Warriors determined to end losing streak
Neither Moises Vasquez nor Erik Hagedorn of the Westerville North High School football team heard the other laud their teammates' commitment to the program after practice Aug. 13.
In separate interviews, Vasquez, a senior tight end and defensive lineman, and Hagedorn, a running back and defensive back, said players' dedication to offseason training reached levels they hadn't seen in three years.
Everyone, they agreed, is champing at the bit to end a 45-game losing streak that dates to September 2008.
"We have better leadership. We have more commitment among all our players," said Vasquez, a three-year starter. "We're trying to eliminate the attitude of not wanting to be here. We want guys to just calm down and not take things for granted, just come out and have fun."
Hagedorn recounted how attendance for morning weightlifting slowly increased from a handful in December to double-digits by the spring.
"When we started in December, we only had four or five guys," he said. "By February and March, we had 10 or more guys each and every day.
"As the season got closer, more guys kept coming. It was better than last year, when we didn't have offseason lifting until about May. It wasn't really there until we had more commitment."
Second-year coach Rodger Elander was present to hear both talk, and although he had texts to return, students to direct from place to place and performances to review, there was an inner smile.
Entering the season opener Friday, Aug. 30, at home against Franklin Heights, Elander is anxious to see how his team turns out after an organized offseason. Elander wasn't hired until February 2012, and didn't finish building his coaching staff until late that spring.
"People have asked me what's the difference between this year and last year, and I just tell them it's the offseason program," Elander said. "Last year, there was no real guidance for the guys. One of the things we talked about was we had to get moving in the weight room. We knew what we had to do.
"The kids who were in there, you can tell the difference. They're physically bigger and stronger. They look different. They fill out their uniforms differently and they carry themselves with confidence. ... They didn't have that look (last year)."
North is trying to end the longest active losing streak in the state. The Warriors' last win was on Sept. 9, 2008, when they defeated Westerville Central 21-17.
Elander called Hagedorn and Vasquez "key" to an offense that also will be paced by senior running back/linebacker Andy Struttman (6-2, 231), a four-year starter who ran for 401 yards on 130 carries last year with a team-high five touchdowns.
Senior running back/linebacker Jonathan Taylor (5-11, 186) added 445 yards and three touchdown on 125 carries.
Taylor and Struttman will split the workload with senior Jake Hinz (5-9, 175).
Receivers for expected starting quarterback Jake Downs, a 6-2, 180-pound junior, include juniors DaeQuan Hughes (6-2, 183) and Wes Nally (6-0, 188).
The offensive line features junior Gage Archer (6-1, 243), senior tackle Jared Sroufe (6-0, 222) and Vasquez (6-0, 235). The other starting linemen had not been determined at the start of preseason camp.
Hinz, juniors Damani Johnson (6-0, 181) and Andrew Malick (5-11, 203), Struttman and senior John Taylor (5-11, 186) lead a deep linebacker corps. Defensive backs include juniors Mason Gresh (5-10, 152) and Emmitt Reed (5-7, 168).
North visits Newark on Sept. 6 and Reynoldsburg on Sept. 13 before beginning OCC-Cardinal Division play Sept. 20 at Hilliard Darby.
"Any winning streak starts at one," Elander said. "Let's get it started early."
Hagedorn thinks an effective running game will be crucial to the Warriors' success. Offensive linemen hope so, too -- Struttman promised to buy each of them a steak dinner if North ever rushes for 250 yards in a game.
"That's definitely one of our goals," Hagedorn said, citing goal sheets each player wrote during the offseason. "A lot of the guys said we should at least win three games. Another paper said to not to be afraid to play. That's truthful. I know the situation of playing someone bigger than you, but you have to fight through it. Other guys want to get five interceptions or more than 10 for the whole team. Those are the things that stood out to me. I believe in that."