INDIAN HILL – When you’re handed a roster upon entering Tomahawk Stadium for an Indian Hill High School football game, a couple of numbers stand out.
It’s not any numbers on a jersey; it’s the number of times you see “9” or “10” after a player’s name.
Not only do the Braves have a new coach in Tony Arcuri, they also have several new or less-experienced varsity players that are either freshmen or sophomores. In some cases, the ride down the hill that leads to the picturesque playing surface has involved training wheels.
The young Braves won Arcuri’s debut against New Richmond 28-21, then lost to a 2013 tournament team in Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy 44-13.
“We started two seniors on defense and two freshmen,” Arcuri said of the CHCA game. “They’re talented kids but they need game experience. We need to keep believing in them and they’ll produce for us. We’re starting a freshman quarterback too.”
The freshman quarterback is Danny Vanatsky, whose father, Jim, came over from coaching Loveland’s Division II champions last season to tutor his son behind center. Sophomore Reed Aichholz also plays some quarterback but is being used in several other spots.
“He can do so many things for us,” Arcuri said of the sophomore Aichholz. “We can out him at tight end, receiver or some quarterback plays. To just put him at one spot we thought it wasn’t the best thing for our football team.”
Reed’s sophomore brother Dawson is also in the mix and freshman Marco Fiore starts at safety.
“I’m looking at the big picture,” Arcuri said.
The new coach would like to have the school’s first winning season since 2011 and could in a year where even the traditional Cincinnati Hills League powerhouse teams feature young players. Madeira is starting a new junior quarterback and Wyoming’s signal-caller is a sophomore.
However, in any league, freshmen starting on varsity are rare.
“Those are the things we have to focus on,” Arcuri said. “We feel very confident with our ability to compete with anybody in our league.”
Helping the young Vanastsky out is senior runner Charles Stephens. While bottled up some against CHCA, the 5-foot-10 195-pound senior ran for 120 yards in the New Richmond opener. Junior Nick Heidel and senior Reed Aichholz are also basketball players with good hands that have hauled in some big passes along with senior Jason Littman.
Sophomore Dan Becker has been the team’s top tackler, so the “baby steps” aren’t limited to the offense.
With youth, come mental errors, and Arcuri and staff often find themselves taking deep, measured breaths.
“I have to remind myself that we have young guys out there trying to do the right thing,” Arcuri said. “We try to temper our negativity and recognize with our young kids that they’re going to benefit more from coaching than from riding them all night.”
After their visit to Little Miami, Indian Hill starts the CHL run by going to Mariemont Sept. 19, then hosting Deer Park Sept. 26. By then, the staff hopes to have their young quarterback and receivers in synch to complement their running game.
“It’s tough sledding and you have to be able to throw the ball effectively,” Arcuri said.