Eighth of a Series...
GENEVA — What’s the big deal? Even though he wasn’t a giant in physical stature by any stretch of the imagination when he played football for Geneva from the 1968-70 season, Doug Deal was the Big Deal for the Eagles on their offensive and defensive lines in those days.
Never listed at more than 5-foot-9, 185 pounds in the program, and probably playing even lighter, particularly in his senior season, Deal was nonetheless the fulcrum for the Geneva squads of coaches Tom Jennell, Gary Prahst and the late Bob Herpy.
Those teams produced a composite record of 22-6-2 and the Northeastern Conference championship in 1969, when they went 9-1 for Prahst. The 1970 team, Herpy’s first, finished with a 7-2-1 record, but that stamped Geneva as Ashtabula County’s Team of the 1970s with a 73-24-2 (.753 winning percentage) and at least a share of five NEC championships. Add in the 1980 season and Herpy’s Eagles went 82-25-2 (.767) and added a sixth NEC title.
Only Hall of Famer Tony Chiacchiero’s Ashtabula Panthers of the 1960s did better with an 75-18-4 record (.806) and an 80-22-4 (.784) mark with at least a share of eight NEC titles if the 1970 season is included.
Just to show how much he meant to the Eagles, in his senior year, Deal was chosen Geneva’s Most Valuable Player, quite an honor for any lineman. That was especially true of a team that also featured talents like Mike Blauman at quarterback and young running backs like Don Craine and Ed Pizzuto.
In addition, Deal was chosen the team’s Most Valuable Offensive Lineman and received awards for the 110 Percent Club and three years as a varsity player while acting as one of the team captains.
Still, if one asks Deal, he wouldn’t have thought much of his accomplishments on the gridiron. So the call he received late this past spring from Herpy’s widow, Sue, to tell him of his selection to the Ashtabula County Football Hall of Fame caught him completely off guard.
In fact, at first Deal thought it was a hoax.
“When I got the call from Sue, I thought it was a sales call,” he said with a laugh. “I was pretty close to hanging up. I thought it was a prank call.”
Finally convinced that his summons was the real thing, Deal still almost has to pinch himself to believe in his good fortune.
“It’s an honor that I never expected,” the 56-year-old said. “I can’t believe it when I think about all the great athletes that we’ve had at Geneva and the people I played against. Time sure does move along.”
He is especially pleased to be joining Blauman in this year’s class of inductees on Dec. 7 at the Ashtabula County Touchdown Club Awards Banquet.
“It’s great to be going in with Mike,” Deal said.
Blauman makes sure Deal gets his due, too.
“I’m really pleased to be going in with Doug,” he said. “We’ve been great friends for years. He sure made my life easier as a quarterback.”
Tom Koehler, whose first two years as a young coach at Geneva were spent as the line coach for Prahst and Herpy before eventually becoming the head coach himself in the late 1990s, valued Deal’s skills as much as anyone.
“We had a lot of great centers over the years at Geneva, but I’d classify Doug as one of the smartest and most coachable,” he said. “His technique was outstanding.
“In those days, we played more of a power game, which meant there was a lot of one-on-one blocking and Doug always carried out his assignments well. He played a little middle guard, too, and he helped us there, although we tried to play a lot of kids.”
Koehler also credits players like Deal and Blauman for helping Geneva get going toward its position of dominance in the 1970s.
“Those guys helped get the tradition rolling at Geneva and set the standard for the teams that came after them,” he said. “Doug was just a kid who went out and played hard all the time.”
It means a lot to Deal to be joining not only Blauman, but teammates like Craine and Pizzuto. But being linked again to Herpy truly resonates with him.
“Bob was a legend when he played at Geneva and when he coached.” he said. “Bob would have been a Hall of Famer as a player or a coach. It’s a great honor to be in the same company with him.”
In the beginning
Throughout his youth, the son of the late George Deal and Peggy Deal lived in Geneva-on-the-Lake. His mother still lives there and is an avid golfer. Doug Deal is a proficient golfer in his own right, also earning three varsity letters for the late Jim Ayers in the days when high school golf was played in the spring.
It appears there are plenty of athletic genes to go around in the Deal family. His sister, Polly, eventually married Craig Walker. Their daughter, Sarah, was a standout volleyball player for Geneva and is now one of the mainstays of the Mount Union program as she enters her senior season with the Purple Raiders.
His family relationships all originate in Geneva, too. His wife is the former Jan Pasqualone. They have been married since 1987. They have two sons — Jeff, a 2007 South graduate, and Mark, a 2009 St. Ignatius graduate, who played at defensive end for Chuck Kyle’s Division I state champions.
Deal’s first formal football training came in the seventh grade, with only slight success.
“We didn’t have a huge team,” he said. “I think we only won four games.”
But the fortunes of the Eagles began to change when Blauman moved to Geneva from Painesville to take over the quarterback duties. By the time they reached the freshmen team coached by Phil Belding, it was a pretty promising unit.
“The varsity was pretty bad when we were freshmen,” Blauman said. “If freshmen had been allowed to play, we probably would have.”
On the varsity
When Deal’s sophomore year rolled around, Jennell found a place for him on both lines, inserting him at guard offensively and nose guard on defense.
“I knew starting as a sophomore was a big thing,” Deal said. “But we were fortunate to have great talent in the backfield with guys like Tim Packrall (a future Hall of Famer) and Tom Hook. I remember Denny Ruck was on the line with me.
“Our line coach was Tom Craig and he was pretty tough. He always emphasized to stay low.”
The Eagles rebounded to 6-3-1 in 1968. The NEC title went to Harbor, which finished 10-0 for coach Jim Orr.
In the pivot
But Geneva football switched gears for the 1969 season as Prahst, a University of Michigan graduate who had also had a look from the Cleveland Browns, took over the head coaching job and brought in group of eager young assistant coaches including Herpy and Koehler, who had been standouts at Ashland College, and Bob Taucher, who had played at Nebraska. Dick Pierce, who is back on the current Geneva staff of coach Tony Hassett, was also part of that group, along with Gary Billman. With their arrival, Deal switched to center.
“(Prahst) was more an in-your-face kind of coach,” he said. “He was very energetic.”
Koehler took over as the offensive line coach. The schemes he put in were designed to take advantage of Packrall’s skills, in particular. It paid off in an amazing year in which he rushed for 1,599 yards, the second-highest single-season total in county history at that point and is still the eighth-highest total, and scored 136 points. The Eagles racked up 2,623 rushing yards that season.
“(Koehler) was more into trapping,” Deal said. “Prahst had a play because of Tim where the center would block down on the defensive tackle and push him either direction. We ran that play a lot. Packrall had a breakout year.”
Koehler relied upon Deal to make the right decisions in his blocking assignments.
“Doug was a smart kid,” he said. “In fact, that whole (junior) class was smart. They were real students of the game and they were easy to coach.”
Coachability might have been an issue since at least the assistant coaches were not much older than the players at that time, but it never came up.
“I was just 22 when I started there,” Koehler said. “But I think the players were just fine with it. They knew we knew football.”
The Geneva Football Extra put out that year by the coaching staff spoke highly of Deal’s skills.
“Our offensive center duties belonged to Doug in all 10 games this year,” it read. “Doug has a tremendous attitude, and he was a very consistent performer at center and always gave 100 percent effort in his offensive duties. Doug was also a strong defensive tackle for us.
“For his efforts at center and tackle, he was nominated player of the week, and he was also a member of the 110 percent club. We will be looking forward to working with this fine young man next season.”
The Eagles outscored their opponents, 295-68. Included in that season were six shutouts, including four straight from the third through sixth weeks. They only gave up 24 points in NEC play in claiming the school’s first conference title in six years. The only blemish on the season was a 38-14 non-conference loss to Parma Byzantine in the final game.
Two games stood out in Deal’s mind, the NEC opener against Harbor in Week 3 that ended in a 13-0 shutout and a 42-16 win over Ashtabula in Week 7 in which his blocking paved the way for Packrall’s five-touchdown night.
“I think Harbor was the key game because it set the tone for the season,” he said. “Beating Ashtabula was big, too, because it was the first time our group had done that.”
It would have seemed that the Eagles were in prime position for a repeat performance in 1970 with a veteran quarterback and line and a group of seniors, albeit a relatively small one with just 10 returning, ready to put a special stamp on their careers. But several factors slowed down that train.
One factor might have been Prahst’s departure to the collegiate ranks after the 1969 season to Ashland. But it didn’t seem such a great transition as Herpy took the reins.
“(Prahst) was a real good supporter of mine,” Deal said. “I was disappointed to see him leave. But we knew Bob and the coaching staff. They were like a breath of fresh air.”
It seemed the Eagles picked up a real asset when Norm Urcheck, a fellow senior, came out for football for the first time. His athleticism was a big plus for Geneva.
“Norm was our classmate,” he said. “We had played Little League together, but he hadn’t played football with us. Herpy convinced him to come out for the team and he played defensive end. Norm was a very instinctual player with a lot of athleticism. He was a real asset to our team. He was a good addition. Herpy got a lot out of him.”
But illness and injuries really hindered the Eagles. Among those stricken was Deal.
“I got mono during the summer,” Deal said. “I probably was about 5-10, 210 before that and I went down to about 170 pounds. I’m not sure how much that affected me. I felt all right.”
The injury bug also hit Blauman over the summer. He suffered an ankle injury in a pickup basketball game which kept him from being as effective as he might have liked, at least until the middle of the season.
Blauman’s injury became all the more crucial because Rick Mohrmann, who was being looked to as Packrall’s successor as the feature running back, went through a series of leg injuries that basically robbed him of the entire season. Blauman took on much of the load as a runner, finishing with 360 yards for the season, before Craine, then just a sophomore, emerged, winding up as the leading rusher with 592 yards. The Eagles’ rushing offense slipped to 1,729 yards.
Geneva’s scoring productivity also fell off to 195 points, but the defense nearly made up the difference, pitching five shutouts and yielding just 49 points for the season. But one of those shutouts was matched by St. John in a scoreless tie, while its two losses came to Harbor, 13-8, and Edgewood, 6-0.
All three of those games happened in the third through fifth weeks. Edgewood went on to claim a piece of its first conference football championship ever. The Warriors ended up sharing the NEC title with Harbor and St. John.
In the Edgewood game, the Eagles saw a bit of a different side of Herpy than they might have previously. Deal believes it probably was well deserved.
“He got on us a bit against Edgewood,” Deal said. “We weren’t playing as well as we should have. The bar had been set pretty high.”
Deal also believes the Eagles of his senior year didn’t live up to their potential, despite all the issues.
“I think we underachieved,” he said. “We didn’t have the depth. We were a smaller team than we had been before.”
As with the previous season, Deal looked at the Harbor and Ashtabula games as the most meaningful, even though the game with the Mariners didn’t go according to plan. The Eagles did beat Ashtabula for the second straight year in Chiacchiero’s last year as the Panthers coach, 12-6.
“The Harbor and Ashtabula games meant a lot,” he said.
So did his selection as MVP.
“It meant a lot,” he said. “I thought it was pretty amazing.”
That was just one expression of the esteem in which Deal was held. The Geneva Football Extra spelled out the thoughts of the coaching staff, which by that time included future athletic director Dick Hunt, future volleyball coach Stan Bielech and John Eckert.
“Doug has had a tremendous attitude, great desire to play and was a pleasure to coach the entire season,” it read. “He was our most consistent performer both offensively and defensively. Doug seldom has had a poor game or practice.
“For his effort and outstanding play, Doug was chosen player of the week and also a member of the 110 percent club. As our team captain, he provided the necessary leadership through his actions, giving 110 percent at all times.
“This young man has been a great asset and contributor to our football program,” the Extra read. “His ability, desire, attitude and leadership will certainly be missed and difficult to replace next year.”
Deal also made first-team Star Beacon Ashtabula County and Coaches’ All-NEC selection on the offensive line.
Actually, Herpy and his coaching staff thought highly off all the seniors from the 1970 season.
“Our seniors did a great job of making this a successful season,” the Extra read. “These seniors graduate with 6-4, 9-1 and 7-2-1 records over a three-year period under three different coaches. These young men also did an excellent job of representing Geneva High School off the football field.
“Looking back on our season, a phrase to remember would be, ‘ability to bounce back,’” the Extra read. “Our entire ballclub, led by our seniors, accomplished the difficult task of recovering from two defeats at midseason to finish the last half of the season with four victories and one tie. In our last five ballgames, our opponents scored only 18 points. Three of our final five games were shutouts.”
One final comment in the Extra about the seniors seemed to be particularly prophetic in describing Deal’s future.
“We are looking forward to hearing of our seniors in their future endeavors,” it read. “We are sure they will be successful.”
Deal had a notion that football was coming to an end for him after he graduated from high school, but he looked at several programs and decided to give playing in college a shot.
“I went to Baldwin-Wallace for a visit and I also went to Ashland,” he said. “I knew I wanted to get into accounting, and I wanted to go to the best school for accounting that I could.
“Bucknell (a school in Lewisburg, Pa. similar to an Ivy League institution) sent me a football letter. I never visited there, but I knew it was a lot like Ashland, and it was a great school.”
His venture into freshmen football there quickly convinced Deal that the vision he had of the end of his career was correct.
“From the start, I could see it wasn’t going to work out,” he said. “I was up against a lot of older, bigger guys, many of whom were coming back from Vietnam. I got humbled.”
But he did stay the course academically, graduating from Bucknell on time in 1975 with his accounting degree. He was fortunate enough to make connections with the Cleveland firm of Deloitte and Touche almost immediately after getting his degree, and staying there ever since. Today, he serves as one of the company’s directors, supervising audits.
“I’ve done what I set out to do all along,” Deal said. “What I’ve done has taken a lot of hours over the years, but it’s been worth it. And I’ve still been able to make 90 percent of the sporting events our sons have been involved in. Jeff is a good golfer and I got to see Mark play, too.”
The discipline his career has taken is a direct result of his football career, Deal believes.
“If I hadn’t played football, I wouldn’t be as motivated to work as hard as I needed to,” he said.
He also learned that anything really worth having doesn’t come about without hard work.
“Football was fun back then,” Deal said. “I didn’t realize how much work it took to have that much fun until later.
“I’ve found out that carries over into any other things you want to accomplish in life.”
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