John Glavickas knows what everyone is saying... and it’s true.
The second-year coach of the Grand Valley Mustangs knows what his squad is facing as it hosts perennial state power Kirtland on Friday night at Grand Valley Stadium.
“I think they will be the best team to play us this year,” he said. “Not putting down any other program.”
The Mustangs, champions of the Northeastern Athletic Conference a year ago, are coming off a 28-13 season-opening loss to visiting Conneaut last Friday night.
Meanwhile, seventh-year coach Tiger LaVerde’s Hornets — a Division VI squad this year — took Division I North to the woodshed, 62-7. LaVerde is 77-12 (.865) in his tenure.
Kirtland, which went 14-1 and finished as the Division V state runner-up in reaching the Final Four for the second-consecutive season a year ago and won the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division championship, is flat out loaded... again.
Ten starters return on defense for the Hornets, led by senior Canon Schroeder, a 6-foot, 205-pound lineman, who also plays up front on offense. All Schroeder did a year ago was record 19 sacks in earning first-team All-Ohio recognition for the second year in a row and was named Associated Press Division V co-Player of the Year.
Junior linebacker (and tight end) Matthew Finkler (6-3, 230) had 124 tackles last year, while Ryan Loncar (5-11, 190) is a four-year starter at safety.
Senior running back Sam Kukura (5-11, 190) and junior backfieldmate Adam Hess (5-11, 205) both ran for 950 yards last season. They are led up front by senior two-way linemen Brad Blankenship (5-8, 190) and Eric Guhde (5-11, 205).
Glavickas knows some specifics on what his Mustangs will be up against in challenging the Hornets in what will be the 26th all-time meeting between the former East Suburban Conference rivals. Kirtland leads the series, 15-10, but Grand Valley has won the last two matchups, 36-0 in 1991 at Grand Valley and 61-7 in 1992 at Kirtland.
“On offense, they like to come out in a double tight, stacked I and run the ball right at you,” he said. “The get incredible surge from their linemen. They like to run the majority of the time with Adam Hess and Sam Kukura. Erik Guhde leads the way for them. They will spread it out at times. Their quarterback is Sam Skiljan, who does a nice job. He loves to throw the ball his tight end Matthew Finkler.
“Defensively, they run a 4-4. They are aggressive and flow well to the ball. They constantly have five to six guys around the ball.”
Grand Valley, which was led last week by quarterback Jake Vormelker (9 of 12 passing for 110 yards, 19 rushes for 106 yards and 2 touchdowns), must do a better job of protecting the football and stopping the run.
Against Conneaut, Grand Valley lost three fumbles, threw an interception and was tagged for 261 yards on 40 carries on the ground by the Spartans.
“The first thing we need to do to be successful is come to play the first play, no slow starts,” Glavickas said. “We have to be able to protect the football. We cannot give Kirtland any extra possessions. We need to do what we do well and continue to do it correctly.
“Conneaut did run the ball well against us. You always have concerns when you let teams successfully run the ball against you. We made some changes for this week.”
Including even more attention to protecting the football.
“There has been an emphasis on ball security,” Glavickas said. “You cannot keep turning the ball over and expect to win football games.”
Glavickas believes some tough lessons were learned, both on the field against Conneaut, and in the film sessions that followed.
“Watching film allows you to see a lot more than on Friday night,” he said. “You notice the little things that we aren't doing that I would like out of our boys.
“Whether you watch the film 10 times or once, it doesn't change the fact we didn't protect the football. The little things is what you notice most.”
He believes his guys will get off the canvas emotionally for Chapter 2 of their 10-part book.
“Well you find out kids are more resilient than you think — they bounce back,” he said. “They work too hard not to. They came out and worked hard.
“We always preach to the kids, ;one game at a time.’ Win or lose, you can only take it one day at a time.”
And in one more day, Kirtland comes calling. Glavickas believes there are a ton of positives to be gained in playing an opponent the caliber of the Hornets.
“I think one of the best things you gain from playing a team like Kirtland is that you and your kids get the opportunity to see how the best do it,” he said. “How they go about the little things.
“You also get to see how you measure up against the best.”