When the Austintown Fitch High School baseball team opens its season Monday against Youngstown East, it will sport a much different look.
Fitch graduate Joe Paris fill the role of the Falcons' head coach, replacing Wally Ford, who retired.
Although Paris has served under Ford for 18 years, moving over one spot on the bench will be like taking in a whole new ballgame.
"I never realized all of the stuff that goes into being a head coach, both on and off the field," Paris said in a recent phone conversation. "(Becoming head coach) means a whole lot to me. It's like a dream come true."
That dream started when Paris was a player at Fitch in the 1980s, and the new coach plans to display some of the traits his mentor possessed. So far, Paris has become as close to his disciples as Ford was to him.
"We have a good mesh with the coaching staff," Paris said.
That engagement has trickled down from the coaches to the players as well. The Fitch players will need to adhere to those teachings because some lack seasoning.
"We have six seniors and a large junior class," Paris said, "but there is little varsity experience. These kids have a lot to prove. There are a lot of open spots, so (the starters) will have to earn their positions."
The most important position on this Fitch team is pitcher. Throughout Ford's tenure as top man, pitching seemed to never be a question mark. In Paris' first season as leader, however, it has become worrisome.
"(Pitching) is one of our biggest concerns," he said. "We don't really have an ace. Winning will come down to how good are pitching staff is."
If Paris were forced to name a number one starter he would probably choose sophomore southpaw Kenny Misik. Other Falcons in line for pitching duties should be juniors Nick Bianco, Nick DeSalvo and Cole Constance. Another arm is Malik Caige, who is a transfer from East.
Leading the offense for the Falcons will be a slew of returnees in different grades.
Senior Chris Gerberry is a team captain who will be called upon to handle the catching duties. His potent bat will help anchor the Fitch lineup, and his leadership abilities should stabilize the uneven pitching staff.
Penciled into the cleanup spot in Paris' lineup is Bianco, who will see plenty of time on the corner infield when he is not summoned to the pitching mound. Junior Mike Grazier is a three-year starter and has done almost everything in his time in a Fitch uniform.
This season, the captain will see time at both third base and the outfield. Kole Klasic and Robby Russo are two more juniors who had great sophomore seasons and should be even better this year. Klasic is a shortstop and Russo plays first base.
Paris said he appreciates his group's versatility and willingness to do whatever it takes to become top players.
"We have a lot of guys who can play multiple positions," he said. "Their work ethic is unbelievable. All of the competition makes them play harder."
The new coach will get a taste of how much all of that hard work will pay off when his boys battle Boardman twice in the first week of the season. The Spartans are always near the top of the All-American Conference Red Tier, as is perennial power Poland.
"Our league is a tough league to play in," Paris said.
The coach spends his spring mornings as a technology teacher at Austintown Middle School. He's not looking for his Falcons to be a high-tech bunch like his students in the classroom. All Paris is asking for is that his kids gain some varsity knowledge and the pitching staff stays sound so he can keep the Fitch baseball program at the lofty standing his predecessor left it at.