Big test awaits Norwalk in Friday's season opener

Mark Hazelwood • Aug 28, 2019 at 6:00 PM

MANSFIELD — Todd Fox has known for quite some time what is coming.

And to that point, the second-year Norwalk head coach has been preparing his team for the right mentality for over four months.

A year ago, in his first game as head coach of the Truckers, Fox and those in attendance watched in shock as his team raced out to a 35-0 lead over visiting Mansfield Senior.

The Tygers entered the 2018 season coming off a league championship and a Division III playoff appearance the year before. But aside for a brief stretch of the third quarter, it was all Norwalk in a 42-21 win at Whitney Field.

The Truckers went on to win their region and make the state semifinals for the first time in 44 years. The Tygers never got completely on track and finished 5-5.

And now, there is plenty of familiarity in the rematch at 7 p.m. on Friday in the 2019 season opener on the turf at Arlin Field in Mansfield.

Norwalk brings back 16-of-22 starters on offense and defense and all of its special teams minus a new holder. The Tygers are just as experienced with 15 starters back on both sides of the ball, including three NCAA Div. I college commits.

And for months, Fox has spoken to his team about Mansfield remembering what happened a year ago.

“We have talked about this since the spring when we met as a team,” Fox said. “It all starts with Week 1, and last year it could have gone a whole different direction. We were just fortunate enough to play really well. We don’t want to be the repeat on the other end of that, so we’ve spoke about it and prepped with our kids on the subject.”

On top of wanting a win over the Truckers, the Tygers in general have a lot to prove.

“They probably feel a little disappointed with how last year went,” Fox said. “They have a lot of three- and four-year players who are on redemption tour kind of a season of their own like we were last season.

“We need to make sure we come out to the best of our ability this Friday night, but also every single week,” he added. “As long as we give a strong effort, hopefully when the 48 minutes are off the scoreboard we’re the better team this Friday.”

The Tygers have talent everywhere, but have the chance to be especially dangerous on offense.

The top returning player is senior Angelo Grose (5-feet-10, 170). The Michigan State University commit as a defensive back had to start the 2018 as the starting quarterback.

He threw for 434 yards and five touchdowns, then when he shifted back to receiver, he caught 26 passes for 414 yards and 5 TDs. Grose also ran 85 times for 538 yards and another 5 TDs — and returned a punt and a kick for scores.

The reason Grose played the first five games at QB last season is because of Ontario transfer Cameron Todd (6-3, 210) sitting out the first five weeks by OHSAA rule.

When he got into the lineup, he threw for 573 yards and 5 TDs.

One of his targets also includes University of Toledo commit Clay Caudill (6-4, 240) at tight end. Junior fullback Amageon Robinson ran for 669 yards and 6 TDs in 2018.

An all-senior offensive line with good size will block for the aforementioned skilled players, led by Bowling Green State University commit Anthony Hawkins (6-3, 290) at left tackle.

“The big difference between them last year and this year on offense is they didn’t have Todd (at quarterback),” Fox said. “So they are a little more balanced now with their run-pass scheme and trying to use their athletes to stretch the field.

“Angelo is obviously a go-to player for them,” he added. “But he has a great surrounding cast around him who have gotten a lot better as well.”

The defensive front for the Tygers, which will include Caudill and Hawkins, averages 6-2, 264 pounds among four players.

Senior Donovan Haney will be one of the starting linebackers. Haney recorded 38 tackles last season. Angelo Grose tied for the team lead with three interceptions while also adding 58 tackles in 2018.

The do-it-all Grose will also punt and return punts and kicks for Senior.

“Defensively, just like their offense, they are really big up front,” Fox said. “They have all the pieces … this is going to be quite the battle on Friday.

“Their talent level is very good — they are just a very good team,” he added. “I know Coach (Chioke) Bradley has them as a hungry team as well. No different than last year, we’re coming into a battle for our Week 1 game.”

Norwalk’s final tune-up for this week came last Friday in a live one-half scrimmage against Shelby at Whitney Field. The Truckers outscored the Whippets, 28-14, in the half — with three big-play touchdowns on offense.

However, Fox openly stated he felt the defense could have played better. After watching the game film, he also felt his team needed to improve in another key area ahead of Friday’s game.

“I don’t feel we played to the physical level we’re capable of performing on either side of the ball,” he said. “We can be a very physical team. That was the one thing we saw from our first two scrimmages with Olmsted Falls and Genoa that we didn’t see last week. We’ll work on that all week and improve. I know it’s there, it just wasn’t there on Friday — and we need it to be.”

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