OBERLIN — It’s been a while, but Oberlin has something that it hasn’t had in a few years — experience.
Coach Mike Akers had to play a lot of freshmen and sophomores his first two seasons with the Phoenix. Those youngsters that went 5-5 and 3-7 the last two years are now juniors and seniors with 17 returning starters, including the entire offensive line.
Oberlin is more than ready to get things going during the inaugural season of the Lorain County League.
“The last few years we have had a few key seniors and a lot of young guys. We’ve all grown up and there are a lot of seniors that want to go out as winners,” said Sam Thompson, a 6-foot-5 senior tackle/defensive end. “You can throw a young guy out there who wants to win, but it’s not the same as throwing a senior out there who has the experience. A senior is going to go out there and play harder than anyone else who wants it. The senior leadership is something I haven’t seen since I’ve been here.”
Senior quarterback Azare Hairston grabbed the reins of the team last year, taking over for Devin Yarber. Now he is ready to have a season that force someone to step up when they take over for him next season.
“Last year there was no one else that could take up the position like Devin did, so I was the right person to give it a go,” Hairston said “I want my shoes to be hard to fill next year, but we have guys on the team now who can do it if they are willing to put in the hard work.
“In years past, guys would rather do other things than come in and work on your craft and your game. We have a lot of guys on this team that are willing to put in the hard work to get better. It’s up to each individual guy, but there are a lot of us that have been getting more of them to keep working.”
For Akers, this is the season he has been building to since taking the job.
“I’m not going to predict that we will do a whole lot this year, but I think the days of the 50-6 games are all over,” he said. “If we lose, it’s going to be close and every one of the guys on the field is going to give everything they have to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“We have so many kids out there with varsity experience. We don’t have to worry about teaching them the basics, we’re building on everything we have worked on the last two seasons. We have guys we don’t have to say anything to — they know what they are doing, and they can do it well.”
If Oberlin is going to be successful in the new conference this year, it’s going to have to get better on the defensive side of the ball.
In the five losses in 2017, the defense gave up at least 35 points and the average allowed was 48. It didn’t get any better last year, when the defense gave up an average of 55 points in its seven losses with every loss allowing at least 42 points.
“We definitely aren’t where we were when these coaches came here to take over the program,” senior center/linebacker Riley Horning said. “We’ve been doing this for three years now and I think we’re ready to do what it takes on both sides of the ball to win games.
“The majority of guys here have been playing together since we were in middle school together. We have all put in the work and have confidence in each other to see this through. We have to keep building this on the field and then the juniors and sophomores have to keep doing it going forward.”
Experience could be just what the doctor ordered for the Phoenix this year.
“It’s going to be different,” Akers said. “When we have to spell a kid, we don’t have to throw a freshman out there. We have experienced backups that are juniors and seniors, it’s going to do nothing but help us get through games and get through the season. We are just totally different this year, there is a new vibe here at Oberlin.”
Contact James Brady at (440) 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.