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Published: Thursday, 10/25/2007

Sidelines: Rogers, Start, Clay each benefit from a top senior

BY DONALD EMMONS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Rogers senior Isaiah Ballard has rushed for 921 yards on 128 carries. He leads the City League with 19 touchdowns. Rogers senior Isaiah Ballard has rushed for 921 yards on 128 carries. He leads the City League with 19 touchdowns.
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Rogers, Start and Clay will play their final regular-season football game of the season this weekend.

Rogers takes on Bowsher tomorrow in a City League contest while Start faces Scott and Clay plays at Libbey on Saturday.

Rogers (4-5, 3-3) has the opportunity to close out the season with a .500 overall record. Victories for Clay (5-4, 4-2) and Start (5-4, 4-2) will guarantee winning records.

There s been a common factor in the success of each team. They have all relied heavily on the play of onesenior leader.

Rogers halfback/safety Isaiah Ballard, Start quarterback Brad Leestma and Clay running back Nick Tammerine have shouldered plenty of work to help carry their teams to respectable seasons.

Ballard has attracted plenty of attention from college scouts for his play as the Rams top offensive threat and one of the team s best defensive players.

He heads into the season finale as the team s leading rusher with 921 yards (6.8 yards per carry) on 128 carries and a league-leading 19 touchdowns, including two scored while on defense. The 5-foot-10, 193-pounder has also caught a team-leading 40 receptions for 381 yards.

I think I ve done real well this year, Ballard said. I just wanted to come out and do my best and help the team play up to its potential this year.

Ballard has done his share, according to Rogers coach Ric Rios.

Start senior Brad Leestma has passed for 6,065 yards and47 touchdowns in his career, both City League records. Start senior Brad Leestma has passed for 6,065 yards and47 touchdowns in his career, both City League records.
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He s a huge factor, Rios said. He s gotten nearly a thousand yards rushing, he s our leading receiver, he does it on kick returns and punt returns. He is our third-leading tackler on defense. He s scored two defensive touchdowns this year. He does everything.

This is a team game and the guys around him we think are playing pretty well, but he is the guy that puts us a little bit over the top and allows us to compete against the bigger schools.

Several colleges have taken notice of Ballard Toledo, Bowling Green, Akron and Eastern Michigan have all shown interest in the two-way player who averages approximately 100 plays a game. A couple of Big Ten schools, including Michigan, have also inquired about him.

His defensive efforts have included two interceptions, including returning one 70 yards for a touchdown against Anthony Wayne. He recovered a fumble and returned it 23 yards for a score against Waite.

I love playing both [offense and defense] but offense is where I like to play the most, Ballard said.

Rios has no doubt that Ballard could play for a Division I college program.

He s just a kid who has fun playing football, Rios said. You can see it when he s playing he s enjoying himself. You don t get that a lot of times with a kid at his position being recruited and everything. I think a lot of those kids have a little bit of undue pressure on them. You don t see that with Isaiah. He s a kid that just enjoys what he s doing.

Ballard said offseason workouts running and lifting weights have contributed to raising his game.

I m stronger and have a better offensive line, Ballard said. I have a stronger push up front and a stronger leg drive. I knew as a I got older I had to get better because there were some out there on the field better than I was.

Clay senior Nick Tammerine leads the City League with 1,083 yards rushing. He s the school s all-time rusher with 2,975 yards. Clay senior Nick Tammerine leads the City League with 1,083 yards rushing. He s the school s all-time rusher with 2,975 yards.
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Leestma, a three-year starter at Start, will leave his mark as one of the City League s all-time best passers.

He has already thrown for 47 touchdowns in his career, which is a City League record, breaking the old mark of 39 set by Mike Berman, his predecessor at Start.

Leestma also has set the CL record with 6,065 passing yards. The 6-1, 175-pounder has passed for 1,738 yards and 16 TDs this season.

Start coach Pat Gucciardo appreciates having had the opportunity to coach Leestma.

I ve been fortunate because he is a tremendous quarterback, Gucciardo said. He s a great leader. He has responded to my demands and I demand a great deal. He has responded so well ever since he was a sophomore.

Leestma, who has received some interest from MAC schools, including UT, said he s been the beneficiary of playing in a system that is complementary to his skills.

It s the fun-and-gun offense and we usually try to pass the ball to set up the run, Leestma said. If you like to throw the football it s an offense every quarterback would love.

Leestma recently showed his skills under fire when he led the Spartans to a come-from-behind 28-23 victory over St. John s Jesuit. Start trailed 16-7 at the half before Leestma rallied the Spartans back by throwing for a pair of touchdowns in the second half.

Gucciardo believes his QB has the talent to continue producing such passing heroics at the college level.

Our offense is a college offense, inside and out, Gucciardo said. There is not a throw he can t make.

There hasn t been a game this season when Clay coach Mike Donnelly hasn t been satisfied by the play of his top offensive option.

Tammerine, the City League s leading rusher with 1,083 yards in nine games, has been a sure thing for the Eagles. He has also scored a team-best 14 touchdowns.

His individual numbers account for approximately a third of Clay s offensive statistics.

He s done what I had hoped for, Donnelly said. We expect our backs to rush for more than a thousand yards. He s over a thousand yards.

Tammerine, a track standout, owns Clay s career records for rushing yardage (2,975) and attempts (509), breaking the marks set by Jim Harrell (2,891 and 498) in 1971-72.

He is tied with Harrell for the career mark of 38 touchdowns and is 10 points behind Harrell for the career mark.

He s done a very nice job for us, Donnelly said.

He s enjoyed this offense and has done a nice job of doing what he s been asked to do.

Donnelly believes his top running back could play at the college level and some smaller colleges have shown interest. However, Tammerine is expected to give up football and concentrate on track.

He s going to go the track route, Donnelly said.



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