Round Two: Football is upon us, and there’s a good game tonight

Head shot of Tom Hardesty, a white man with short hair in a grey golf polo with the caption "Round Two with Tom Hardesty"

Some thoughts on the 2023 football season, which started at the high school level last week and is just around the corner for college and the NFL …


One of the more intriguing games of the high school football season has to be tonight’s Ravenna at Mogadore clash. There are storylines galore in this one, starting with the fact that Ravenna is coached by former standout Mogadore lineman Joe Callihan, who is in his second year with the Ravens. Callihan was a road-grading offensive tackle on the powerful 2012 Wildcat team that went undefeated in the regular season and reached the state semifinals.

Callihan’s offensive coordinator is Steve Poth, who starred at quarterback for Mogadore in the early 1980s and went on to play at Kent State.

And Callihan’s father, Terry, is also a Ravenna assistant, coaching special teams and tight ends. Terry Callihan was a standout receiver and defensive back at Mogadore — and a classmate of Poth’s. The Poth-to-Callihan combination helped lead the 1983 Wildcats to an undefeated regular season and the Associated Press and United Press International Class A poll state championships.

But the “old home week” flavor of former Mogadore greats returning to the stadium where they starred in high school is only one reason why this game is so intriguing. Because while these ex-Wildcats will be coaching on the opposite sideline tonight, they understand full well the intimidating, charged environment that awaits their Ravens. The Wildcats traditionally are a very tough out at home, and things can snowball on opponents in a hurry. How the Ravens respond to the electric atmosphere in Mogadore will go a long way toward deciding the game’s outcome.

On the flip side, it’s very likely that Mogadore won’t see a faster, more athletic team all season than Ravenna. It’s hard to simulate that kind of speed in practice, and it can be shocking to players when they first get a taste of it in game conditions. Finding a way to handle Ravenna’s speed and quickness is Job 1 for the Wildcats.


I’m sure the Wildcats’ preparations for Ravenna running back Daniel Sanders this week looked a lot like our preparations for Windham speedster Bobby Starks my junior year at Mogadore in 1984.

We worked all week on stopping Starks. Our entire defensive game plan revolved around containing the Bombers’ mercurial running back, who was a threat to score every time he touched the ball. We worked for hours that week on locating Starks in the offensive formation, on not letting him turn the corner, on not overpursuing and giving him open cut-back lanes, on watching his numbers and not his hips when going to tackle him. He was fast, shifty, strong and had tremendous vision, so it was imperative that we stayed consistent and disciplined in our defensive execution every play. The slightest slip-up could result in a touchdown.

You name it, we worked on it that week. By the time we took the field in Windham that Friday night, we felt confident in our ability to at least slow him down.

That confidence lasted roughly one minute.

We kicked off to start the game, the Bombers trotted their offense onto the field, gave the ball to Starks – and he was gone. I don’t think anyone laid a finger on him as he raced about 70 yards for a touchdown on one of the first plays – or maybe even the first play – from scrimmage.

Starks scored another touchdown later in the game as Windham put one on us, 20-0.

We had a record of 4-0-1 and hadn’t given up many points going into that contest. But after Starks’ long TD run to start the game, I was worried he might score every third or fourth time he touched the ball because he was that fast and that good. So actually, holding Windham to 20 points represented a fairly strong defensive effort on our part, all things considered.

Still, we quickly found out that practicing for Bobby Starks, and actually playing against Bobby Starks, were two different things. He was the best player in the Portage County League 1984, and he showed why that night.


The Kenni Burns era at Kent State gets underway Aug. 31, and a quick look at the schedule shows that while it’s not quite the gauntlet that the Golden Flashes had to run to start 2022, it’s still plenty challenging — and will give Burns a fairly good idea of where his first KSU squad stands.

In what turned out to be Sean Lewis’ final season as coach, the Flashes started 2022 with the impossible task of hitting the road to play Washington, Oklahoma and Georgia in three of the first four games of the season. This season, they play at Central Florida and Arkansas in the first two weeks, then travel to defending Mountain West Conference champion Fresno State in Week 4.

Considering the heavy losses the Flashes suffered in the transfer portal after last season, including most of their offensive production, the early 2023 slate is a tall order indeed — but also a chance for some of the team’s newcomers to step in and show what they can do.

Like Burns, we’ll know more after Week 4.


I had a great time meeting everyone who stopped by The Portager booth at the Randolph Fair on Aug. 22. It made for interesting conversation with some interesting people — and I’m still pondering one question in particular from a gentleman who asked: “How do you think the Browns will do this year?”

Because it’s the Browns, that’s a difficult question to answer. The perpetually cynical among us would say: “Probably not good. Losing record and no playoffs.”

The unashamedly optimistic among us would say: “They’ll go to the Super Bowl – and win it.”

The cautiously optimistic among us would say: “They should be better than last year.”

So how do I think the Browns will do in 2023? With the skill players they have on offense and a retooled defense, I can see them making the playoffs and, if things break right, making a real run at the Super Bowl. In this era of the NFL, you don’t have to be a great team like the Tom Brady Patriots, Joe Montana 49ers or Steel Curtain Steelers to win it all. You only have to be a little bit better than everyone else – and the Browns could fit that bill this season.

Then again, I can see them struggling out of the gate and dragging a hind leg to a six-win season, too.

So I guess what I’m saying is: “I have no idea.” Which is pretty much where I’ve been with them the last five decades.

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Tom Hardesty is a Portager sports columnist. He was formerly assistant sports editor at the Record-Courier and author of the book Glimpses of Heaven.