Italy — The 2A Italy Gladiators matched the 3A Valley Mills Eagles score-for-score during the first scrimmage for both towns. As grass shavings kicked up in mini clouds of dust, so did the intensity with the Gladiators having something to prove to their fans as well as to themselves.
With the exit of last season’s senior signal-callers TaMarcus Sheppard and Tyler Anderson, Gladiator Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Charles Tindol was anxious to see what his sophomore slinger, Joe Celis, would do under fire. Celis was able to elevate his game by completing several passes to keep the chains moving. His best effort came when Celis scrambled out of the pocket to find an open Levi McBride who turned a 10-yard completion into a 54-yard gain down to the goal line. Celis punched it in from there for one of Italy’s two touchdowns on the day.
Returning from last season were running backs Hunter Merimon and Coby Jeffords with Merimon getting the bulk of the carries and Jeffords using his bulk to lead the way out of the backfield. Together, the talented combination of Merimon and Jeffords could carry Italy far in 2014, especially with Merimon feeling 100%.
Along with McBride, Ryan Connor and Cody Boyd proved to be capable targets downfield with Celis not afraid to let the pigskin fly. However, for Italy’s offense to flourish, it will rely heavily on, well, the heavies up front. Third-year senior center Kyle Fortenberry and fellow senior John Byers, all 275 pounds of him, will anchor Italy’s massive hunks in the trenches. “Beast Brothers,” Aaron Pittmon (6’3", 297 lbs.) and Austin Pittmon (6’3", 286 lbs.) are twin mountains and these sophomores will definitely add to the Gladiator push up front. Line coaches Jon Proud and Brandon Gansky tried out a couple of different guards against Valley Mills as they look for one last stone to fill a void in the wall.
Defensively, senior tackle John Escamilla led the charge for the Gladiators. With the defensive front missing another senior in Collin Newman, Byers, at left tackle, was injured early which provided Valley Mills with a pre-snap advantage on every play. Sophomore David De La Hoya did what he could but was playing injured during the scrimmage. Celis recovered a fumble while seeing time from the right defensive end position.
Overall, the linebacker core played solid with Merimon, Fortenberry and Jeffords combining for a slew of tackles. In the secondary, Connor and Boyd showed their playmaking potential. McBride, Clayton Miller and Jack Hernandez were much involved as were several JV players that were thrust into action at the varsity level. All-in-all, the Gladiators gave a solid effort on both sides of the ball and are primed and ready to erase any doubt about what this team could be before district rolls around.
JV quarterbacks Clayton Miller and Tylan Wallace showed they can each run the show and running back Jaray Anderson scampered 67-yards for a score down Italy’s sideline. Kendrick Norwood was featured on several carries out of the backfield to help Italy move the ball.
Austin Crawford gave a standout performance on both the offensive and defensive lines as did Chris Davila who was a workhorse in the middle. Tackle Sam Corley sured up the middle of the defense and defensive end Clay Riddle was in on several tackles along with linebackers Hunter Morgan and Barry Grant. Dyland McCasland is always willing to get dirty for the cause and Wallace, Anderson and Norwood were unforgiving while patrolling the secondary.
Eli Garcia ended the JV session with a hit on the Valley Mills quarterback to force an incomplete pass.