Without Lamar Sperling, Hoban football's identity poised to shift to defense | Nate Ulrich
VIDEO: Toledo Central Catholic vs Hoban OHSAA football state final
Watch video highlights of the 2022 OHSAA football Division II state championship featuring Archbishop Hoban vs. Toledo Central Catholic in Canton.
CANTON — If defense really does win championships, the Archbishop Hoban football dynasty isn't dead.
Still, there is no doubt adjusting to life after senior running back Lamar Sperling graduates next spring will come with challenges for coach Tim Tyrrell and his team.
Sperling is one of the greatest players in Hoban history, Ohio's reigning Mr. Football and every bit of the “nuclear bomb” on offense that Toledo Central Catholic coach Greg Dempsey colorfully described in the buildup to his Fighting Irish's 28-21 victory over the Knights in Thursday night's Ohio High School Athletic Association Division II state championship.
Sperling ended his Hoban career with another remarkable individual effort, rushing 40 times for a Division II title-game record 356 yards (8.9 average) and three touchdowns. He accounted for all but 6 of Hoban's 362 total yards of offense.
Although Sperling verbally committed to the University at Buffalo in the summer, he announced Friday on Twitter the University of Kentucky had offered him a scholarship. With the possibility of other colleges entering the equation, the next several weeks ought to be interesting for Sperling, who received his Mr. Football trophy Friday night with family and Tyrrell by his side during the Division I state championship game between Lakewood St. Edward and Springfield at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
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For the Knights to remain a viable title contender coming off a 14-2 record and their second consecutive state runner-up finish, they will need to find a path forward on offense without Sperling, and much of the responsibility will fall on quarterback JacQai Long in his senior year. Long's strong junior season ended with tough lessons when he went 2-of-8 passing for minus-3 yards with two interceptions and a lost fumble on a strip-sack against Toledo Central Catholic (15-1).
The good news for Hoban is Long is talented, and he will have the support of sophomore Nate Cross, junior William Satterwhite and other offensive linemen who will be back.
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Replacing the face and undisputed leader of a powerhouse program doesn't happen overnight, though, so no individual should be counted on to fill the void created by Sperling's departure.
It will require a collective effort and shift in identity.
Hoban had a championship-caliber defense this year, and the state of the roster suggests the Knights can be even better under defensive coordinator Renzy Parnell next season.
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Hang on! Hoban surrendered 28 points with a state title on the line. Does it really have a championship-caliber defense?
Well, 14 of those points came off turnovers, including one defensive touchdown. Toledo Central Catholic scored a TD in the first quarter after Long's lost fumble in Hoban territory gave the Fighting Irish possession at the Knights' 31-yard line. Then in the second quarter, TCC had a state-record 92-yard interception return for a TD.
TCC finished with 243 yards of total offense compared with Hoban's 362 and 13 first downs compared with the Knights' 16.
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Hoban experienced problems with missed tackles early in the game, and TCC senior dual-threat quarterback Ty'Waun Clark gave the defense headaches but, after trailing 28-7 at halftime, the Knights registered a shutout in the final two quarters amid a rally that ultimately fell short.
The defense will lose two star players to graduation: tackle Jason Martin III and outside linebacker Jayvian Crable.
However, the rest of the defensive starters will return, and the strength in those numbers should give Tyrrell and Parnell hope.
Free safety Ty Campbell, tackle Jordan Pritchard-Sewell, edge rusher Devin Bell and linebackers Rickey Williams and Deon Rodgers will be key seniors next season.
“I'm passing the torch to those guys,” Martin said Thursday night outside Hoban's locker room.
Other defensive starters who'll return are junior defensive backs Xavier Williams and Tylan Boykin, sophomore defensive back Micah Rice and sophomore edge rusher Eli Lee.
Then there are promising backups who have a good chance to ascend. For example, think of sophomore Tanner Mintz, who began the season as a wide receiver and eventually carved out a prominent role as an outside linebacker. He had a game-high 11 tackles Thursday night.
It's the luxury of having quality depth.
Of course, there are other perks to being a perennial juggernaut.
In Tyrrell's 10 seasons at Hoban, the Knights are 5-2 in state championship games. They won Division III titles in 2015 and 2016 and Division II championships in 2017, 2018 and 2020 before losing in Division II finals in 2021 and 2022.
Players and their families are attracted to ultra-successful programs because they present opportunities on the college recruiting scene. Long transferred from Capital High School in Charleston, West Virginia, this past summer, and Crable transferred from Massillon the previous year. Those examples are worth noting because the truth is no one knows right now whether any major additions will emerge on Hoban's roster in 2023.
What's known is Hoban won state titles before the Sperling era, and the way its defense is constructed provides the primary source of optimism about a future without an all-time Knights great.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @ByNateUlrich.