While everyone outside of Wadsworth threw up a red flag when Mr. Football Joey Baughman graduated, no one in the football program panicked because the Grizzlies had collective talent to replace Baughman with quick-slinging quarterback Trey Shaffer, shifty first-year wide receiver Carson Risher and stud running back Dom Loparo as the headliners.
Now 11-0 heading into a Division II, Region 7 semifinal Friday against Dresden Tri-Valley (10-1) at Dover’s Crater Stadium, Wadsworth has a different-looking spread offense that slams the ball down opponents’ throats one week and chucks all over the field the next.
The versatility, toughness and aggressiveness of the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Loparo have shined.
“Coach (Justin) Todd had a plan for me and for what we were going to do,” the deep-voiced Loparo said. “That plan has been working out really well so far. I’m really liking it.”
Wadsworth averages 41.0 points on 420.6 yards, down only 8.1 and 54.6 from last season’s Medina County records. The Grizzlies have recorded seven games with 200 yards rushing and four with 200 passing despite no player having more than 176 touches from scrimmage.
Loparo began in a platoon with All-Gazette running back Brock Snowball as Wadsworth featured four- and five-receiver sets. As the season progressed, Todd kept both on the field by removing a wide receiver and rotating Loparo and Snowball at H-back and running back on a play-to-play basis.
The unique combination has been devastating, as Wadsworth is averaging 248.2 yards rushing over the last six games and surpassed 300 last week in a 42-38 win over Wooster. Yardage to Loparo and Snowball is secondary, however, to seeing how many limp-bodied defenders they can truck along the way.
Loparo has 107 carries for 966 yards and 16 touchdowns. Snowball has 165 for 1,085 and 11. Together they form an imposing two-headed monster that has 272 carries, 2,051 yards and 27 scores, proving to the world that Wadsworth can still be a power-run team out of something other than the I-formation.
When at H-back, Loparo often goes in motion and crushes defenders downfield while churning his legs until the whistle. He’s also a more-than-capable receiver who had four catches for 73 yards vs. Wooster, providing the perfect check down for Shaffer.
“Having two running backs with Brock and always being able to run the ball not matter what gives us something to go to,” Loparo said. “It just makes our offense so much more powerful. We’re a spread offense, but if you have two running backs who can run pass routes and run the ball hard, it really changes the game.”
“He’s one of the most aggressive kids I’ve ever been around, so no matter what the coaches ask him to do, he’s always up for it 100 percent,” Snowball added. “We complement each other pretty well, whether one of us is blocking or running. It’s almost like if one of us score, we both score because we love blocking for each other.”
A dinged-up Loparo sat out the regular-season finale against Hudson to rest for the playoffs. When he returned against Wooster, the coaching staff elected to keep him on offense.
Loparo is the only Wadsworth player who has seen significant action on both sides, as he rotates at outside linebacker with sophomore Jamisen Jackson. Despite not playing much there over the last four games, Loparo has 30 tackles, including four for loss (2½ sacks), a forced fumble and a pass breakup.
Together with Jackson, the strong-side linebacker position in the 3-3-5 scheme has produced 72 tackles, including 14 for loss and 5½ sacks. While not Mason McMillen (125 tackles, 20½ for loss, 8 sacks) or Jack Grice (95, 17½, 6½) production, it’s worth nothing.
“Wherever they need me, I’ll do it,” Loparo said. “It’s all about the team. It’s not about me.”
The Wadsworth offense knows it’s going to be challenged by a Tri-Valley defense that allows only 7.8 points a night. Led by beastly linebacker Chase Kendrick, the Scotties are very strong against the run.
Loparo will play the only way he knows how: All out.
“Their defense looks really good,” Loparo said. “They look like us. We’ll know on Friday.”
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