Trust. It’s something Oberlin’s football team has been lacking the past few years thanks to a revolving door of coaching changes.
Mike Akers is trying to change all that.
It’s a slow process. It took a while for Akers, in his first year as the Phoenix coach, to get his players to believe but once he got senior quarterback Devan Yarber to buy in, things have improved.
“It took a couple weeks for me to put the trust in the coaches and the coaching staff,” Yarber said. “We’ve had a lot of coaches. Some of them were bad, some were good but (Akers) and his staff are great for us. If we’d have had them our freshman year, a lot of changes would have been made and we’d have won a lot of games. I think we would have made the playoffs this year if he’d been our coach all along.”
“We’ve got about 32 kids out,” Akers said. “My first day here we had four kids in the weight room. They starting filtering in through word of mouth. We’ve picked up some kids even after the season started and they’re playing for us. You have to understand, there’s only 120 boys in this whole school.”
Akers has taken a page out of Dave McFarland’s coaching book. McFarland coached at Oberlin for a number of years and had some success. He’s now doing the same thing at Lorain.
Akers has been an assistant under McFarland in the past.
“You’ve got to look at from their side,” Akers said of the Oberlin players. “How many coaches have they had here in the last five years — three, four? I’m the fourth, maybe, I don’t know. A couple weeks ago, a couple of our juniors didn’t think we were staying. As a staff, we go together. I’ve taken these guys wherever I’ve been. They didn’t figure it out until I asked for sweatshirt sizes for next year. Aaron Arnold (junior split end and defensive back) said ‘I think you guys might be staying.’ It was hard for them to trust us at first.”
Akers brought along Tom Hicks and Aaron Huff from his previous coaching jobs. He also has veteran Ed Dohonas helping out along with Adam Thompson, David Payne, Bob King, Jason Yarber and Isaac Johnson. Payne and Yarber are Oberlin alumni.
One of the first moves Akers made was moving the 5-foot-9, 160-pound Yarber, who is also a key player on the basketball team, to quarterback.
“Devan was a tailback for us last year,” Akers said. “Our thinking was why have another kid hand him the ball where he can just put it in his hands? He’s a pretty good thrower.”
“At first, when he put me at quarterback, I didn’t think I could do it,” Yarber said. “Last year I played running back. I didn’t think I had a good arm but he just said he chose the best athlete and he gave us the playbook. I just like the plays — any way for me to make plays.”
“The ball’s in his hands every play,” Akers said. “He makes the decisions. If he wants to keep it, he keeps it. He calls a lot of our offense. Everything’s called at the line of scrimmage.”
Yarber credits his father, Derrick, who was a standout quarterback for Oberlin, in shaping his game.
“He could throw 100 yards,” Yarber said. “Every time he gets the ball, it’s a touchdown. Ever since I was young, he’s been teaching me how to play. All about the game, giving me tips — how to throw it, how to run. How I’m supposed to lead my team. I get all my game from him.”
Yarber has the ability to run or throw for the Phoenix. He’s rushed for 794 yards on 103 attempts with seven touchdowns and thrown for 414 yards, completing 25 of 56 attempts with four touchdowns.
Keep in mind, Yarber missed two games.
“I like the position a lot,” Yarber said. “I get to lead the team. I get to call out what plays we want to run. I get to switch up a lot of things. That’s what’s best for me.
“Same thing on defense. I play safety and I still get to call the plays on defense. I’m just the team captain. He (Akers) believes in me.”
Yarber leads the team in tackles with 40, including 21 solo and three for losses.
Oberlin travels to Lutheran West tonight looking for its second straight win. The Phoenix hung on to beat Fairview 22-20 last week. Their other win was over Brookside. Four of Oberlin’s losses came to teams with a combined 23-5 record and the other was to 3-4 Trinity.
“We’ve played a tough schedule,” Akers said. “Four teams are 5-2 or better.”
After missing the previous two games, Yarber scored on an 80-yard run, threw a pass to Aaron Arnold for a 20-yard score and added an 8-yard TD run last week. Oberlin had a 22-7 lead going into the fourth quarter and hung on to win.
“I hadn’t played for two games,” Yarber said. “I just wanted to come out and give everybody a show. Let everybody know I’m back on the team. That I’m doing what I’m supposed to do and I can provide for my team. The last couple games, they’ve just been missing me.”
Prior to sitting out the Black River and Clearview games, Yarber had a huge night against Brookside. He piled up 476 total yards and five touchdowns. He rushed 29 times for 231 yards, scoring on runs of 62 and 41 yards, and was 7-or-11 passing for 245 yards with three TD passes, two to senior Justin Smith.
In the loss against Trinity, Yarber rushed for 171 yards, threw for 55, scored a pair of touchdowns and a 2-point conversion.
Yarber wants to keep everybody on the team positive and working hard through the final three games.
“Everybody gets frustrated,” Yarber said. “Even me at times. I just got to let everybody know, to keep your head, we got this. One bad play is not going to affect the rest of the game. Everybody has to do what their responsibility tells them. Line has to block, receivers have to catch the ball and I just got to keep my team in place.”
Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or email@example.com.