Gratifying win only first step for dedicated Westerville North
At central Ohio high schools the last week of August, football coaches and players eagerly awaited the chance to kick off a new season.
Marching band members wrestled with the nerves of playing a new halftime show, and fans prepared to show off their school spirit.
No school's football program -- from coaches and players to even band members and fans -- experienced more emotion during opening week than the one at Westerville North.
Before the Warriors beat Franklin Heights 48-21 on Aug. 30, they had not experienced victory since Sept. 19, 2008, when they defeated Westerville Central 21-17.
That's 45 consecutive football Friday nights of losses, including 33 against league opponents.
Before their opener, coach Rodger Elander told his players that if they won, "Food will taste better. Your girlfriends will seem prettier. You won't get yelled at by anyone."
He called the win an example that "perseverance and hard work pay off."
It also represented the beginning of what North seeks to accomplish.
To open 2012, the Warriors played a Franklin Heights team that had gone 1-9 the year before and was being coached by Mike Owens, who had been North's coach from 2009-11 for 30 consecutive losses before stepping down to take the Falcons' job.
Franklin Heights won its first two games under Owens, including beating the Warriors 21-14, before losing its final eight to close 2012.
North's loss to the Falcons was among just six in the 45-game losing streak that were decided by seven points or fewer.
Although the Warriors realize that the streak likely is, as junior running back and linebacker Jake Hinz calls it, "the way everyone sees us," they tried to think of this season as a clean slate.
"This streak doesn't have anything to do with this (year's) team," senior running back and linebacker Andy Struttmann said. "The juniors and sophomores don't have the full weight of the streak on their shoulders."
Another aspect of ending the streak that's worth noting: The Warriors didn't see finishing 1-9 as much of an accomplishment -- and on Sept. 6, they defeated Newark 42-35 to move to 2-0.
For Elander, part of that mentality might come from his past.
Elander was an assistant at Brookhaven from 1985-92, and the Bearcats made the playoffs during each of his final three seasons. He then joined North's staff under former coach Ron Balconi and served as an assistant with the Warriors until 2008 under former coaches Bob Cavin, Jim Vivo and Chad Williams.
Elander was on staff when North made the playoffs in both 1995 and 1999 as well as in 2005 when it went 5-5 for its last non-losing season.
"I told them to celebrate for 24 hours, but after that we can't be satisfied because going from 0-10 to 1-9 is not the improvement we're looking for," Elander said. "After the game, all of their friends were so happy for them, and (so were) their parents. It's good to know that they care. I get it, but we've still got nine weeks to go."
Struttmann, who said he got a congratulatory call from Owens two days after North's win, never considered quitting football despite the streak.
"I want to play in college, and it would have killed me if I hadn't been a part of (ending the losing streak)," Struttmann said.
While no one is promising a quick rebuild, at least for one night, "You were proud to play for Westerville North," senior lineman Jared Sroufe said.
For players like Sroufe and Struttmann, who have been on varsity since they were freshmen, experiencing a win after so many losses was a much-deserved reward for their hard work and dedication.
"You're going to get knocked down in life," Elander said. "It's a matter of how you get back up."
Jarrod Ulrey is a ThisWeek sportswriter. Follow his blog, "On the Recruiting Trail," for the latest in central Ohio high school recruiting news.