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West Liberty-Salem High School shooting victim is student, reports say

Coach believes Irish are on the road back

Much to Steve Dewitt’s cautious relief, anemic roster numbers and lopsided losses are now in the rear-view mirror.

“I believe very strongly we’re going to be better. There’s so much room to grow,” said the veteran Catholic Central High School football coach, an Ohio High School Football Coaches Association hall of famer.

“We have the potential to start as many as three or four freshmen, so in some respects, appearance-wise, it could look like last year. But with what these kids bring to the table, we have the ability to make it a very good year.”

The youthful Irish weathered five- and six-touchdown margins and were outscored 535-106 last fall – an unforgiving, injury-plagued season that began with 17 players and ended with 12.

Their lone win came via a belated Shawnee forfeit for use of an ineligible player, changing an 0-10 mark to 1-9.

“We had horrible inexperience at the game,” Dewitt said. “We were babies competing against strong, experienced teams.

“We were literally the equivalent of a freshman or very inexperienced reserve team playing against (playoff-caliber) opponents. Shawnee (an 82-7 loss) was the best example of that.”

A year later, 25 players are wearing Irish green and gold, including a promising crop of 11 freshmen.

Sophomore Cossy Catanzaro, a 6-foot-2, 165-pound sophomore quarterback, threw for 609 yards and four touchdowns in a half-season’s work and leads a core of eight second-year starters.

Returning are juniors Jake Fitzsimmons (5-10, 168, RB/LB), Oliver Felty (6-0, 185, TE/LB), Matt Sheehan (5-11, 150, DB/WR) and Trevor Myers (5-9, 161, WR/DB).

Also back are sophomores Andrew Jackson (5-9, 185, DE/OL), Hunter Hazlett (6-1, 260, OL/DL) and Thomas Kavanaugh (5-10, 150, DB/WR).

First-year starter Marcus Holiday, a 5-8, 145 sophomore defensive back, provides spark.

“The best thing about last year is that it didn’t wipe us out. Our numbers are up,” said Dewitt, who enters his 37th season with a 225-157-4 career record and 12 playoff berths. “Our ability to compete in 7-on-7 competitions is greatly improved. Last year we were getting blown away. Now we’re competitive and breaking even.

“So often, our culture encourages us to just quit and move on,” he added. “I’m extremely proud of the fact that these guys gritted it out. Whenever we’d call a time out last year, I’d look for signs of quit. There weren’t any.”

Dewitt believes that a 2014 OHSAA rules-change allowing for a continuous second-half clock will help spare other teams from the physical and emotional beating his squad endured.

“We ran an experimental version of that rule at West Liberty,” he said. “We were literally running out of guys to play. I was fearful we wouldn’t be able to finish the game if we didn’t speed up the clock. In terms of keeping the kids healthy and able to recuperate, it was important.”

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