Hudson football team hopes to go from good to great

by Rob Barrone | Correspondent Published:

There's no hiding on its opponents' schedules.

The Hudson football team has become one of those teams that has its name circled on all of its opponents' calendars well before the first two-a-days began in August.

The Explorers may have snuck up on the experts in the past but after three straight trips to the Division I "sweet sixteen," they won't surprise anyone.

With regular season marks of 9-1, 8-2 and 9-1 the past three years and first-round playoff wins over Canton GlenOak (2011), Findlay (2012) and Toledo Whitmer (2013), Hudson has continued to show it is one of the best Division I programs in the state.

Fourth-year head coach Ron Wright (29-6), who has been with the Explorers for the last 11 years, relishes his team's current status and hopes to see them continue to climb the ladder.

"Now that we are established, everyone says even more so than before, 'Let's beat Hudson,'" he said.

"If you look at us on paper, we should be pretty good. Everybody wants to get a piece of us. It's fun to get to the top of the mountain, but to stay at the top of the mountain, like Mentor has for all these years, isn't easy."

The Explorers will have some big shoes to fill due to graduation.

Linebacker Ben Hart (124 tackles), who is playing football at Davidson College (N.C.), safety John Zuccaro (17 career interceptions) and placekicker Pierce Royster (156 career points) are just a few of the 2014 graduates whose spots will have to be filled this year. All three were recognized in the All-State voting a year ago.

If you're starting to feel sorry for Wright and his staff about those losses, don't.

The Explorers are loaded with returnees, especially on offense where they averaged 27.5 points per game last season.

Hudson returns seven starters on offense and six on defense. The Explorers lost four starters on offense and five starters on defense to graduation.

They also have 102 athletes to choose from -- the largest turnout ever at Hudson.

Heading that list of returnees is a pair of seniors who were recognized in the All-State voting. Wide receiver Colton Whited (first team) and quarterback Mitch Guadagni (second team) both return.

Wright's coaching staff also is a veteran group. Jeff Brown is back for his 35th season at Hudson.

"Coach Brown is retiring from teaching this year," Wright said. "He is our assistant head coach and works with the cornerbacks. Brownie brings so much to the staff with his knowledge and drill work."

Working with Brown and the safeties will be Ian Kost. The former Hudson linebacker (2002 grad) has helped out at his alma mater in the past and joins the team after a stint as an assistant at Woodridge.

Another former linebacker for the Explorers, Jeff Gough (class of 2006), returns for his fourth season as defensive coordinator. Gough is in his eighth year as a Hudson coach and his fourth guiding the defense. He will work with the linebackers as well.

In the past three seasons, Gough's defense has given up an average of just 16.4 points per game and has allowed one touchdown or less in 13 of the 36 outings.

On the other side of the ball, Shawn Surdy is back for his fourth season as the offensive coordinator and also works with the running backs.

Surdy's teams have been chalking up big numbers in yardage and on the scoreboard. Over the past three years, his teams have topped 30 points 50 percent of the time. The Hudson offense is scoring at a 28.8-point-per-game clip in that span.

"Jeff and Shawn are outstanding coaches," Wright said. "It's incredible the work those two do."

Also returning to the staff are Brad Maendler (quarterbacks coach), Matt Palumbo (defensive tackles), 2006 Hudson graduate Anthony Carbone (offensive line), Dave Ravida (wide receivers), Kyle Wasserman (kicking game and tight ends) and John Callahan (defensive ends).

The Explorers are heavy on upperclassmen with 36 seniors on the squad.

"Those are high marks of my tenure," Wright said. "At a time when football has generally been down, we've grown."

Hudson's schedule is the same as a year ago. The nonleague slate includes Euclid (Aug. 29 at home in the season opener), Uniontown Lake and Brecksville-Broadview Heights.

Northeast Ohio Conference crossover games include matchups with Cuyahoga Falls and Stow-Munroe Falls.

The Valley Division features defending champion Mentor, Strongsville, Brunswick, Solon and Twinsburg. Last year, the Explorers finished 4-1 against the Valley Division, which was good for second place.

The big showdown with Mentor is scheduled to take place Oct. 23 at Hudson Memorial Stadium.

"Our league is as good as it has been," Wright said. "We had better be ready to go week to week. Good to great ... that's our rallying cry this year. We have been pretty good, but now we have to take a step.

"We have to play with the Mentors, the Eds [Lakewood St. Edward], the Ignatius [Cleveland St. Ignatius], the St. X [Cincinnati St. Xavier] and the Moellers [Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller] if you really want to be thought of as the high-echelon team in the state of Ohio."

Hudson is scheduled to host Euclid in its season debut Aug. 29. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Hudson Memorial Stadium.

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