Coach expects Westerville North to reverse fortunes
The 11 seniors on the Westerville North High School football team leave the program without having experienced a single victory.
The Warriors finished 0-10 overall and went 0-7 in the OCC-Cardinal Division to place eighth, behind Hilliard Darby (7-0), Dublin Scioto (6-1), Westerville South (5-2), Westerville Central (4-3), Dublin Jerome (3-4), Worthington Kilbourne (2-5) and Hilliard Bradley (1-6).
North will enter next season on a 45-game losing streak, as it hasn't won since beating Central 21-17 on Sept. 19, 2008. The Warriors lost their final five games in the 2008 season and have gone 0-10 the last four seasons.
However, coach Rodger Elander, who completed his first season leading the program, is optimistic that his team will end the skid next season.
"I expect us to improve on both sides of the ball for next year," he said. "Our coaching staff was put together so late in the year last year that we did not have a full offseason program in place. As a staff, we are excited to work with our returning players regarding their grades, their commitment in the weight room and growing into responsible young men.
"Another thing that is going to benefit us for next year is that there will be no major changes in our offensive and defensive schemes. I believe there has to be some continuity in what we are trying to do as a football program in order for us to continue to improve. Everybody involved with the program needs to understand what the expectations are. They also need to realize that those expectations may be raised higher for next year."
North averaged 10.5 points per game this year and allowed an average of 42.3. The Warriors produced their highest point total in a 52-15 loss to South in their season finale Oct. 26. They scored 14 points five times and allowed 21 points or more in every game, including seven games in which they surrendered 41 points or more.
North's closest contest was its opener, a 21-14 loss to Franklin Heights on Aug. 24. The Falcons went 2-8 this season under coach Mike Owens, who coached the Warriors from 2009-2011, compiling a 0-30 record.
Owens stepped down as coach at North last February and Elander was named his successor last April.
"I believe we played our best overall games at the end of the season," Elander said. "We started to sustain drives on offense and not go three-and-out. Our defense started to force more stops.
"Taking (a 6-0) lead against Worthington Kilbourne in the first quarter (of a 26-6 loss on Oct. 19) was a great sign and a highlight. We struggled at the start of games for most of the season, and to be able to come out late in the season and take the lead gave the kids something to believe in."
Among the seniors were Shane Coulter (OL), Luke Downs (DL), Chris Meyer (WR/DB), Peter Sandvik (OL/DL) and Austin Smales (QB).
Sandvik was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. Smales was 39-for-95 passing for 407 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions, and Meyer had three catches for 25 yards.
"Our entire senior class left a positive impression on this program," Elander said. "They have set the bar high as far as character, accountability and effort. They will all be missed. We will be a more experienced team next year (as) plenty of juniors and sophomores got on the field and contributed."
Among the players expected to return are juniors David Bailey (OL/DE), Alex Rhodes (OL/DE), Andy Struttmann (FB/LB), Jonathan Taylor (RB/LB) and Moses Vasquez (TE/LB) and sophomores Matt Crowley (OL/DL), Jake Downs (QB/DB), Jake Hinz (RB/LB) and Ben Mudzinganyama (RB/DB).
Struttmann ran for 401 yards on 130 carries and scored a team-high five touchdowns and was second-team all-league. Taylor had 445 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 125 carries and was honorable mention all-league. Hinz was special mention all-league.
Elander knows the players must step up and meet the challenges in the offseason if North is to be more competitive next season.
"They need to make a commitment to become better students, athletes and citizens," he said. "Having a full offseason to work with the returning players is going to be instrumental in moving the program in a positive direction.
"Every player has to commit to improving. For some, that may be getting bigger and stronger in the weight room. Others may need to improve their flexibility (and) some will want to improve their speed, but the one thing that all our players must do is improve their football IQ."