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by Frank Aceto
Associate Sports Editor
Last year wasn't particularly kind to the Tallmadge football team.
The Blue Devils finished 2-8 overall and 1-5 in the first year of the Suburban League American Conference.
Tallmadge hopes to pick up the pieces with a new head coach. Alan Vanderink, a Crestwood graduate who was previously a head coach at Berkshire High School in Burton, is looking to bury 2015 in the past.
"Everything is different from last year," he said. "The kids are learning a lot of new things. We want to play as fast and as physical as we can. We want to change the culture. We have to worry about off-the-field stuff first."
Vanderink's team won't be lacking strength. His players don't spend too much time away from dumbbells and barbells.
"We're going to be a weight-room program," Vanderink said.
The Blue Devils lost 17 seniors to graduation, but several starters on both sides of the ball are returning to the field.
All told, Tallmadge has six returning starters on offense and six returning starters on defense.
Offensively, Vanderink plans to mix it up.
"We're going to be multiple," he said. "We're going to do a lot of different things in terms of formations.
"There will be some shifting and motion. We'll run a lot of the same plays in multiple formations."
As a result, Blue Devils fans can expect to see some spread, single wing and a whole host of other formations this fall.
While the game plan might be significantly different than last year, the quarterback remains the same.
Sophomore Sam Seeker returns behind center after starting every game last season.
"Sam has grown from last year, physically and mentally," Vanderink said. "He has a year under his belt and I expect him to do a lot more."
Seeker can use both his arm and his legs to make plays, according to Vanderink.
"With his ability to throw and run, we want to get Sam outside the pocket," Vanderink said. "We'll do some designed veer option."
Seeker's backup is expected to be senior Derek Teeling.
The running backs also have some familiar names. Junior Ty Shannon earned American Conference recognition after a stellar 2015. Sophomore Richie Eyre got his share of carries as a freshman last fall.
"We're very comfortable with our backs," Vanderink said. "Ty runs very hard and Richie is very hard-nosed and tough. They are very complimentary of each other."
The fullbacks, who Vanderink called "strong kids," are senior Josh Todd and junior Seth Baker.
Shannon and Eyre hope to get some open space to run behind a strong offensive line.
The projected starters are left tackle Nick Natcher, a sophomore, left guard Max Drummond (junior), center Blake Bockus (junior), right guard CJ Martin (junior) and right tackle Matt Kieke (junior).
"We have good size," Vanderink said. "Natcher is about 250; Drummond and Bockus are 230; and Kieke is 240. CJ is our smallest guy at 195. We're young up front. We just want to continue to grow."
The tight ends are seniors Jake Davis and Dan Hepler and 240-pound junior Scott Seeker, who is Sam's older brother.
"They are definitely going to get their receptions," Vanderink said. "Their main priority will be blocking."
The wide receivers are seniors Derek Dalton, Cameron Figueroa, Hunter Sally, Jake Breiding and junior Lawrence Benning.
On defense, the Blue Devils plan to utilize a 4-3 formation that plays quarters coverage.
"We're trying to fit the best 11 guys," Vanderink said. "We're very pleased. The kids are buying in. We want to mix and match with our defense."
The starting ends are expected to be Kieke and senior Caiden Genovese. The rotating ends are Martin and Hepler.
Scott Seeker and sophomore Connor Franks are projected starting tackles and senior Devon Manning and sophomore Vinny Dao are expected to back them up.
Tallmadge has plenty of depth when it comes to its linebackers.
The starting "Will" linebacker is expected to be sophomore Mike Yamokoski.
Senior Josh Todd is expected to start at middle linebacker and Eyre is expected to get the nod at strong-side linebacker.
Other linebackers include senior Jake Davis and juniors Seth Baker and Lawrence Strebler.
"I like the way our linebackers move," Vanderink said. "They're not really big guys. I like their physicality. They make up for their lack of size with speed and being able to read the offense."
The starting cornerbacks are projected to be Teeling and Benning and the starting safeties are expected to be Dalton and Sally.
Other defensive backs include Shannon, Breiding and senior Tommy Kilway, who is the goalkeeper on the boys soccer team.
"Lawrence is very athletic and Derek is a team leader in terms of communication," Vanderink said. "Sally and Ty like to hit and Teeling is very solid."
The Blue Devils plan to use two kickers. Senior Jadon Wolf is expected to handle the kickoff duties and sophomore Garrett Ansley is expected to handle the point after tries.
"Jadon has a stronger foot, but Garrett is a little more accurate," Vanderink said. "We could use Jadon for longer field goals."
Shannon and Wolf are battling for the punting duties.
Tallmadge's kick and punt returners are expected to be Shannon, Eyre, Benning and Teeling. The long snapper is Baker.
Vanderink's assistants are first-year Tallmadge coaches Tim Mosher (defensive coordinator and assistant head coach), Matt Massey (offensive line), Gary Kanaga (defensive line) and Bill Brown (wide receivers); and veteran Blue Devils coaches Jason Shaw (running backs and linebackers) and Dan Davies (quarterbacks).
"I love Kim's energy," Vanderink said. "I really like his defense and what he brings to the table. He's very organized. Gary coached with me at Copley.
"I really love all our coaches. They are great teachers, great men and great fathers."
Copley and Aurora shared the American Conference title in 2015.
"Aurora, Copley, Highland and Barberton are the top teams," Vanderink said.
"There is no sleeper team. Anybody can beat anybody.
"We just want to be competitive and make Tallmadge proud. We want this community to be tied with their football program."
The Blue Devils are scheduled to make their 2016 debut at Ravenna Aug. 27 at 7 p.m.