Robert Kennedy once said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Although Cleveland St. Ignatius did not fail greatly during their 2019 season, they did finish the year with a 5-5 record and missed the Division 1 playoffs in Ohio.
This is because the Wildcats play one of the toughest high school football schedules in the country nearly every year, and fell to the hands of Mentor (13-1), Dematha Catholic (7-3), St. Edward (11-2), and St. Xavier (9-3) in 2019.
If there’s one coach who can guide a team through a tough schedule though, it’s Coach Chuck Kyle. Coach Kyle was hired as St. Ignatius’s head coach in 1983 and has since been regarded as one of the best high school football coaches of all time. Coach Kyle boasts a 358-95-1 overall record, has made 29 playoff appearances, won 15 regional championships, and won 11 state titles. He even won state championships 5 years in a row from 1991 through 1995, and his most recent state title came back in 2011. Coach Kyle is looking to get St. Ignatius back to the state title game for the first time since 2016 with a talented roster for the 2020 season.
During the 2019 season, St. Ignatius’s offense was able to put up 27.1 points per game, which is pretty impressive but does leave room for improvement. Even though they lost star tight end Sam Daugstrup and wide receiver Connor Cmiel, there are a lot of talented players ready to step up.
At the Quarterback position, they are losing a solid player in Griffin Hanna who had an accurate arm. But taking over the helm is junior quarterback Jaxon French (6’2” 200-pounds) who is fast, mobile, and able to throw a beautiful deep ball.
The Wildcats lost their starting running back to a walk-on position at Cincinnati in Jack Welsh, but Michael Simcak (5’9” 185-pounds) should be able to pick up the slack nicely. Simcak is already holding an offer from Mount Union to play football at the next level. Ryan Waldron (5’11 185-pounds) will help carry the load in the backfield.
French will also be able to air it out to senior wide receiver Alec Lasgina (6’0” 155lbs), who has good height and hands to make tough contested catches.
Perhaps the strength of the Wildcat’s offense is their offensive line. Even though they are losing star tackle Nicholas Schwitzgebel to go play collegiate football at Dartmouth, junior center Ashton Montgomery (6’2” 300-pounds) should be able to anchor the line easily. Montgomery’s massive frame will cause nightmares for opposing defensive lineman. This offense has the potential to make a big splash for the 2020 season. Gus Salopek (6’5 250-pounds) is another college prospect that is primed for a great senior season.
The strength of this St. Ignatius team will be on the defensive side of the ball; they lost minimal starters last year and are poised to have a big year. Even though this defense gave up 20.6 points per game last season, they will be bringing back a lot of experience to bring that number down.
The heart of this defense will solely be around the linebacker core, led by senior outside linebacker Aidan Hubbard (6’4” 225-pounds). Hubbard is considered to be one of the top prospects in the country, being recruited by Purdue, Minnesota, Boston College, Duke, Cincinnati, Virginia, etc. Hubbard is already committed to play at Northwestern after the 2020 season.
Alongside Hubbard are captain linebackers Nicholas Velotta (6’1” 215-pounds) and Aidan Conway (6’1” 220-pounds). Velotta is already holding offers from Brown, Cornell, Columbia, Navy, and Findlay. Both Velotta and Conway have the size and speed to blow up opposing lineman and running backs.
In the secondary, senior free safety Emmett Hanna (6’2” 200-pounds) is a dynamic player who can make open-field tackles and intercept the ball at any time. Andrew Chime (6’0 186-pounds) will be a key contributor this season at strong safety.
Finally, the defensive line will be led by Bennett Adler (6’3 233-pounds) and rising junior Tommy Wasinski (5’10” 270-pounds), who has a strong presence and knows how to get into the offensive backfield. AJ Gottschalk (6’0 280-pounds) is a two-way standout for the Wildcats.
Look for this defense to do big things against tough competition this year.
Even though the Wildcats had a “down” year in 2019 with a 5-5 record, keep in mind that they played one of the hardest schedules in the country. This year the schedule is just as daunting, with 8 of the opposing teams making the playoffs last year, 2 won state titles in 2019, and the combined opposing team’s record is 92-31.
In their new revised schedule, Cleveland St. Ignatius will play Archbishop Hoban in Week 1, St. Edward, Washington Massillon, St. Xavier, and Archbishop Moeller. All 5 teams are powerhouses in Ohio. Games against Mount St. Joseph from Baltimore, Mentor High School, Dematha Catholic from Maryland, and River Rouge from the Detroit-Metro area have all been canceled due to the COVID virus.
If Coach Kyle can lead this Wildcats team to a winning regular season, they can have the potential to make a deep playoff run. Even though some people considered St. Ignatius to have “failed greatly” in the 2019 season, playing a tough schedule once again this year could allow the Wildcats to “achieve greatly” in the 2020 postseason.