Just three games remain in the high school football regular season, and questions linger in the City League about the Start Spartans.
With some of the area's most talented athletes at several positions, have the Spartans of second-year head coach Pat Gucciardo underachieved? Or has a team of limited depth simply played to its potential?
Start (3-4 overall, 2-2 CL) was picked by City coaches in the preseason to place fifth in the league, a spot it currently shares with Clay. Three of Start's four losses were to teams that are now, or were earlier, ranked among the top 10 in the state.
The Spartans opened with a 21-7 loss to Marion Harding (6-1, ranked 13th in Division I). After a 29-26 win at Anthony Wayne, Start fell 22-14 to Southview (7-0, No. 6 in D-II), and 34-26 to Whitmer (7-0, 4-0 CL, No. 9 in D-I). The other loss came against preseason league favorite St. John's Jesuit (4-3, 3-1) by a 23-7 count.
“I think we're a good football team,” Gucciardo said. “To say we're the best 3-4 team in the state I don't think would be a stretch. We've played some great competition and we've hung in there. With the exception of St. John's, which just had our number, we were in all of those games with a chance to win until late.
“We've had a couple calls not go our way and the ball bounce the wrong way. So our guys still have confidence that they can play with anybody.”
Perhaps the last chance for the Spartans to make some noise in the league comes tonight at 7 when they host two-time defending league champion St. Francis de Sales.
But just as Start has something to prove, so do the Knights (5-2, 3-1). If St. Francis wins out and Whitmer is beaten Oct. 24 by St. John's, the Knights would likely outpoint the Panthers and St. John's for the City League championship. The Spartans' goals start and end with a win over St. Francis, their only chance to earn postseason action in the CL's Hall of Fame Game.
Leading the Spartans this year are five players who can be considered among the best at their spots.
Atop that list is 5-11, 170-pound receiver Asante White, who has run a 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds and has received scholarship offers from Kent State and Ohio U. White leads the area with 47 receptions for 934 yards (19.9 average), and has scored five touchdowns.
“Asante is a real consistent player,” Gucciardo said. “Any time we need a big catch, he comes down with it. The offense doesn't revolve around him, but when the ball does go his way, he makes things happen.”
“We started off with a lot of tough teams and came away with some tough losses,” White said. “But the past few weeks we've been getting it together in practice and getting it done on the field.”
Third-year offensive lineman Rob Cameron, a 6-3, 250-pounder, received first-team All-Ohio honors in Division I last year. He has shed 15 pounds from his preseason 265 and added some quickness.
“Rob seems to dominate week in and week out,” Gucciardo said. “Any defensive end or defensive tackle he goes against he seems to hold in check.”
“It's been kind of disappointing, but we've pulled it together the last couple weeks,” said Cameron, who has received recruiting interest from Indiana, Toledo, Bowling Green and Ohio U. “I think we're a good team. We want to win out and prove that we are.”
Clevon Speigner, a 6-2, 230-pound senior linebacker/defensive tackle, who like Cameron was considered among the top college prospects in Ohio at his position, has been slowed by an injury to his lower right leg sustained early in Start's 35-30 win over Central Catholic two weeks ago.
“We've got a lot to prove,” said Speigner, who has received interest from UT. “We just have to keep our heads on straight and finish the season strong.”
Among the area's most productive quarterbacks, although inconsistent, has been 6-1, 190-pound senior Herman Scott, who has completed 84 of 186 passes for 1,486 yards, 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
“Everybody had a tough time losing,” Scott said. “We took it hard. But we stayed positive and kept the focus.”
Also, there is lightning-quick, 5-9, 160-pound junior tailback/cornerback Jordy Franklin, whose offensive output was restricted early in the season because of a fractured hand. Not wanting to risk losing Franklin's services altogether, Gucciardo limited him almost entirely to defense early on.
Since being turned loose, the elusive back has proven to be one of the league's top threats. He has rushed for 634 yards on just 63 attempts (10.1 average), and scored six TDs.
“I think I could've helped the team a lot more if I could've played [more on offense] earlier in the season,” Franklin said. “But we're showing that we can come together as a team. Hopefully we can show it against St. Francis.”
Impressive stats and accolades aside, Start has no big victory to hang its hat on, and after facing St. Francis finishes with games against Libbey (1-6, 0-4) and Scott (2-5, 1-3).