Westerville North: Warriors face reload after memorable season
Westerville North football coach Bryan Johnson acknowledged regarding this season as a potentially memorable one for the program since he was hired in 2018, largely because a promising group of sophomores at the time now would be seniors.
That came to pass, as the Warriors went 6-4 for their first winning season since 2004, tied for second place in the OCC-Capital Division at 5-1 and played host to a postseason game for the first time since 1988.
Now, Johnson and his program prepare for the task of sustaining that success while reloading at virtually every position.
“We’ll return four or five kids on both sides. We’ve already talked to them about what their roles could look like next year, and they’ll want to know what they need to do for the team. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us,” said Johnson, who was named Division I district Coach of the Year. “Our guys this year just kept it going, that steady progression and that hard work. They never stopped working. They were always resilient.”
Other than juniors Wyatt Buxton (QB), Chris Campbell (RB/DB), Nathan Dunfee (OL/DL) and Donovan Varney (LB/TE), the vast majority of North’s primary contributors were seniors.
Senior running back/linebackers Brennan Albertini and Sylvester Bockarie were particularly versatile. Albertini rushed for 605 yards and seven touchdowns on 112 carries, caught 13 passes for 78 yards, led the defense in tackles with 76 — along with three interceptions and a fumble recovery — and even completed three of six passes for 58 yards and two touchdowns after Buxton suffered a season-ending ankle injury.
Albertini was named league Defensive Player of the Year and first-team all-district.
Bockarie had 214 carries for 1,182 yards, both of which led the ground game, and five touchdowns, and recorded 45 tackles.
Senior Ty O’Hearn was the primary quarterback after Buxton went down. He was 27-of-58 for 208 yards with a touchdown and four interceptions and ran for 162 yards and two touchdowns on 41 carries.
Senior Coby Darlington caught 19 passes for 270 yards and three scores.
North started 2-0, defeating visiting Franklin Heights 17-0 on Aug. 28 before starting league play with a 24-7 win at Delaware on Sept. 4. After a 32-28 loss to Westerville South on Sept, 11, the Warriors rebounded with wins at Canal Winchester (21-7 on Sept. 18), at home over Big Walnut (20-17 on Sept. 25) and at Worthington Kilbourne (22-21 on Oct. 2).
“The (OCC realignment) definitely helped us out. The schedule we played gave us an opportunity to showcase our kids and the hard work they’d put in,” Johnson said. “People started noticing (the success). We had alumni coming out to practice. They were thrilled that Westerville North football was coming back, and really for the first time, all three Westerville schools were good at the same time.”
Seeded seventh in Division I, Region 3, the Warriors lost 34-3 to visiting and 10th-seeded New Albany in the first round Oct. 9. It was North’s first playoff game since 1999.
The Warriors played three more regular-season games, winning 28-12 at Central Crossing on Oct. 16 before home losses to Olentangy Orange (13-10 on Oct. 23) and Grove City (10-0 on Oct. 30).
Albertini, Bockarie and classmates Mitchell Gillam (OL/DL), T.J. Lomax (WR/LB) and Reuben Simiyu (OL/DL) were named first-team all-league. Campbell, Dunfee, O’Hearn and Varney were second-team all-league, senior Hunter Weigand (WR/DB) was special mention all-league and senior Xavier Dockery (WR/DB) was honorable mention all-league.
Simiyu was first-team all-district, and Bockarie was second-team all-district. Lomax was special mention, and Dunfee and Gillam were honorable mention.
“This will be Wyatt’s team next year,” Johnson said. “We’ll probably look at throwing some more and we’ll have to re-establish our run game.”
•Record: 6-4 overall
•OCC-Capital standings: Westerville South (5-0), Dublin Scioto and Westerville North (both 5-1), Big Walnut and Worthington Kilbourne (both 3-3), Canal Winchester (2-4), Franklin Heights (0-5), Delaware (0-6)
•Seniors lost: Brennan Albertini, Sylvester Bockarie, Evan Boyd, Coby Darlington, Herman Davis, Xavier Dockery, Joe Fernandez, Mitchell Gillam, T.J. Lomax, Leiris Manzi, Mohammad Nasser, Andrew Owusu, Ty O’Hearn, Austin Saggio, Reuben Simiyu and Hunter Weigand
•Key returnees: Wyatt Buxton, Chris Campbell, Nathan Dunfee, Tommy Lindsey, James McCreery and Donovan Varney