Girard figured it out in the offseason

NILES — Aidan Warga could’ve spent his downtime in the offseason with a pair of noise-canceling headphones strapped over his ears, plugged into a PlayStation4 controller.

He could be constantly talking to friends through a built-in microphone, playing some Madden football, visualizing what could have been.

Weeks after the 2017 loss to Perry in the Division IV, Region 13 semifinals, the Girard High School senior receiver desired a little more after the end of his junior season.

Simulation wasn’t going to do it. He, quarterback Mark Waid and a host of Girard receivers began producing plays and throwing the football around in the high school gym at 5 a.m., and on the snowy surface of Arrowhead Stadium during the daylight hours.

There’s no way that postseason letdown was about to happen again. This Indians’ receiving corps and quarterback make sure of that scenario.

“We were capable of achieving more than that,” said Warga during Tuesday’s football practice at the Niles Wellness Center.

The Indians (13-1) are playing Cincinnati Wyoming (14-0) for the Division IV state championship at 8 p.m., Saturday at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.

A big reason they’re there is because of the extra work. Just last week, facing a fourth-and-15 from the Licking Valley 22 — their season likely on the line with less than 2 minutes remaining — in the state semifinal. Quarterback Mark Waid rolled back and threw a perfect strike between the coverage right to junior receiver Nick Malito, who dove and stretched the ball over the goal line for the go-ahead touchdown.

Malito leads the Indians with 1,214 yards and 14 touchdowns, and he’s only one of several weapons for Waid. The star QB is ranked 11th in the nation, according to maxpreps.com, with his 256 of 380 passing for 4,182 yards and 47 touchdowns, the best passer in Ohio. Five of his receivers have more than 750 yards.

Malito wears a multi-color coded wristband with numerous plays. It’s a guide, but utterly useless without prior knowledge.

He and the other receivers go through many repetitions with Waid to make sure they’re in the right position when the Girard signal caller delivers a perfectly thrown strike.

“We go through every route, every play, every combo, making sure our receivers are in sync when we’re all together,” Malito said.

All those early mornings, while others would be groggy, these receivers and quarterback were focused, a rhythm that has been on display for 14 weeks.

Youngstown State University freshman Michael Belcik, who was Waid’s main receiver the past two seasons, sparked this dedication a couple of years ago when players like Malito, Warga, senior Terrance Davis and a host of others were freshmen and sophomores. The path to success has remained the same.

“All those hard hours we did in the gym shows up on the field,” Davis said.

Girard coach Pat Pearson remembers the early-morning calls in the spring, asking if he can turn on the lights at Arrowhead Stadium.

“I’ll be there,” Pearson said. “I’ll get a cup of coffee, go sit in the office and you have at it. They’ve been like that for four years.”

Achieving greatness. That’s what this Girard offensive unit wanted from that time it walked off the field after losing to Perry.

This year, it took a comeback win against Youngstown East, revenge against Perry and rival Hubbard and last week’s high-scoring affair against Licking Valley — another come-from-behind victory.

“If you dedicate your life to something, you really push for it and don’t let the distractions deter you of your end goal, you can accomplish anything,” Waid said. “I’ve always been told how I can’t do this or I can’t do that my entire life. I’ve always faced doubters. It pushes me to be better in every aspect of life.”

That tireless effort has vaulted this Girard offensive juggernaut into Saturday’s Division IV championship game.

jvargo@tribtoday.com