Mogadore’s star running back, senior Gary Strain, has had plenty to be frustrated about. He broke his leg two weeks after breaking through on the varsity team during his sophomore year, missing most of the season. During the past summer, a broken left foot required surgery and derailed preparation for his senior season and forced him to miss the first game.
Strain ran for 1,501 yards and 20 touchdowns last season and was named first-team All-Ohio in Division VI. This season, he’s already rushed for 1,477 yards and 26 touchdowns despite missing that first game. He’s had success every step of the way and is talented to the point of coach Matt Adorni saying, “You’d be stupid to not give him the ball.”
But it’s been the missteps that have fueled the fire for Strain.
“Being out made me want to be in the game even more,” Strain said. “When I got back, each time, I had to prove to myself I could do it and push myself forward to try and get better and move on.”
Strain returned for the playoffs his sophomore year and got the Wildcats to the state semifinals. As a junior, the numbers and accolades were there but not the wins that have come to be expected by the Wildcats. Mogadore graduated only five players from last year’s team that went 7-4 and is now 11-0.
The Wildcats’ regional semifinal game at 7:30 tonight against Berlin Center Western Reserve at Ravenna High School is the next step to Strain’s ultimate goal to become a state champion, the lone empty spot on his mantel.
When asked what it would mean to bring home that trophy, he was almost speechless.
“It’d be the best day of my life,” he said. “That’s all I can really say. It’d just be amazing.”
And it’d be the culmination of perseverance through tough times.
Strain has put up gaudy statistics, but the road has been long and not without frustration.
“The running joke on Gary was that he was hurt in youth football a lot, and then came the two freak accidents here,” Adorni said. “He’s had a great attitude with it all. He’s also really matured into a leadership role. He’s a guy every once in a while you have to yell at because he likes to be goofy sometimes. But he has a great attitude and you can try to be mad at him, but those guys give personality to the team. When it’s time to get ready, he takes the game very seriously.”
And he wants to be out on the field every second of the 48 minutes he’s allotted every Friday night. However, with Mogadore winning a couple of games by four and five touchdowns, Adorni took Strain out to rest. Strain only played 24 quarters in the nine regular-season games that he played. Like many running backs, he wasn’t entirely thrilled with resting.
“There was a time,” Adorni said after being asked if Strain was ever frustrated. “He’s a kid, a competitor and he wants to play. I don’t fault him for that.”
“There was some frustration but Coach talked to me, and I understood that Coach needed me,” Strain said. “I didn’t want to pout or fuss about that stuff.”
He’s known as a great runner, but his value doesn’t cease when he’s away from the ball. As he sat out from practice because of his foot injury, Strain took to teaching the younger backs and helping out any way he could from the sideline. In games, Adorni tries to use opponents’ aggressiveness to slow Strain down against them, using him as a decoy or in play-action passes.
And almost as much as running over linebackers, Strain takes pride in his blocking, which has been a bit of a motto at Mogadore. Strain, sophomore Brandon Berry and the entire offensive line have put an emphasis on the unnoticed art.
“Last year, I think we would have won an extra game or two had we blocked better, and our playoff loss to Youngstown Christian probably came down to blocking,” Strain said. “Me and Berry talked every day and kept saying that we needed to get better. We get on each other all day in practice if we don’t get the job done.”
Adorni was proud of how the Wildcats rallied in the opening win over Crestwood with Strain stuck on the sidelines. But against Western Reserve and whoever might be waiting in the wings, Mogadore’s workhorse will have plenty of opportunities to run.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.