July 1, 2016

Intermittent clouds

A special football family


The 1979 World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates had nothing on the 2013 Highland High football team.

Managed by Chuck Tanner and led by players like Willie Stargell, Dave Parker and Kent Tekulve, that Pirates team adopted the famous “We Are Family” slogan, which was also the name of a top-40 song by Sister Sledge at the time.

Almost two generations later, the Hornets are kindred spirits with those Pirates, though it’s likely the players have never heard of “Chuck’s Bucs” and almost a virtual lock they don’t know the lyrics to the song the entire crowd used to sing at Three Rivers Stadium.

A true team — no, a true family — top-seeded Highland got a lot of key plays from a lot of key players Friday night in downing eighth-seeded Avon Lake 28-21 in a first-round Division II, Region 4 playoff game at North Royalton.

“We are a giant family,” fullback/defensive end Nick Corvo said. “This is a band of brothers. We are made from different mothers, but we are one as a family.”

There are no egos on this undefeated Highland team, which will meet fourth-seeded Massillon (9-2) in regional semifinal action next Friday at a site to be determined.

There are, however, a lot of good players.

Quarterback Bruce Kinsey, receiver Cory Moncol and running back Alex Harris get a lot of the headlines, and justifiably so, but the Hornets win because they are a team — a family — in every sense.

“Statistics are secondary,” Highland coach Tom Lombardo said. “That’s what we tell the kids. It’s nice because they buy into it. There’s only one stat that counts, and that’s the final score.”

For the 11th time in 11 weeks, that stat favored the Hornets.

Kinsey, Moncol and Harris once again had their usual great games, but they didn’t do it alone. Not only would they be the first to say that, but there was ample proof of it.

Just as important as Kinsey’s 161 yards rushing was Corvo’s fourth-down conversion as the upback on a fake punt.

Just as important as Moncol’s 47-yard fourth-quarter punt return and 26-yard touchdown reception on fourth-and-9 was Collin Paich’s interception and 28-yard return late in the third quarter.

Just as important as Harris’ 61 yards rushing and two TDs were Myles Houska’s blocked punt and Jonny Zaz’s subsequent return to the Avon Lake 5-yard line with 12 seconds left in the first half, which set up a TD that put Highland up 21-7.

Just as important as Grant Wallace’s eight tackles on defense were the five he made on special teams.

Toss in a fumble recovery by Zaz, sacks by Corvo and Wallace and tackles for loss by Coltin Kinsey, Zaz, Nick Haas and James Friedl and the team-wide production got wider still.

And that’s not even mentioning the blocking of guys like Conor McCune, Michael Doak, Tyler Gienger, Tyler Frederick, Tanner Ramey and Houska.

Or the kicking of Luke Allen.

“We all trust each other no matter what,” Corvo said. “We really play together as a team.”

Not only are the Hornets a band of brothers, they have a great leader in Lombardo. Avon Lake coach Larry Laird, who led Medina to its only playoff win in school history in 2010, and several of his players voluntarily pointed out Highland was the best-coached team they had faced all year.

It’s hard to argue with that, but Lombardo’s job is made much easier by the fact he has selfless, intelligent players who are not concerned with who gets the credit.

“They’re super tight,” Lombardo said. “They love playing together.”

“We’re the closest team I’ve ever been on,” Paich added. “We really have fun.”

Making things better still, the Highland players are friends. They aren’t a collection of all-stars from 25 different school districts. They grew up together, they played peewee football together and they spend a lot of time together away from football.

“We hang out all the time,” Wallace said. “We’re probably going to hang out after we get home tonight. There’s a strong relationship between everyone on the team.

“It’s awesome. It’s the best thing in the world, because all the players are best friends. The relationships we’ve developed are really tight.”

Those relationships are so tight, the Hornets are like a family — just like the ’79 Pittsburgh Pirates.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.