Southwestern Conference football preview
By Ryan Kaczmarski and Joe Ostrica
The 2012 season was one to remember for the Westlake High School football team. The Demons finished with a regular season record of 9-1, earning a share of the Southwestern Conference title (with Avon Lake, the school’s first SWC championship since 1984) and hosted the first round of the OHSAA Division II playoffs (the school’s first playoff appearance since 1989).
The Demons are filling holes in many key areas left by graduation this season, but fifth-year head coach Mark Campo feels his offensive and defensive lines will allow the new players in skill positions to blossom.
“The players have a great work ethic,” Campo said. “Everyone has spent a lot of time in the weight room preparing for this season.”
One key returning letterman from last season is senior quarterback Kent Axcell. Standing at 6 feet, two inches, and weighing 190 pounds, Axcell will be difficult for opposing defenses to bring down, and also is a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks as he patrols the defensive backfield at free safety.
Other key returners for Westlake include seniors James Bailey (center), Alex Busser (offensive/defensive lineman), Adam Sandor (tight end/ defensive end), Emmette Rogers (wide receiver/cornerback) and Quinn Bari (offensive/defensive tackle); and juniors Mason Makulinski (running back/linebacker) and Billy Dreher (punter/offensive guard/defensive tackle).
Some key newcomers to varsity this season are senior Paul Angola (running back/linebacker); and juniors Chad Bata (linebacker/offensive tackle), Dillon Schneider (wide receiver/defensive back) and Cameron Brown (offensive tackle/defensive end).
Campo feels the SWC is wide open this season.
“Everyone in our league has a chance to win games,” he said. “It is one of the toughests conferences in the state of Ohio.”
Under the guidance of new head coach Larry Laird, who takes over for legendary coach Dave Dlugosz, the Avon Lake High School football team still expects to be a force to deal with in the SWC. Under Dlugosz’s guidance the previous 21 seasons, the Shoremen won 18 SWC titles, including 15 in the last 16 years. He guided the Shoremen to a state title in 2003 and a runner-up spot in 2004.
Laird expects the Shoremen, who went 8-3 last season, to beat out Brecksville and Berea-Midpark for the league crown this year.
“We had a great offseason in the weight room to improve our physicality,” Laird said. “we have 12 starters coming back and 16 lettermen back. We have a lot of experience, but we are a little short on depth.”
The Shoremen will be led by key returners David Winkel at quarterback, Collin Lucas at running back, Kyle Kuhar at tight end, offensive lineman Ben Oxley, running back Wyatt Ohm and wide receiver Max Seipel. Oxley has already committed to play at Northwestern. Kuhar will play at Ohio University next year.
Linemen Grant Davis and Sam McKinley and quarterback and defensive back Jeremiah Campo are expected to be key newcomers for Avon Lake.
The North Olmsted High School program also has someone new at the helm, with former Eagle and longtime assistant coach Tim Brediger taking over at head coach with former head coach Mike Ptacek moving up to the athletic director’s position.
Brediger takes over a North Olmsted program on the rise, as the Eagles have improved over the last three seasons, finishing 4-6 in 2010, 5-5 in 2011 and 7-3 in 2012.
“We lost six starters on defense, plus some key backups (from last season),” he said. “However, there is some great competition for positions.
“Offensively, we return four starters on the line, our tight end, a three-year starter at quarterback and two experienced wide receivers.”
The key returning lettermen include seniors Brad Novak (quarterback/defensive back), Luke Janik (linebacker/running back), Beau Bilinsky (offensive/defensive line), Brandon Dickey (wide receiver/defensive back), Joey Keleman (tight end/linebacker), Jeff Rotheram (offensive lineman) and Andrew Bukala (offensive lineman); and juniors Matt Starkovic (defensive back/wide receiver) and Benny Kurcsak (defensive back/running back).
“We have four, three-year starters returning,” Brediger said. “Captains Novak, Bilinsky, Dickey and Janik are all great leaders and high-character student-athletes.”
Some key newcomers to varsity this season are seniors Chris Lewis (full back/linebacker), Jacob Servidio (defensive back/wide receiver) and Eric Herman (tight end/linebacker); and junior Jacob Jones (full back/linebacker).
With a new coaching staff and philosophy, the Eagles could have come into this season in disarray, but Brediger said this is not the case.
“The team went to a three-day overnight camp at Ohio Wesleyan University during the last week of July,” he said. “It was a great experience for all of us as a team-building trip.
“Also, we have hired four coaches from Olmsted Falls, who were part of the former Bulldogs’ long-standing staff,” he added. “Their experience and professionalism has made a huge impact already.”
The Olmsted Falls High School football program went outside the family when hiring someone to fill the shoes of recently retired longtime head coach Jim Ryan, plucking Tom DeLuca from Campo’s Westlake defensive staff.
DeLuca has the task of turning around a program that went from a playoff team in 2011, to a team that finished 2-8 in 2012, but he does have the comfort of having 22 seniors on this year’s roster.
“As a new coach with a new system, I feel we are in a unique situation,” he said. “Some of the obvious questions that every coach has were answered after the first scrimmage. I think every coach how their team will react to adversity, but we won’t know that until we find ourselves in a tough situation.
The goals for this season are to return to the top of the SWC and to make a playoff appearance.
“Our captains are Mike Hasinger (wide receiver/free safety) and Jack Grimm (defensive tackle/offensive guard),” DeLuca said. “These two players lead by example, with great work ethic and they are very coachable.
“We must continue to move forward in learning the new schemes, becoming consistent from week to week and we have to stay healthy.”