Playing at the University of Akron’s Infocision Stadium-Summa Field is among the most anticipated storylines tonight for Highland’s Division II, Region 4 semifinal against Massillon, and the experience of stepping onto the FieldTurf in front of 10,000-plus fans is one the Hornets are salivating for.
It will have a different meaning to senior wide receiver/safety Collin Paich.
Like most high school players, Paich’s introduction to the game came from his father, Roman. The difference is Roman briefly played for the Zips in the 1980s, giving Collin the rare distinction as the son of a D-I college player.
While Roman played at the now-closed Rubber Bowl, Collin is more than thrilled to follow in his father’s footsteps by competing on the same campus.
“My dad always loved football and wanted me to play,” Paich said. “I just fell in love with it the second I stepped on the field.
“It’s pretty cool. He’s pretty intense. He loves to live through me, so it’s awesome.”
Paich’s path to becoming a two-way starter mirrors teammate James Friedl, as both saw their first career starts come in a thrilling Week 9 win over Nordonia last season in which Joe Simonis kicked a 45-yard field goal in the closing seconds.
Replacing then-starter Tanner Houska (concussion) at safety, Paich came up with a momentum-swinging fumble return to announce his arrival as a varsity player.
The Hornets haven’t lost since, and the high-quality student with a 4.3 grade-point average and 31 ACT score is now receiving interest from academically strong D-III schools Carnegie Mellon and Case-Western Reserve.
“It was rough the whole year because I really wanted to start,” said Paich, who again plans to follow in his father’s footsteps and major in engineering. “But when I finally got to come in, I proved that I could play. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
Though quarterback Bruce Kinsey, running back Alex Harris, receiver Cory Moncol, lineman Myles Houska and linebackers Friedl and Grant Wallace grab most of the headlines, Paich has been the Hornets’ unsung hero.
The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder’s numbers aren’t eye-popping because he does the dirty work.
At receiver, he blocks for slot man Coltin Kinsey or attracts the attention of safeties to ensure Moncol receives one-on-one coverage.
As the strong safety in the Hornets’ 4-3 defense, Paich teams with Friedl to read defenses, call audibles and play a two-way game by coming up in the box — he played linebacker as a freshman — or protecting deep.
Paich also helps set the wedge on kickoff returns — another unheralded role.
“He’s dedicated. He’s a kid that’s really turned himself into a player,” seventh-year coach Tom Lombardo said. “He ran track and worked out twice a day in the offseason to make himself what he is. He never leaves the field.”
Paich enters tonight with 16 receptions for 237 yards and four touchdowns. On defense, he has 42 tackles, two interceptions and five pass breakups.
Nothing fancy by any means, but Paich has a knack for showing up against the best competition.
Paich made an impact during a 24-23 win against Wadsworth with a career-high 11 tackles. He followed with three receptions for 79 yards and two TDs and a 44-yard interception return to the 1-yard line against Green, and last week against Avon Lake stepped in front of a Jeremiah Campo pass and returned it 28 yards.
Highland knows it has a battle ahead of itself tonight against the Tigers, and Paich’s do-whatever-it-takes mentality is one of the reasons it has reached this point.
“He’s real smart,” Lombardo said. “He’s another coach on the field.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or email@example.com.