Building a program from scratch is never easy.
Building a program from scratch over the last five years, specifically, has made the task even harder. For the Olentangy Berlin football team, though, the work never stops.
“We continue to grow as a program that is going into year five after a relatively turbulent first four years,” Berlin coach Mark Nori said, pointing out the fact the program didn’t have any seniors in its first year and Covid-19 impacted another two all while the school ballooned from 700 to 1,600 students. “So, who we are is ever-changing. We do feel that our schemes can fit whatever type of player we have, so we are not trying to fit a square peg into a round hole every year.”
Two things you can only gain from time and playing, depth and experience, are coming along nicely, Nori said.
“We feel good about our depth at the skilled positions since our junior class is coming along nicely and adding a lot of competition to our roster,” he said. “Our ‘Ultimate Skilled’ guys (offensive and defensive lines) are senior heavy, so we have a high expectation from them. We need to work on finding guys that will lead our team. We feel we have a good, solid core of players, but continue to search for those who stand out and lead.”
The guys at the top of that list heading into 2022 include Harrison Brewster (quarterback/defensive back), Justin Henry (offensive line/defensive line), J.T. Tompkins (linebacker), Kyle Jackowski (running back/linebacker), Spencer Conrad (kicker) and Josh Riley (offensive line/defensive line). Brewster and Conrad are juniors. The others are seniors.
“Harrison is one of those guys who allows us to do multiple things on both sides of the ball,” Nori said of his all-league, all-district and all-state honoree. “He’s a talented athlete who I look to continue to grow as a football player.
“Justin has transformed his play in the weight room and J.T. fought through some injuries late in the season, but we expect him to be a force for us inside. Kyle is a workhorse in the weight room and brings a fearless style of play on defense, Spencer has been a continuous worker at perfecting his trade — he is constantly working to get better and has been ranked nationally as a kicker through some of the camps he’s attended — and Josh was a starter for us last year until suffering a season-ending injury. We look forward to his return on the O-line.”
Other players Nori expects to contribute in major ways include Joe Beaumier (wide receiver/defensive back), Zach Caudill (fullback/linebacker), Max Bihler (center/linebacker), Keegan Chapin (offensive line/defensive line), Austin Watt (offensive line/defensive line), Austin Lambert (offensive line/defensive line), Gavin Bull (offensive line/defensive line), Mason Ziegler (running back/linebacker), Max Loeffler (wide receiver/defensive back), Josh Gavin (wide receiver/defensive back), Evan Fabrizio (linebacker/fullback), Aaron Nebraska (wide receiver/defensive back), Dylan Robertson (linebacker/wide receiver) and Caden Sutton (linebacker).
Caudill, Bihler and Chapin are all returning staters.
“As our numbers continue to increase, competition continues to grow, and through that competition, we hope to push some of the veterans while developing the younger guys,” Nori said. “Assessing the success of this is difficult at this time, but as a staff, we have seen a great deal of buy-in from our players and we are excited to see what they do on the field.”
The Bears open the season Aug. 19 against visiting Hilliard Bradley. After that, they smooth out the non-league portion of their schedule with Dublin Scioto, Olentangy Liberty and Hilliard Davidson. They open league play against Olentangy Sept. 23 in Lewis Center and take on Marysville, the defending OCC-Cardinal champs, at home Oct. 14.
“Find a team on our schedule that is not a worthy opponent,” Nori said. “Find one without great players, coaches, or a great history that you don’t have to be concerned with every week. It may be the toughest conference in Ohio week in and week out.
“We are much like Big East basketball in that we beat each other up every week to better ourselves positionally for the end of the season. To be competitive we have to work every week. We really need to strive to be great on every play because the slightest mishap could cost you games. That’s how good this conference is.”