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Bulldogs ready for another huge year

by Michael Leonard Sports Editor Published: August 21, 2016 12:00 AM
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For Woodridge football coach Jeff Decker and his Bulldogs, 2015 was a year to remember.

Woodridge finished its first 10-0 regular-season record and went 7-0 in the Portage Trail Conference Metro Division to win the division title.

The Bulldogs finished 11-1, with the lone disappointment being a 27-20 loss to Youngstown Ursuline in the Division IV, Region 13 semifinals.

The Bulldogs return 16 letterwinners and are deep at virtually every position, with 66 players in the program. Woodridge has 12 seniors this year.

"A big part of what happened last year was we had six sophomores and a freshman who stepped up and earned significant roles," Decker said. "This year, I think the great thing about our kids and our coaches is, it really doesn't matter to us who we're playing. I felt like last year, we played pretty equally no matter who the opponent is."

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Decker notes his team would love to make another run in the Division IV playoffs, as the Bulldogs look for their fifth straight playoff berth. He also made it clear his team's first goal is to repeat as PTC Metro champion.

"The kids know they're going to have to work hard for that," Decker said. "They understand that it's the work in the offseason that puts them in position to win."

Woodridge's assistant coaches include Jeremy Maxa (offensive coordinator), Dennis Dever (special teams coordinator), Scott Margroff (head freshman coach), Cameron Hilling (linemen), Jeff Ladner (tight ends/safeties), Isaac Williams (running backs, linebackers), Chip Hilling (freshman assistant).

Woodridge will continue to run its traditional four-wide receiver spread offense, though a tight end and power package may also be used.

Quarterback Mason Lydic had a huge year in his first year starting, earning second-team All-PTC and honorable mention All-Ohio honors along the way.

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Now a junior, Decker expects even more out of Lydic.

"He's special," Decker said. "He just has a natural instinct for sports. He makes good decisions under fire. Put that together with a kid who throws the ball well and is fairly elusive and you've got a great quarterback."

Sophomore DJ Snider will serve as the backup quarterback.

While Woodridge uses one-back sets primarily, its doe the running game.

Senior King Alfred Sanders will be Woodridge's primary back, after running for more than 1,200 yards last fall.

"He didn't play many fourth quarters," Decker said. "He's put on another 10 to 15 pounds and went out for track last spring. He might be the fastest player on our team now."

Junior Robert Singletary also showed some good moves in limited running time last fall. Sanders' younger brother, junior King Alcardon Sanders, also could see time at running back.

Deep receiving corps have been Woodridge's hallmark for years and this season is no exception.

Senior Jacob Margroff will start in a slot spot and brings a ton of speed to work with.

"He's got speed and he's got hands," Decker said. "He's a great young man."

Senior Sharif Howard will start at an outside receiver spot, as Decker notes he has the best hands on the team. Howard also got faster as he put on 10 to 15 pounds in the offseason.

Junior Robbie Taylor has a great rapport with Lydic and should fulfill the "possession receiver" role in the slot.

Sophomore Kyle Kelleher looks to have the nod at the other outside receiver spot, thanks to a lot of speed.

Senior Nick LoPrinzi and sophomore Elijah Arnett each will see time at receiver, as will senior Jacob Mally, who also will fulfill the tight-end role when Woodridge decides to go big.

Woodridge returns four of its five starting linemen this fall, anchored by senior left tackle Kyle Lamson (240 pounds).

Senior left guard Dontae Craft (280) was the Bulldogs' lone full-time two-way starter last season.

Senior center Kasey Kelleher (225) is getting looks from colleges for his long-snapping ability. Decker calls him one of the most coachable players he's had.

Also returning to start is junior right guard Austin Hindley (260), while the right-tackle spot has been claimed by sophomore Brentyn Burden-Burns (250). "Triple B" has a ton of potential, according to Decker.

Senior Hayden Gerdes (205), a former receiver, will provide depth on the line.

Decker also serves as Woodridge's defensive coordinator. He runs a 4-3 press cover 4 style defense, in the style of Michigan State.

At defensive tackle, Craft will serve as the "three-technique" tackle, while the nose tackle position will be manned by Lamson, Hindly, Benton-Burns and sophomore Hunter Grant (185).

At the weakside defensive tackle spot, Decker is very high on junior Jaylin Clark (190).

"He will be hard to handle," Decker said. "He has an aggressiveness and athleticism that offensive tackles are going to have a hard time dealing with.

At strongside defensive end, Gerdes and Kasey Kelleher each will see time.

Woodridge returns all three starting linebackers, anchored by three-year starter Spencer Robinson -- a junior -- at middle linebacker.

"He's solid in the middle. He just has a nose for the football," Decker said. "I try not to overcoach him because I don't want to slow him down. He is a leader for sure."

Mally will get the nod again at the Sam linebacker spot.

"He's quick enough to get past guys," Decker said. "He has long, strong arms. For a typical wide receiver to block him is just impossible."

After a huge sophomore year, Singletary will return at Will linebacker, where he has gotten faster.

Senior Colton Christ will see some backup time.

Decker said LoPrizi will be "quarterback of the DBs" at free safety, while Kyle Kelleher, Taylor and Margroff will see time at strong safety.

King Alcaron Sanders and Howard will see time at cornerback, while Woodridge got a lift when senior David Graham -- a baseball star for the Bulldogs -- came out for football. Graham will start at cornerback.

After splitting time last year, Howard will handle the kicking and punting duties for Woodridge.

Kasey Kelleher will serve as long snapper, while Margroff and Kyle Kelleher will return punts and kicks.

Woodridge opens the season Aug. 26 at backyard rival Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy. Kickoff at Royals Stadium is set for 7 p.m.

Email: mleonard@recordpub.com

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