by Frank Aceto
Associate Sports Editor
They lost a bevy of seniors, including some all-state players.
They lost their quarterback, who lined up behind center throughout his four-year career.
No, the Blue Devils don't appear to be on too many people's wish list of area powerhouses with their season opener just days away.
That's just fine with Tallmadge head football coach Joe Vassalotti.
"We've been picked anywhere between fifth and seventh, according to various predictions," he said. "I think that motivates our guys. They're young and hungry."
Vassalotti enters his 12th year with the Blue Devils. He is 89-40 during that time and has guided Tallmadge to the postseason eight times in the last nine years.
The Blue Devils' 2012 season ended rather unexpectedly. They lost a 26-23 decision to Chagrin Falls Kenston in the opening round of the Division II playoffs.
Tallmadge, which finished 8-3 last year, captured its third consecutive Suburban League title.
If the Blue Devils are going to make it four in a row, they have a significantly more challenging road ahead of them.
Tallmadge lost 17 starters from the 2012 team, including four-year starting quarterback Anthony Gotto, who is a member of the University of Akron football team. Gotto set a number of team passing records and was an All-Ohio special mention selection.
Other key starters who are playing on the collegiate level are tight end/outside linebacker Jacob Wood (Youngstown State University), an All-Ohio special mention pick, outside linebacker Logan Banks (University of Mount Union in Alliance) and wide receiver/cornerback Bryon Cook (Baldwin-Wallace University in Berea).
Nevertheless, Vassalotti won't allow his players to be vulnerable to the naysayers.
"We're always optimistic," he said. "Our goals are still the same. We want to win the league and get to the state playoffs."
Regardless of what happens in 2013, the Blue Devils will continue their tradition of sending players to college.
Senior 6-foot-6, 290-pound left tackle Joe Lowery recently made a verbal commitment to continue his academic and football careers at Ohio University in Athens.
Lowery, a third-team All-Ohio choice in 2012, had hernia surgery last month, but Vassalotti is hopeful his star left tackle will be in the starting lineup for the team's season opener.
The rest of the offensive linemen will have some new faces. They are seniors Damon Gidley and Camden Genovese; juniors Ben Cipa, Jacob Mertus, John Zolton and Travis Darago.
"They've done some good things in spurts," Vassalotti said. "We've been able to run the ball well and throw the ball in spurts. With Joe recovering from surgery, we've been playing some inexperienced guys from tackle to tackle."
The new starting quarterback may have the biggest shoes to fill -- but the head coach knows him pretty well.
Junior Joseph Vassalotti, the coach's son, will take over the reins behind center. His backup is sophomore Colton Choma.
"Like a lot of our guys, Joseph needs game action," the head coach said. "The scrimmages have to be helpful, but we'll know more when it's live and guys are flying at you.
"Joseph and a lot of our guys have worked hard in the offseason. The big thing is we need to establish the running game."
With the younger Vassalotti calling the plays, Tallmadge plans to utilize a mix of pro-style and spread formations.
And those strategies will feature lots of running plays.
The Blue Devils' returning top tailback from last year is senior Bobby Clark, who had 79 carries for 512 yards and five touchdowns. Senior Davis Moore is expected to start at the fullback spot.
Joining Clark and Moore in the backfield are juniors C.J. Berg and Latrele Moore.
Vying for time at tight end are senior Niko Skeriotis and 6-4 juniors John Rensel and Jason Wiebrecht.
Senior Jimmy Aumont is the team's top returning wide receiver. Last year, Aumont had 14 receptions for 302 yards and three TDs.
Also expected to catch passes are Ray, Latrele Moore, senior Logan Ray and junior Joe Siesel.
"Jimmy and Latrele can extend the field," Vassalotti said.
On defense, Tallmadge plans to utilize a 50-shade formation, which will feature five down linemen. At times, though, the Blue Devils expect to have a 4-3 look.
While the strategy will be similar, several new faces will be trying to stop the opponents.
But the defense isn't totally green.
Since Tallmadge had a number of injuries last year, several players got more playing time than expected.
Junior Jake Mertus started four games at inside linebacker and Siesel got some starts at free safety.
The rest of the defense will look significantly different than last year.
The defensive line is expected to feature a pair of tailbacks: Clark and Berg. Also in the mix are Rensel, Lowery and Gidley, who will line up at one of the end spots. Sophomore Stephen Taylor could play a role too, according to Vassalotti said.
"Damon will start at defensive end and the rest of the guys are interchangeable," Vassalotti said. "Stephen has done some good things in our scrimmages."
Davis Moore is expected to start at inside linebacker. Also expected to see some time at inside linebacker is sophomore Shadoe Beatty.
"Shadoe has looked good throughout the summer," Vassalotti said.
Wiebrecht and freshman Nate Adolph are expected to contribute at the outside linebacker spots.
Vassalotti feels confident about all four of his cornerbacks. Latrele Moore is expected to start on opening night. Other cornerbacks are Aumont, junior Quinntin Teeling and sophomore Ned Spragling.
Ray and Adolph are expected to see time at strong safety.
Senior Justin Stevenor will be the team's placekicker, according to Vassalotti. Rensel will take over the punting duties.
"So far in practice, Justin has been pretty solid from 35 yards and in," Vassalotti said. "John has been surprisingly good. We didn't count on him to do this well since he played a lot of baseball in the summer. John has really good hands and a strong leg. Plus, he's a big target."
The punt and kick returners comprise Latrele Moore, Berg, Siesel and Spragling.
"It's important to be great on special teams," Vassalotti said. "We're not going to blow teams out with six or seven touchdowns."
Vassalotti will handle the offense and work with the quarterbacks. Glen Kruger takes over as defensive coordinator and Levi Nelson will work with the offensive linemen.
The rest of the coaching staff features former Tallmadge kicker David Staszak and Cliff Roberts, who will work with the offensive and defensive linemen, Justin Christopher and Dan Davies (tight ends/outside linebackers) and Mike Duve (conditioning).
Vassalotti believes the Suburban League will be stronger than ever.
"The two teams that have the most guys coming back are Highland and Nordonia," Vassalotti said. "Wadsworth will be strong and you can't count out Green."
The Blue Devils are scheduled to make their 2013 debut against Ravenna Aug. 30 at Rossiaky Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.