taliak.
The rising junior did not play on the varsity squad as a sophomore, but looked great in his JV campaign.
Taliak has drawn rave reviews in camp as a playmaking safety. What he lacks in experience, he makes up for with talent and athleticism. He'll be a starter to open Week 1.
"Griffin has come straight from JV with no varsity experience. He's really stepped it up," says Pieschalski. "He put himself in position to start."
Chris & Cole Corners
The two corners will be filled by Chris Snyder and Cole Smith to begin the 2020 campaign.
You may recognize Snyder, as he earned a bit of playing time last season as a junior. At 6'1, 178 pounds, Snyder is a tall corner with good speed and coverage ability. He'll occupy the role with poise.
On the other side, Smith is likely a stranger to you. But he won't remain anonymous for long.
Smith worked his butt off during the offseason. If you're looking for an offseason superstar, look no farther than Smith. The rising senior put on a show at camps after killing it in the weight room. He could be a star this season for the Cats, particularly with his 6'1, 175-pound frame.
"Cole Smith had an outstanding offseason, improving overall, particularly with his speed and quickness," Pieschalski says. "During all the camps we had, he rocked it. He came in and was ready to play. He's earned that starting spot at the other corner."
Several veterans will see time this season, particularly Colin MacMillan, Sean Cook, Calum Campolieti, John Foliano, and Jack Norris. All will hope to earn playing time during this shortened season. In a way, they are newcomers after not seeing much time last year, but they're all very good players and young men.
The junior and sophomore newcomers to the roster are just as exciting. One name stands out in particular – Brandon Webster.
The sophomore has earned his way onto the varsity roster, showcasing speed and talent at cornerback. With room to grow at 5'10, 169 pounds, Webster could blossom into a shutdown cornerback.
"Brandon Webster, coming up from the freshman team, has earned his way to wearing paws and having a varsity jersey," Pieschalski says. "He could potentially work into the rotation at corner. He has a lot of athletic talent."
Juniors on the roster this year to watch include Torh York, Joseph Viola, Max Hartley, Connor Gisztl, Joseph Georges, Brendan Hunt, Joe Norris, Johnny Regan, Jack Mangan, Charles Breen, Franklin Pike, and Nathan Polinko.
Overall goals for the unit
Looking at the position as a whole, the Wildcats could have an excellent secondary.
Coach Pieschalski has high expectations for this group.
"I want the senior leadership from our free safety, the quarterback for us, and that's Emmett. I really expect him to be a leader and a communicator," says the veteran coach. "I expect on the field for us to be communicating on the field regularly. We don't care if the offense knows what we're saying, we need to be aligned correctly, on the same page, and to get after it. We have an athletic group and the ability to take the ball away from our opponents. I hope we create a steady diet of turnovers for our defense."
The Wildcats have an addition to the coaching staff this season – Charlie O'Brien.
The sophomore will be a student coach and intern after missing his freshman season. He helps to run the DBs in practice, especially with Kevin Johnson '10 departing the coaching staff to focus on his new role with the Welsh Academy.
An inspiration to the group, O'Brien is a wonderful young man who has thoroughly impressed the coaching staff.
"Charlie isn't playing this year, but he wants to think about playing next year, so he's helping quite a bit. He's helping to run drills for us," says Pieschalski. "I have 40 kids, so he helps to run drills and spots the ball in our match and team situations. He helps practices run a lot smoother. He's a great, phenomenal kid."