It’s not how you start, but how you finish.
You’ve heard that one more than a few times before, right? Well, the Olentangy football team certainly gave it some credence last season. The Braves lost four of their first five games, including close calls in the opener against Hilliard Darby (17-14) and a Week 4 showdown with Dublin Coffman (22-16).
Then, as if they just flipped a switch at the start of league play, they finished 4-1 in the final five games, earning a share of the OCC-Buckeye championship and a trip to the Division II playoffs.
Olentangy coach Mark Solis said the school district’s realignment had something to do with the early-season struggles — something his team won’t have to deal with this time around.
“Losing 35 players (to Olentangy Berlin) played a role in our slow start,” he said. “It caused a lack of depth and forced us to play more guys on both sides of the ball. Most of those losses, frankly, we should’ve won … too many mistakes.”
That said, building depth was a priority in the offseason.
“We developed players and made conditioning a point of emphasis,” Solis said. “We had a very good offseason.”
Olentangy played two different quarterbacks last season. Connor Haag got most of the reps, and finished with quite a stat line. He completed 150 of his 220 passes for 1,832 yards and 17 touchdowns … all while throwing just two interceptions.
Trent Maddox played some as well, and was solid while he was in, completing 50 of his 74 passes for 577 yards, three touchdowns and two pics.
With Haag lost to graduation, it’s Maddox’s show this time around.
“Trent started a few games last year,” Solis said. “He has varsity experience and has had a very good preseason.”
Other returners on offense include Toby Wilson and Jason Feasel on the line, Ethan Hand at tight end and Jace Middleton and Jake Coleman at receiver. Coleman had 21 grabs for 315 yards and Middleton collected 13 receptions for 159 yards last fall.
“Toby and Jason had great offseasons, Ethan is a returning starter who is very physical and Jace and Jake are both big-play threats,” Solis said. “We have some key skilled personnel who can do well this fall.”
Hand, Feasel and Middleton will hear their names called on defense more than a few times as well. Hand, who had 66 tackles, two tackles for loss and a team-best five sacks last season, will line up at defensive end, Middleton (one interception in 2018) will play in the secondary and Feasel will join Hand on the line.
Linebackers Mitch Grubb (42 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery last season), Nick Boyarko (14 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery), Landon Johnson (74 tackles, three tackles for loss and a fumble recovery) and Zach Kershner (67 tackles and three pass breakups) are also back.
“We will be very fundamentally strong on defense,” Solis said. “We’ve emphasized improving as tacklers.”
The Braves open the season Aug. 30 against host Hilliard Darby before smoothing out the non-league slate with games against visiting Miamisburg (Sept. 6), host Springfield (Sept. 13), visiting Dublin Coffman (Sept. 20) and host New Albany (Sept. 27). After that, it’s on to the always-competitive OCC-Buckeye where rivals Olentangy Orange and Olentangy Liberty — the two teams Olentangy shared the league title with last year — await.
“We expect to very competitive this year,” Solis said. “Our goals never change … win Week 1, win the conference, earn a playoff berth.”