The growth of the Olentangy Berlin football team has been impressive to watch over the course of the last six seasons … on and off the field.
On it, the Bears just continue to get better, most recently winning their first OCC-Cardinal Division championship last season.
“Each year we set our goals to a high standard and, being a relatively new program, I think it meant a lot to the team, the seniors and the program to put ourselves on the map with an OCC title,” Berlin coach Mark Nori said. “We feel we have a very strong, well-coached division, and to be competitive in it is always an uphill battle.”
Off the field, the growth has been pretty impressive, too.
“We’ve gone from no seniors and 42 players in year one to over 120 players going into year six,” Nori said.
The Bears just keep getting better and, this year, that is again the goal. Nori knows it takes depth, so developing that was a focus over the offseason.
“Our focus over the summer was to continue to develop and strengthen our players with the goal of growing depth on both sides of the ball,” Nori said. “In order to do that, we felt our strength and conditioning program would be better focused on developing all-around athletes, helping us to find guys in spots we may not normally have found.
“I think our weight staff did a tremendous job.”
Offensively, Berlin returns plenty of playmakers, including a familiar face behind center in second-team all-state quarterback Harrison Brewster, who already has two years of starting experience under his belt.
After passing for 756 yards as a sophomore, Brewster nearly doubled that total a season ago, throwing for 1,493 yards and 11 touchdowns.
He also ran for over 1,000 yards last season, scoring 12 touchdowns on the ground.
All-district running back Mason Ziegler is also back, as is all-district receiver Aaron Nebraska. Receivers Joe Beaumier, Josh Gavin and Dylan Robertson will also contribute while all-league performer Dom Giannetto will anchor the offensive line.
“We have some guys returning at receiver and the backfield positions, and are counting on their experience to lead the way offensively,” Nori said. “We haven’t changed much on the offensive side of the ball in terms of what we do … we’ll continue to run one- and two-back sets and be as balanced as possible.”
Defensively, key pieces include all-league linebacker Aiden Eviston, defensive backs Angelo Johnson, Bennett Arend and Casen Ward, linebacker Peyton Yonce and lineman Ahmed Tounkara. Gavin, Giannetto and Robertson could also contribute on that side of the ball.
“Our defense will look similar to what we’ve done in the past,” Nori said. “We are primarily a three-down front and we like to be aggressive with our linebackers.”
The versatility of the unit will be important, too.
“Since we see a variety of offenses, how we attack will be dependent on who we play each week,” Nori said. “Each offense requires us to be a little but different defensively depending on what they’ve shown and what they do.”
Oh, and the Bears return a pretty good weapon in first-team all-state kicker Spencer Conrad.
“He’s a huge weapon for us,” Nori said. “He handles all our kicking duties, works tirelessly on his craft and continues to get better each day.”
Berlin is set to get things started Friday against host Hilliard Bradley. The Bears travel to Lewis Center to take on Orange in Week 2 before smoothing out the non-league portion of the schedule with Dublin Scioto, Olentangy Liberty and Hilliard Davidson.
After that, Berlin will turn its attention to the defense of its league title. The Bears open league play at home against Olentangy on Sept. 22.
“Starting with Bradley in Week 1 and Orange in Week 2, both on the road, our schedule is pretty demanding every week … and the competition is tough,” Nori said. “We don’t boast many D-I players, so we focus on our strength being the fiber of our team.”
(8-4, 4-1 OCC Cardinal)
Aug. 19 — vs. Hilliard Bradley, L, 31-28
Aug. 26 — vs. Olentangy Orange, W, 17-0
Sept. 2 — @ Dublin Scioto, W, 10-7
Sept. 9 — vs. Olentangy Liberty, L, 21-17
Sept. 16 — @ Hilliard Davidson, W, 23-14
Sept. 23 — @ Olentangy, W, 38-0
Sept. 30 — vs. Hilliard Darby, W, 31-28
Oct. 7 — @ Dublin Jerome, L, 17-7
Oct. 14 — vs. Marysville, W, 24-10
Oct. 21 — @ Thomas Worthington, W, 42-24
Oct. 28 — vs. Delaware Hayes, W, 42-24 (OHSAA Division I playoffs)
Nov. 4 — @ Perrysburg, L, 24-8 (OHSAA Division I playoffs)
Aug. 18 — @ Hilliard Bradley, 7 p.m.
Aug. 25 — @ Olentangy Orange, 7 p.m.
Sept. 1 — vs. Dublin Scioto, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 — @ Olentangy Liberty, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 — vs. Hilliard Davidson, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 — vs. Olentangy, 7 p.m.
Sept. 29 — @ Hilliard Darby, 7 p.m.
Oct. 6 — vs. Dublin Jerome, 7 p.m.
Oct. 13 — @ Marysville, 7 p.m.
Oct. 20 — vs. Thomas Worthington, 7 p.m.