Last year around this time, the Olentangy Berlin football team was getting ready to start its first-ever season.
Once things got going, the Bears — a young group without a single senior and almost no varsity experience to speak of — learned on the fly. They took their lumps, finishing 1-9, but grew from Week 1 to Week 10.
They grew in the offseason, too.
“Last year, by the time we moved into our own building, met the players and had any sense of normalcy, the season had started,” Berlin coach Mark Nori said. “There is no question this offseason was much more productive, particularly in the weight room and with general team-building. Our kids did an excellent job with the transition.”
Playing without any experienced leaders had its challenges. Now, though, the Bears have plenty of them, including quarterback Jacob Moeller.
“Jacob’s biggest improvement has come in his understanding of what we want to do on offense,” Nori said. “Again, with very little preparation going into last season, Jacob has had an entire year along with an offseason under his belt. We expect his progress to have grown and his command of the offense to be better.”
Other key returners include senior Noah Dursik on the line, senior running back Johnny Spinner, junior tackle Cole Troyer and senior kicker Jacob Lewis.
“Noah will anchor our line at the center position,” Nori said. “He’s our only projected three-year letterwinner (he received one at Olentangy before making the move to Berlin). Johnny was the workhorse for us last year. He’s a hard runner and leads the team in just about every weightlifting stat we have.
“Cole will hold the blindside for Jacob,” the coach continued. “He had an incredible offseason and made great strides to solidify his position; and Jacob, nicknamed ‘The Cannon’ for his leg strength, is a very viable option for us on offense. He connected for a long of 49 yards last year.”
The Bears are experienced up front, so the ground game should be a strength, Nori said.
“As a former lineman, I’d like to think we can run the ball effectively,” he said. “Our offensive line has four returning starters and has really gelled as a group, both on and off the field. To continue to build, I think we need to be able to stretch the field vertically and find some playmakers at the receiver position.”
Returning standouts on the defensive side include senior linebackers Trevor Scott, Ethan Collins and Jake Hill.
“Trevor plays with a lot of energy and passion and has a nose for the football,” Nori said. “Ethan is a high-motor, high-energy guy that flies around the field and just loves to play and Jake anchors the D from his linebacker position. He is one of the true leaders of our defense … and our team.”
The whole defense is fast, Nori added. Now, with a better understanding of their assignments, good things could be on the horizon.
“Our defenders are fast readers and we fly to the ball,” the coach said. “It requires our players to be unselfish and play as a unit. After a year of learning how to play that way, I think our strength will be our experience and knowledge of what is begin asked of them. We need to execute on defense. Guys will be in the right positions to make plays, now it’s time to make them.”
The Bears open the season Aug. 30 against Briggs before hosting Canal Winchester and traveling to St. John’s Jesuit to round out the non-league schedule. They open OCC-Cardinal action against visiting Hayes Sept. 20. It’ll be their first chance to pick up a league win that eluded them in their inaugural season.
“I don’t think there are any secrets to picking up a league win,” Nori said. “It will come down to hard work and preparation — the same as any team we play. Our strength of schedule has to be one of the toughest in the state of Ohio. We look forward to that competition and becoming better each week.”