Westerville North: 'Iron Men' carrying load for Warriors

DAVE PURPURA
dpurpura@thisweeknews.com
North's Sylvester Bockarie finds running room during a 32-28 loss to South on Sept. 11. Bockarie, who also plays linebacker, is one of four senior two-way standouts who have led the way for the Warriors during a 3-1 start.

Westerville North football coach Bryan Johnson knew he would count heavily on four seniors this season in Brennan Albertini, Sylvester Bockarie, Mitchell Gillam and Reuben Simiyu, but even Johnson is surprised at their workload.

"We told those guys in the beginning that they've earned the right as two- to three-year starters to play. They're our best players. When they need a breather, they'll tell us, but we don't take them out much," Johnson said. "There have been games where all four of them logged 100-plus plays. I didn't think we'd ever have that. We play 130 to 145 plays a game total."

Perhaps it's appropriate, then, that Johnson refers to those four as his "Iron Men" as the Warriors seek a strong finish to the regular season and springboard into what will be the program's first playoff appearance since 1999.

North, which will play host to Big Walnut on Friday, Sept. 25, improved to 3-1 overall and in the OCC-Capital Division with a 21-7 victory over Canal Winchester on Sept. 18. It is the Warriors' best start since 2016.

Gillam and Simiyu are third-year starters on both the offensive and defensive lines.

Albertini and Bockarie are starting linebackers and share the workload for North's ground game, with the 5-foot-6, 175-pound Bockarie's carries roughly tripling those of Albertini, who is 6-0, 210.

"We don't even really run it outside. We're between the tackles right behind Mitchell and Reuben," Johnson said, adding that the Warriors had a 20-play drive against Westerville South on Sept. 11 and another against Delaware the previous week.

Bockarie has 573 yards and three touchdowns on 103 carries. Albertini has 37 carries for 151 yards and three scores, two of which came against South in a 32-28 loss Sept. 11.

One was on fourth-and-2 as the first half expired.

"He's better in open space, say third-and-10, and I'm better on a third-and-2 or short-yardage play plus blocking," said Albertini, a third-year starter at linebacker who led the team in tackles with 23 through three games and has offers from Morehead State and Valparaiso. "I prefer defense. I'm more comfortable and can read the plays better, but I enjoy offense, too."

Bockarie started at outside linebacker last year and moved inside this year.

"I was thinking (the carries) would be more half and half but either way works," Bockarie said. "It's important to me. I have a big role on this team and I have to keep doing this moving forward."

Despite North's rushing prowess, all of the Warriors' touchdowns at Canal Winchester came through the air. Wyatt Buxton threw two scores to Coby Darlington and another to James McCreery.

Gillam and Simiyu downplayed their contributions despite having been regulars in the lineup for the past 24 games

"We're used to it. A lot of us have played a lot of snaps on both sides, especially us four," Simiyu said.

"I just do what they tell me to do," Gillum said. "I'm sore sometimes on Saturdays, but it doesn't bother me. This style fits us."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

WEEK 5

BIG WALNUT at WESTERVILLE NORTH

•When: 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25

•Big Walnut (3-1 overall, 3-1 in OCC-Capital) to date: Defeated Delaware 14-6; lost to Westerville South 50-41; def. Franklin Heights 35-6; def. Worthington Kilbourne 31-0

•North (3-1 overall, 3-1 in OCC-Capital) to date: Def. Franklin Heights 17-0; def. Delaware 24-7; lost to South 32-28; def. Canal Winchester 21-7

•Top Golden Eagles: Jagger Barnett (QB), Cam Gladden (WR/K), Brady Hershberger (WR/DB), A.J. Leasure (TE/LB), Lane Pritchard (WR/DB), Mark Ruffing (OL/DL), Mahlon Spangler (OL/DL), Cole Wecker (OL/DL) and Caden Williams (RB/DE)

•Top Warriors: Brennan Albertini (RB/LB), Sylvester Bockarie (RB/LB), Wyatt Buxton (QB), Coby Darlington (WR/DB), Nathan Dunfee (OL/DL), Mitchell Gillam (OL/DL), Mohammed Nasser (OL/DL), Ty O’Hearn (WR/DB/LS) and Reuben Simiyu (OL/DL)