UTICA — Increasing depth has been a priority for the Utica football team for the obvious reason of reducing the wear and tear on its top two-way standouts.
A secondary reason, however, also could pay big dividends down the road. Limiting two-way play particularly on the offensive and defensive lines has allowed the coaching staff to make more in-game adjustments.
"Something we've really talked about over the last two years is trying to get our O-line off of D as much as possible," Utica coach Charlie Rowley said. "Keeping those guys fresh No. 1, and then No. 2, getting some adjustments. We have the replay system on the sideline. We can look at the IPads. Making sure we are clean and crisp up front definitely helps. In the past, we've never seen those guys going from O to D."
With junior Dylan Cooperider, who has been a rock since his freshman season, out of the lineup because of injury, a developing offensive line has an opportunity to meet and reset before each series. The line has no seniors with juniors Connor Staugh and Tyson McElroy and sophomores Kaden Baker, Grayson Tyo and Anthony Roenker lining up across the front.
The same is true for the defensive line. No longer are coaches and players saying “What if?” when watching film on Saturday mornings or Monday afternoons.
"I know I feel frustrated when I get there Saturday and say, 'Why didn't I do this? Why didn't I do that?' Now, that we have a chance to talk about it, it's a whole game changer," senior Jordan Hartman said.
Hartman has teamed with junior Chris Young and sophomore Baker to give Utica a stout front on defense with sophomores Brandon Thornsberry and Hayden Piper, junior Tyler Collura and senior Zachery Cyphers behind them at linebacker. Hartman and Thornsberry can rotate at tight end as can Piper with Collura at fullback to steal rest for Utica’s hardest workers for both the mind and body.
"We incorporated this year once defense gets off, we go on our bench, and we radio up to our coach," Hartman said. "We tell everyone the secrets and what's happening — the whole shebang pretty much. Talking is the best way to get a point across."
Mistakes in all three phases left Utica behind in a 42-0 loss at Newark Catholic last Saturday. Senior Hayden Smith making nine catches for 96 yards and junior Logen Fisher making five tackles were bright spots.
Utica (2-4, 0-1) will be looking to rebound when it visits defending Licking County League-Cardinal Division champion Heath (3-3, 1-0) on Friday. Both teams are attempting to strengthen their position in the Division V playoff race.
"We definitely just don't want to lose," Hartman said. "Seeing the record fires us up, and we want to keep growing. We have to stack the papers and get better and better."
Time is beginning to move quickly for the seniors, and Hartman has a message for his younger teammates.
"Don't back down and keep working," he said. "I felt like I kind of slacked off the first couple years I was in high school. Now that I think about it, it's really important, and I don't have much time left."
This article originally appeared on Newark Advocate: Utica offensive, defensive lines stay in constant communication