Winning takes skill, but it also takes will … and belief and all kinds of other intangibles.
They’re what take the longest to build, especially within a program that’s only three years old. Over the course of the last handful of seasons, though, signs of those intangibles are starting to seep onto the field for the Olentangy Berlin football team.
After winning just one game in year one, the Bears have made back-to-back postseason appearances, most recently winning a pair of playoff games — 47-7 over visiting Whitehall-Yearling and 48-40 over host Wooster — before falling to Westerville South in a Division II, Region 7 quarterfinal last fall.
“We are still a relatively new program, so I think instilling the belief in our kids that we are becoming more established and can compete with the teams on a very tough schedule is something we are still learning how to do,” Berlin coach Mark Nori said. “Our win at Wooster last year was something I refer to a lot with the team as it was one of the few times in a young program that they came out with a belief they can win … and they played like it.”
A handful of standouts from last year’s squad are back, too, including right tackle Jon Harder, wide receiver/defensive back Bennett Lawrence and nose guard Austin Burchinal.
“Jon has several D-I offers (Cincinnati, Toledo and Ball State among others), Bennett is athletic and versatile and we can utilize him at many skill positions and Austin is a gap filler who is a workhorse for us on the defensive line,” Nori said.
Other key returners include Nick Tiberio (running back), Gavin Angell (running back/outside linebacker), Connor Gavin (wide receiver/defensive back), Kyle Jackowski (linebacker/running back), JT Tompkins (linebacker/fullback), Trey Keith (outside linebacker/running back), Bryce Young (center/defensive line), Jason Harris (wide receiver) and Colin Pethtel (wide receiver/defensive back).
“Nick is a returning starter and we’re expecting a big step for him this year,” Nori said. “Gavin (a D-I lacrosse commit) is a great athlete who can play multiple skill positions, Connor puts himself in positions to make plays, Kyle is athletic and can cover a lot of ground, JT is a tough linebacker who flies around and makes plays, Trey can cause defenses some issues because he’s shifty and smart, Bryce is a three-year starter at center, Jason looks to win some time at receiver and Colin looks to solidify himself as a viable offensive weapon as well.”
Then there’s Dylan Reyes and Harrison Brewster — guys who are competing for the starting quarterback job.
“They’re both smart, athletic kids who will look to fill the shoes of Jacob Moeller,” Nori said.
Moeller, now at Walsh University, was the starting quarterback for each of Berlin’s first three seasons.
Berlin has taken some serious strides over its brief history … strides made possible primarily by hard work. This year’s group, Nori said, has been willing to work, too.
“At this point, our work ethic has been very good,” he said. “Our guys enjoy being around one another and putting the time and effort into being successful. Practices, so far, have been crisp and efficient, so I think they understand how to practice with a purpose.”
His Bears will need that purpose to compete with a loaded schedule. The non-league slate alone includes DeSales, Olentangy Orange, Dublin Scioto, Olentangy Liberty and Lancaster. Liberty made it to a D-I regional semifinal while DeSales got all the way to the state title game in Division III.
“We have to bring our ‘A’ game each and every week as I believe we play a very tough schedule,” Nori said. “We’ll be facing teams with multiple D-I recruits who are extremely well-coached and have experience at winning. We are in the phase of developing what they already have, so being prepared both mentally and physically each week will be a major focus for us.”