COLUMN: A New Golden Age of Hilltopper Football


By winning Chardon’s second consecutive state football championship, the Hilltoppers have officially created a new golden age of football in Chardon.

By winning Chardon’s second consecutive state football championship, the Hilltoppers have officially created a new golden age of football in Chardon.

The 2020 and 2021 teams did something no other team in Chardon history has done – win and then repeat as state champions.

Considering some of the great teams that have worn Hilltopper uniforms, this statement really says something.

The journey to the school’s third state title was memorable to say the least.

“It will take weeks to digest what these kids have been up to,” Chardon head coach Mitch Hewitt said.

At first glance, the answer seems simple.

The Hilltoppers showed they had the defense to win an early state championship, and as the season wore on they found an offensive formula that worked.

Week after week, defensive coordinator Brian Landies put his unit in a position to dominate. We are not talking about success, but in fact of hammering the opposing offensives until they submit.

Almost every week, Chardon’s opponents had no response in Topper’s defense. Often, the opponents left frustrated and sore.

The defensive line consisting of Alex McDonald, Michael Washington, Cooper Felger and Alex Kisley gave nightmares to opposing quarterbacks. Not only did they do a great job opening holes for linebackers Christian Hall, Heath Fetchik and Brody Dotson, but they also entered the backfield, where they recovered tackles for losses and sacks at an incredible rate.

Not to be outdone, Chardon’s linebackers have also proven themselves to be some of the school’s all-time best units. When the defensive line opened holes, it was the linebackers who came in and closed the opposing backers.

When the quarterbacks dared to pitch against Chardon, they faced a high school that Hewitt called one of the best during his tenure as head coach. With starters like Trey Liebhardt, Leo Columbi, AJ Bruce and Nathaniel Sulka, the opposing quarterbacks struggled to throw the ball.

Sulka, who started 46 games in his career, failed to get a score from some of the other defenders, but his impact has been immeasurable. The senior made 88 tackles for the team’s lead early in the championship game, and his tenacity has been an inspiration to all of his teammates.

“His shoulder is affected; it came out last week, ”Hewitt said. “There are guys that you worry about and wonder if they’ll play in the state title game. There was never any doubt with him. He is the ultimate competitor and his legacy at Chardon will be forever remembered. I’ll miss him.

Ahead of the start of the playoffs, Hewitt noted the one thing that separated last year’s defense, which he said was one of the all-time greats in Chardon: the lack of a ring.

The debate can now begin as to which was the greater defense now that the 2020 and 2021 defenses had rings.

On the other side of football, Sean Carr carried the load early, as Alex Henry, who had never started as a quarterback, learned and then began to hone his craft.

“We don’t win without Sean Carr,” Sulka said. “We’re not in the state championship without Sean Carr.”

After seven weeks of play, it was clear the Hilltoppers had the defense to try another state title, but something was missing offensively.

A decision was made before the start of week eight to add Bruce into the attacking mix, and that decision could have changed the entire playoff season for Chardon. Bruce’s speed allowed him to go outside on jet sweeps, which opened up the middle for Carr and Henry.

Add in Nathan Tager, who capped a sensational career as one of the school’s all-time best kickers, and this Hilltopper team has been stacked at most positions.

Looking back, this Topper team had the full package, but at the start of the season few thought of another state title.

Graduation hit the Hilltoppers hard, and few starters returned in 2021.

“I underestimated our kids this year, and they felt it with me,” Hewitt admitted.

From the start this team had a chip on its shoulder because a lot of people doubted that a bunch of kids who didn’t start a game last year could run for a state title.

After the championship game, Sulka was happy to remind them that they were wrong.

“The feeling was a little better,” he said of this year’s win compared to last year. “There have been a lot of people who doubted us this year. They didn’t think we could do it. They didn’t think we would be here, but we proved everyone wrong. It was an incredible moment. “

Sulka also recalled something Brady Toth told him last year, which he took to heart.

“Last year Brady Toth told me that the best thing you can do in your senior year is go out smiling,” Sulka said. “There is only a small percentage of older people who can do this, and we walked out with a smile. “

Not only have the Hilltoppers created a new golden age of football in Chardon, they’ve also inspired young people who see them as heroes.

As the team exited Chardon on their buses, Hewitt and his players recalled the look of the young students, some of whom probably dream of winning a state title on their own.

“It’s really special. It’s made more special by what you see happening in the world, ”Hewitt said. “You can see all the children smiling. You can see it in the community. That’s the beauty of sport, it’s what unites people. Thistle is a soccer town, and we are blessed and lucky.

“It was amazing to walk across the square and see all these little kids dreaming of being in our shoes,” said Henry. “The whole town of Chardon is behind us.

Maybe there’s never been a better time to catch the Topper Train.

Over the past two years, Chardon has won 28 straight games and two state titles.

All year round, Chardon Memorial was a noisy, rocking stadium. During the playoff race he stayed the same and was also transferred to the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.

When asked if he had ever turned to look at the crowd, Carr replied, “I took it a few times today. It was awesome. “

Just as Carr enjoyed the sights and sounds of the game for the title, we hope you, the fans, enjoyed the ride.

For a public school that isn’t called Kirtland, such success doesn’t happen too often.

Bruce and Henry both believe there will be enough talent on the roster to make a third consecutive title appearance next year – and after what we’ve seen this year, it would be unwise to bet against them.

Remember, this is the new golden age of Chardon football. The bar of expectations has been raised.