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Lake and Jackson grounded in reality, not rankings

BY Josh Weir
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2015 Lake vs. Jackson
Lake vs. Jackson in 2015. REPOSITORY/RAY STEWART



Dan DeGeorge and Tim Budd don’t sound like the head coaches of 4-0 high school football teams.

Sure, they’re happy that Lake and Jackson, respectively, are undefeated. They’re happy with the effort.

But they know the mistakes that have been overcome to get here. They know their teams’ weaknesses that could be exploited.

And they’re fully aware of the many challenges that await on the schedule, starting with Friday.

Budd’s Polar Bears host DeGeorge’s Blue Streaks on Friday at Robert Fife Stadium in a matchup of the Federal League’s only remaining undefeated teams.

Someone thinks these teams are good. Jackson is sixth in the Associated Press Division I state poll. Lake is fourth in Division II.

“Why are they doing that?” Budd said with some exasperation about voting media members. “I don’t get it. It’s too early. We’re not super fast. We don’t have a ton of size. We know we have vulnerabilities. We’re trying to work around those and hope we keep improving.

“I mean, McKinley puts up 50 points every week. You could leave us out there all evening and we wouldn’t hit 50 points.”

The winner of Friday’s contest, which will be Lake’s league opener and Jackson’s second league game, could use the game as a springboard toward heights neither program has been to in a long, long time. But neither coach is too anxious to look down the road.

Lake hasn’t won a league title since 1998 and snapped a four-year postseason drought last year as a No. 6 seed in Region 5. The Blue Streaks are 4-0 for the first time since 2010, when they advanced to a state semifinal.

“We are not playing really good football, I will say that,” DeGeorge said. “We’re playing hard, giving really good effort. But we have a lot of areas to improve.

“… We keep preaching to them if we play like we did last week (in a 20-3 win against Mount Vernon), we’re not going to have a lot of success in our league. It’s one of the best leagues in the state of Ohio.”

Jackson hasn’t been to the playoffs in 12 years and hasn’t won a league title in 15 years.

“We’ve got a chip on our shoulders,” Budd said. “I think a lot of Stark County is waiting for Jackson to collapse. Our kids don’t want to be that. They want more. They want to be known for being tough and physical. They want to be known as a hard-working group. That matters to them.”

Jackson’s seniors were sophomores when the Polar Bears last started 4-0. Then they went 2-4 the rest of the way to miss out on the playoffs and league contention.

“I’m challenging them to tell me why they’re different,” Budd said. “… This group has been motivated to break some of the history. But they’re not there yet.”

After Lake, Jackson gets GlenOak at home and McKinley on the road, so the tests do not ease up.

Lake, the smallest team in the Federal League, knows all about being tested. The Blue Streaks, who host McKinley next week, use fundamentals and physicality to always compete well in the league despite their disadvantage in numbers.

“That’s something (former head) coach (Jeff) Durbin established years ago,” DeGeorge said. “When it comes down to it, we’re typically not the fastest or the tallest or the strongest. We have to sort of hang our hats on being as tough as we can and as physical as we possibly can. Over the years it’s definitely got us some wins against teams on paper that we probably shouldn’t have beat.”

DeGeorge is impressed with Jackson’s line play on both sides of the ball, which complements outstanding skill players such as Dillon Dingler and Jack Dear.

Budd believes Lake has few weaknesses. An underrated passing game, in Budd’s opinion, helps out Joel Francis and his almost 30 carries a game.

Maybe both coaches are sandbagging a little. Or maybe they know the reality of league play all too well.

“I think we are a pretty good football team,” Budd allowed. “But I think we’re playing pretty good football teams. How are they improving? How are we improving? I think that’s going to make a big difference. Then injuries start factoring in. That’s the fun of playing in the Federal League.”

Reach Josh at 330-580-8426 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

On Twitter: @jweirREP



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