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Agresta era at CCHS begins Saturday

TACKLING DRILL — Catholic Central’s Jeffery Dawson tackles Edison’s Kaleb Waggoner while Alex Ialenti helps out on Sept. 14. (Photo by Joe Catullo)

STEUBENVILLE — Anthony Agresta is dealing with tons of excitement and a little disappointment as he prepares his Catholic Central football team for Saturday’s season opener against Columbus Africentric Early College.

“I’m real excited but also a little disappointed that I have to wait until Saturday,” said Agresta, who was hired as the Crusaders grid boss in April. “I wish it was Friday, but I am very excited.

“Summer camp went well. We had a lot of hurdles to overcome with me going back and forth between here and Louisiana. But, I can’t be more pleased with the school community, the parents, the families, the alumni, the coaching staff and the student body. Everyone has been fantastic.”

The kick for the first meeting between the schools is set for 7 p.m. inside Harding Stadium.

Africentric, a Division VI school that competes in the Columbus City League, will bring a 17-game losing streak to town. The Nubians were outscored 429-62 during their 0-10 season in 2018. Africentric’s last victory came on Sept. 8, 2017, against Lockland.

“That (the losing streak) could be a little deceiving when you look at the size of the schools they are playing,” Agresta said. “They play some awfully big schools. Their schedule doesn’t do them any service most of the time.”

Three opponents on Africentric’s 2019 schedule are Division II, while four complete in Division III.

“They have size, speed and athletes,” Agresta said. “Their potential big play possibilities from their offense concern us. We’re working hard to guard against that.”

Up front, the Nubians have plenty of size led by senior Malachi Rash (6-foot-5, 305). Sophomore Kayden James checks in at 6-0, 260, and junior Shayonne Porter is 6-0, 245.

Senior Kquaon Hansard directs the attack for the Africentric, which has a roster of 23 players. Junior Justin Fudge and sophomore Tarrent Morrison will get most of the carries at running back. Sophomore William Smith also will see time at tailback.

The fullback position will be manned by sophomore Leon Briggs (6-2, 250). He also starts at linebacker.

Hansard has some tall targets in split end Christie Milton (6-2, 170) and tight end Earnest Johnson (6-6, 180). Stuart Christian is a 6-3 tight end and outside linebacker for the Nubians, who have become an Ohio basketball powerhouse in recent years.

The Crusaders went 7-3 a season ago and qualified for the Division VI playoffs, where they were eliminated by Kirtland. Central suffered losses to teams with a combined 45-4 record, two of the defeats coming to state championship clubs (Kirtland and Wheeling Central.)

For 2019, Agresta and company will compete in Division VII, Region 25. From an OVAC standpoint, the Crusaders will remain in Class 2A, where they will be the second smallest school.

“I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made over the summer,” Agresta said. “I’m never going to tell you we are where we need to be but, right now, we’re definitely making progress.

“I was pleased with our scrimmage against Bridgeport and the jamboree against Valley Christian. We’ve been showing constant improvement, but we still have some things we need to clean up.”

Junior Ryan Gorman, who hasn’t played football since junior high, will start at quarterback for the Crusaders on Saturday.

“The moment doesn’t look too big for him out there,” Agresta said of his signal caller. “What he lacks in terms of game experience, reads and making decisions at the line of scrimmage, he makes up with his maturity and calm. He’s coming along just fine.”

Gorman is one of several first-year players for Central.

“Yes, we have a number of first-year players,” said Agresta, who is serving as dean of students at Central. “Guys like Ryan Manneh and Luke Anderson also are in starting roles for us, and they haven’t played before. They’ve all worked hard and are picking up things pretty quickly.”

Seniors Jayden Keeder and Jeffrey Dawson are Central’s primary running threats. As a junior, Keeder ran for 642 yards and six touchdowns. He was a second-team All-Eastern District selection. Dawson collected 429 yards on the ground and eight touchdowns.

“We’ll primarily be a running team,” Agresta said.

“My philosophy has always been you run the football because, in this game, if you are a good team you have to run the football. You throw the football because you want to throw the football. If you throw the football because you have to, you generally are not a very good football team.”

Other seniors being counted on include Anthony LeFever, Anthony Simmons, Anthony Sprochi, Chole Maragos, Indy Marcino and Alex Ialenti.

“On Saturday, we need to be disciplined offensively,” Agresta said. “We want to move the chains, control field position and give them a long field as often as possible.

“We also need to make sure the broken play doesn’t turn into a big play. We’ll need to keep everything in front of us. If we do that, defensively we should be in good shape.”

CENTRAL NOTES

¯ Agresta came to Steubenville from Covington, La., where he served as head coach for Northlake Christian School. In nine years at the helm, he led the Wolverines to a 63-48 record.

¯ Reports earlier this year had Central opening against Zanesville Bishop Rosecrans. That game was scratched when the Bishops were unable to get out of their contract with Newark Catholic. That scratch actually worked in Central’s favor since Rosecrans, due to an issue with numbers, opted to play 8-man football this season.

¯ Africentric is one of four new opponents on Central’s schedule. The others are Caldwell, Lucas and Morgantown Trinity, which is fielding a team for the first time since 2014.

¯ Following the home opener, Central will play two straight on the road, visiting Wheeling Central and Southern Local.

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