Olentangy Liberty coach Steve Hale has a pretty simple philosophy when it comes to the success or failure of his teams.
“You go out and get in competitive situations and put your kids in a situation to be successful and see how they respond,” Hale said. “This group has responded well over the years. This season will bring its challenges – much like last year did. We’ll see how they respond and learn from their mistakes.”
Historically speaking, the Patriots have responded well to adversity.
Liberty went 1-9 in its first year and hasn’t had a losing season since. If you’re scoring at home – it’s seven OCC titles, 10 playoff appearances, 13 winning seasons and 14 non-losing campaigns while amassing a 114-55 record in 15 years – all on Hale’s ledger.
“We had two really good runs,” Hale said. “We’ve got great kids that work really hard. We’ve got a team that’s fun to be around and whatever happens, we’re going to enjoy our experience with them.”
The Patriots finished 11-3 last year, won a second straight OCC Buckeye title with a 5-0 record and made it to the state final four for the second straight year.
They lose Johnny Wiseman, who was second team All-Ohio and a key player on both offense and defense.
The Patriots lose running Matt Webb (1,004 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns) and linemen Chase Bower and Nick Rosi on offense, but, with a roster numbering 100, have a lot back in the literal sense.
“We have a pretty large senior class – 33,” Hale said. “We’ve never had anything close to that. We’ve normally averaged somewhere around 22. I don’t know that there’s anything different other than the senior kids … they just like each other and they’re friends.”
Senior Mitchell Okuley has been a starter since midway through his sophomore year. He’ll have fellow seniors Mitchell Kershner, Jake Sincek and Grant Wilson to throw to again at receiver.
Sophomore Aidan Kenley is expected to carry the load in the backfield behind seniors Brady Kuhn and Alex Azusensis on the line.
“They’re different than … Matt was so big and thick,” Hale said. “These guys are a little more scatback type. So, that’ll change some things that we do a little bit.”
Senior Ben Roderick is on the team, but Hale wasn’t sure if he’d ever get cleared to play after suffering a season-ending knee injury in basketball last year. Roderick led the team with 41 catches for 551 yards and 14 touchdowns last year.
“I don’t know if he’ll ever play a down for us this year,” Hale said. “But, he’s been here too long. I like having him around. It’s good for him and it’s good for the guys.”
The Patriots have more to replace on defense, especially at the linebacker position with Edward Warinner, Skylar Wahlund, John Paolo and Dominic Nappi as well as linemen Matt Keene and Chris Osborne and defensive back Troy Oehler all lost to graduation.
But, they were strong and deep at linebacker last year. Nick Paolo is the top returner of the group, but Matthew Rohl (senior) saw significant time, too.
Senior Jaime Hessing returns at defensive end and Wilson and Corbin Parrish (junior) are back in the secondary.