The Delaware Hayes football team started last season 4-0 and wasn’t officially knocked out of playoff contention until Week 10 … and that’s after a late-summer coaching change.
This fall, thanks to a productive offseason and more familiarity with the coaching staff, the Pacers look to take another step forward.
“Our players want to have a successful program and (last year) they grew to understand the work that has to go in to get there,” Hayes coach Scott Wetzel said. “It will not just happen on its own.”
And the players have been practicing as such … with purpose.
“One of my biggest pet peeves is wasted time at practice,” Wetzel said. “We don’t practice a ton. Two hours after school is it, so I tell them to give it their all, go hard and get after it … and they do. They understand the terminology now — they get what we’re trying to do — so practices are just more fine-tuned I’d say.”
More efficient practices should translate to some success, but Wetzel said his team’s main focus this offseason was to become more of a family.
“We do an overnight practice — practice under the lights, have dinner together and spend the night at the school — it’s what I call fellowship time,” Wetzel said. “I really believe when you trust and care about the people around you you’re gonna play harder. Give me 11 guys that care about each other over 11 guys that are maybe a little more athletic, but don’t get along as well all day long.
“We’re just trying to get everyone on the same page and believe in each other.”
One person the team already believes in quite a bit is junior quarterback Blake Eiland. He’ll be running the show again after completing 92 of his 152 passes for 1,080 yards and six touchdowns last fall. He also rushed for nearly 1,000 yards (955) and seven touchdowns.
“Blake is a great player and even better person,” Wetzel said. “The kids play harder when he’s around. He spreads the wealth and never looks to take credit for anything. Blake understands he doesn’t have to win the game for us. He’s so athletic, but is also such a coachable kid.”
Other key returners on the offensive side of the ball include senior tight end Nabil Abdus-salaam (16 catches for 290 yards and three TDs in 2018), senior running back Jahi Broussard-Nash (92 carries for 618 yards and seven scores) and offensive linemen Dylan Seiler, Max Bruney, Zach Pokorny and Gavin Kenney.
“The linemen have been working really hard,” Wetzel said. “I want them to be athletes — and they like when I call them that. I want them to be able to move, so we’ve worked a lot on their speed and footwork.”
The defense returns some experience as well, with lineman Everett Beach, defensive backs Ethan Hazelton, Addison Harvey and Orion Ward and linebackers Sebastian Meehan, Jacob Hunsaker and Kaleb Shaw all back.
“We have to be better tacklers, but the guys have a better understanding of scheme and player responsibility,” Wetzel said of his defense. “Our linebackers are probably the strength. All three started most of last year and all three, really a lot of the guys on defense and the team in general, are pretty fast.
“You need some anchors on the line to stuff the run, but everyone else needs to be able to get to the ball, and we have a lot of guys who can do that.”
Hayes’ schedule looks a lot like last year’s. The Pacers open the season against visiting Buckeye Valley Aug. 30 before a trip to Marysville (Sept. 6). They host Westland after that (Sept. 13) and travel to Olentangy Berlin (Sept. 27) to smooth out the non-conference slate.
Then, it’s on to the always-competitive OCC-Cardinal Division.
“The league is solid from top to bottom,” Wetzel said. “The Hilliards and Dublins seem to be the front runners.”
Hayes gets Dublin Scioto at home Sept. 27 and Jerome Oct. 11 in Dublin. It wraps up the season against Hilliard Darby (away) and Hilliard Bradley (home) in Week 9 and 10, respectively.