Whitehall-Yearling: Rams ready for 'reset' after challenging season

Frank DiRenna
ThisWeek group
Melvin Scott and the Whitehall-Yearling football team finished 1-6 with a 47-7 loss at Olentangy Berlin in a Division II, Region 7 first-round playoff game Oct. 9. Coach Rod Lightfoot said the Rams "have to get in the weight room and start over."

Coming off six consecutive winning seasons, Whitehall-Yearling football coach Rod Lightfoot wasn’t prepared for what his team endured this fall.

After a 1-1 start, the Rams lost their fifth consecutive game when they fell at Olentangy Berlin 47-7 in a Division II, Region 7 first-round playoff game Oct. 9.

The 22nd-seeded Rams finished 1-6 overall, while the 11th-seeded Bears improved to 4-3 and will visit sixth-seeded Wooster in the second round Friday, Oct. 16.

Lightfoot, who guided Whitehall to postseason appearances in 2016, 2017 and 2018, pointed to a limited preseason because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic as a reason behind his team’s struggles.

“We knew we were going to have some struggles and some challenges this year, COVID aside,” he said. “A lot of those issues we address in the offseason in the weight room in what we’re doing as far as preparing our kids technique-wise. We didn’t have that opportunity, to where we could really focus on individual issues before we go down on the field and start working as a team.”

While teams have the option to schedule additional regular-season games once they’ve been eliminated from the postseason, Lightfoot said the Rams won’t continue playing.

“When we’re finished with this tournament play, we’re done,” he said. “We need to get in the weight room. We haven’t been in there since March. We have to get in the weight room and start over, hit the reset button and get ready for next year. We’re just so far behind right now.

“Our culture starts in the weight room and not being there for the last six months is really affecting our kids’ approach to the game.”

Whitehall last had a losing season in 2012 when it finished 3-7, followed by a 5-5 record in 2013 before starting its streak of six consecutive winning seasons.

After beating Grandview 22-14 on Sept. 4, the Rams were outscored 189-63 during the five-game losing streak.

The Rams lost to visiting Harvest Prep 52-14 on Oct. 2 to finish 1-4 in the MSL-Ohio Division. 

Sophomore Elijah Hughes completed 15 of 26 passes for 150 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions to lead Whitehall. Hughes’ touchdown pass was a 60-yard connection with Taron Biles-Walker.

Despite his team’s struggles, Lightfoot said the emergence of Hughes at quarterback was a bright spot

“We wanted Elijah to step up and take ownership,” Lightfoot said. “The way things have played out here the last couple of weeks, he realized that he can be the guy taking the snaps and directing what we’re doing offensively (over the next two seasons).”

Junior tackle Omarion Marshall — who played the sport briefly beginning in third grade but is in his first season at the high school level — said their losing record has left the Rams motivated to work hard during the offseason.

“It’s very disappointing,” Marshall said. “Obviously, we want more wins and to get more recognition. We want to go out there and show our talent. Next year we’ll come prepared and do better.”

Lightfoot said Marshall quickly became a key player for the Rams despite his lack of experience and will be counted on to provide leadership next season.

Junior tight end and linebacker Dauvion Henderson also expects the team to rebound next fall.

“We definitely need to work a little bit harder on and off the field,” Henderson said. “We didn’t have any weightlifting (in the offseason). We were barely able to practice until a little bit before the season started. Everything was conditioning. We put on pads for about a week before our first game. …This is definitely motivation to get in during the offseason and work hard and hopefully turn this around.”

Boys soccer team

earns key league win

The boys soccer team continued its solid play as the Division I postseason nears, defeating Worthington Christian 3-1 on Oct. 3 behind two goals from Jesus Alcauter-Yanez and one from Ebrima Jorbateh.

Goalie Edwin Gutierrez made several key saves for the Warriors and finished with eight.

Whitehall was 7-2 overall and 2-2 in the MSL-Ohio before playing Bexley on Oct. 10. The Rams closed the regular season Oct. 14 against Buckeye Valley heading into the district tournament, which begins Tuesday, Oct. 20. The tournament draw was held Oct. 11.

Before playing Bexley, Whitehall had outscored opponents 17-7.

“As a team, we’ve done a good job of overcoming adversity this season and feel confident moving forward as we prepare for the tournament,” coach Geral Leka said. “The experience on this team has paid off during this season and it’s shown with some key victories.”

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekFrank