By Mike Meiler firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — YOUNGSTOWN — When Jon Hoover took over as head coach of the Lewiston-Porter football team after the 2011 season, he set out to change the attitude within a struggling program.
Hoover instituted grueling two-a-day practices in the weeks leading up to the 2012 opener, and the approach worked as his rough-and-tumble Lancers finished with a surprising 6-3 record and a Class B playoff berth.
The summer program remained the same in 2013, and Hoover hopes the results follow despite the loss of a group of talented graduates.
“We’re not the biggest team, not the most talented team,” Hoover said, “but we work hard, which has been the focus since I became head coach. That’s what we wanted to do, change the attitude of the program and make sure we work as hard as we can.
“We had a good season last year. We didn’t accomplish all of our goals, but we did change that attitude. We finished games late with lesser talent, I don’t have a problem saying that. Teams had more talent than we did, but we had the hard work and a lot more heart than they did, and that was the difference between 6-3 and 3-6.”
Leading the way this season will be a pair of running backs in Dan Hogan and Zac Nalbone. The two split time in the backfield in 2012 and will be looked toward to take on an even bigger role following the graduation of quarterback Josh Daul and wide receiver Billy Schiavitti and Dan Reagan.
Hogan, the “Crash” to Nalbone’s “Dash,” is one of the few varsity holdovers from 2011, when the Lancers went 1-8 before Hoover took over.
“The turnaround from sophomore year is unbelievable,” he said. “That year was a struggle. Some kids didn’t want to play anymore, then Hoover comes in and changes everyone’s mentality and gets everyone excited to play. He’s a huge motivator. He makes everyone better and it showed last year.”
Junior Jake Eoute will take over for Daul at quarterback after playing only defense as a sophomore on varsity. Hoover said he’s a good athlete who can run as well as throw and has picked up the offense quickly.
Clearing the way for Hogan and Nalbone will be an undersized offensive line led by senior captain Jack Wall, who moves from center to tackle after missing six games with a concussion as a junior.
“Jack keeps the other guys working hard all the time, and that’s his role,” Hoover said. “That’s why I made him one of our captains.”
“We’re going to be going against teams with (huge) linemen,” Wall said. “We’re not the biggest, strongest line, but what we are and what we’re trying to be is the best conditioned, toughest, meanest line. It’s not so much as chucking someone over our heads as it is trying to run them into the ground.”
Wall will also play defensive end, while Hogan (safety) and Nalbone (linebacker/defensive back) will also play both ways. Hogan said the coaching staff has made a few adjustments that should improve results this year, particularly the play of the defensive line.
The defense will also have to replace Shiavitti, who set school records on the defensive side of the ball playing linebacker and along the defensive line.
“It’s hard to replace a Billy Schiavitti,” Hoover said. “He went to a major college (Division II Mercyhurst) for a reason and was a heckuva player. You can’t replace him, but hopefully you can get guys ready to step up.”
The Lancers start their season with a non-league rivalry game at 2 p.m. Saturday at Niagara-Wheatfield. They open their league schedule on Sept. 13 when they host Barker/Royalton-Hartland.
Follow Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.2013/2014 LANCERS Head Coach: Jon Hoover 2012 Record: 6-3 Key Returnees: RB/S Dan Hogan, RB/LB Zac Nalbone, OT/DE Jack Wall Key Losses: WR/LB Billy Schiavitti, WR/CB Dan Reagan, QB Josh Daul Schedule Saturday: at Nia.-Wheatfield, 2 p.m. 9/13: vs. Barker/Roy-Hart, 7 p.m. 9/20: vs. Burgard, 7 p.m. 9/27: at Bennett (at All-High), 7 p.m. 10/4: at Medina/Lyndonville, 7:30 p.m. 10/11: vs. Albion, 7 p.m. 10/18: at Amherst, 7 p.m.