Senior offensive tackle Matt Lipski has caught the eye of several Division I programs due to his mammoth 6-foot-9, 345-pound frame.

Ashland hopes offensive switch brings success

ASHLAND — Ashland's vaunted wide-open offensive philosophy established by legendary coach Jim Nagel and continued under Charlie Hall will undergo a personality change this year.

With an offensive line featuring mammoth 6-foot-9, 345-pound tackle Matt Lipski, the third-year Ashland coach plans to take advantage of the type of personnel that is better suited to a more conventional attack. So the Grizzlies will be lining up in the two-back, pro-set offense as their basic scheme.

"We want to play the ball control, time of possession, old-time football," says Hall. "If we establish a running game it will open up other opportunities."

Lipski is the classic late bloomer. As a freshman, the gentle giant favored water polo over football. His gridiron resume contains just 10 JV and nine varsity games. Lipski has worked hard to play catch-up. His commitment was demonstrated by attendance at no less than five college football camps this summer.

"Matt has improved incredibly over the last year," says Hall. "One of the biggest things is the change in demeanor to put people on the ground, to be a nasty lineman. His quickness and ability to sustain blocks will remain to be seen."

Hall plans to position 6-2, 273-pound Joe Hatch at guard next to Lipski. Hatch is one of the strongest players on the team.

Bruising junior running back Lewis Sebrell hopes to capitalize on having stockyard-type beef clearing a path.

In the Pacific Rim Bowl on July 27, Sebrell rushed for 118 yards against the Japanese All-Stars. Sebrell's sophomore season was cut short when he sustained a broken leg after gaining over 100 yards in the season opener against South Salem.

"Lewis (Sebrell) has great balance," says Hall. "At 190 pounds, he can take and give some shots. He has the ability to knock a guy down and get some tough yards, yet make a guy miss in the secondary."

Pat Hutchinson, who scored six TDs last year, will complement Sebrell at running back. Julian Ewald will fill the fullback role in the two-back offense.

Senior Matt Dierks, who started as a defensive back last year, will be the Grizzlies quarterback. Dierks shows good athleticism and leadership qualities.

"In the game against Japan, (Dierks) made good decisions," says Hall. "He didn't force the ball into coverage. He proved he can be a solid runner to get out of bad situations. He can be a running threat in the scope of the offense."

When Dierks needs to put the ball in the air the Grizzlies have a fine array of receivers led by Charlie Sebrell, Lewis' twin brother. Sam Gaviglio, Talon Haggard and Josh Hogeland are other capable targets for Dierks.

"Charlie Sebrell is the consummate competitor and has great hands," says Hall. "If the ball is in the air, he'll go get it.

"At times we'll get into the four-receiver look," continues Hall. "We're going to need to be the best running team in the conference if we're going to make at run at this thing. If we can control the football through the running game and minimize our turnovers, we'll have a productive year offensively."

Hall was impressed with the Grizzlies' defensive effort against the Japanese All-Stars.

"It was very encouraging to play with the caliber of speed Japan has and contain their sweeps," says Hall. "They weren't able to sustain long drives. We forced quite a few three-and-outs. We hope that's a positive sign of things to come."

Hall expects Gaviglio to be the defensive catalyst. The senior free safety was thrust into the starting lineup about midway through last season and responded by being selected to the all-conference second team. Returning starting linebacker Josh Scarminach is also a defensive stopper.

Newcomer Issa Shahlin was a pleasant surprise with his defensive line performance in the 28-21 loss to Japan in the Pacific Rim Bowl exhibition game on July 27.

"(Shahlin) is a wrestler-type kid that likes the hand-to-hand combat in the trenches," explains Hall. "He's so quick and causes so many problems, he'll be a true weapon for us."

Additional defensive starters returning are Ewald at end and Haggard in the secondary.

"The thing we have more than a year ago is better team speed," says Hall. "Also there's quite a few guys that played in games that I feel good about. Last year we had a terrible time stopping people on third down. We're really going to have to work on our mental toughness."

The Grizzlies changed offensive philosophy also just might help remedy some of those defensive woes.

Reach reporter Frank Silow at 776-4480, or e-mail

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