After four years of underwhelming records, the Oberlin Phoenix hope to rise from the ashes under new head coach Mike Akers.
He replaces Garrett Mack, who departed after one season and a 4-6 finish to accept a spot on Oberlin College’s coaching staff. Since the end of the 2015 season, there have been four head coach changes at OHS, something Akers understands has led to some apprehension among his players.
Last year’s record was the team’s best since finishing 6-4 in 2012, which was followed by three consecutive 2-8 finishes.
The team finished 2-3 in the Patriot Athletic Conference Stripes division in 2016.
“If people keep telling you they’re going to be here, and then they’re not here, what are you going to think?” Akers asked. “These kids aren’t going to buy into someone again until they prove themselves. The summer has gone well for us and I’m ready to prove myself to these boys.”
A 28-year coaching and teaching career has included head coaching stints at Admiral King and Brookside as well as assistant jobs with Westlake and the new Lorain High School for Akers, where he worked as defensive coordinator in 2015 under former Oberlin High coach Dave McFarland.
This year’s offense will largely be a no-huddle attack called at the line of scrimmage by new starting quarterback Devan Yarber. The senior takes over for the departed David Payne III after operating as a dual threat rusher and receiver his first three years.
“It’s a big step for me becoming the starting quarterback,” said Yarber. “I think with coaches working on getting me together and working on passing, we should all be able to do some work.”
As Yarber was going over his new responsibilities, a group of his teammates gathered around to show their support for him as well as Akers and his staff.
“We have the coaches and we have the talent here,” said senior running back and linebacker Justin Noble. “Now we have to put the work in with practice to make it happen. There wasn’t enough focus on practice last year.”
“These coaches are doing a better job of coaching and not just yelling at us and making us run,” said Riley Horning, a sophomore linebacker.
“The other coaches were pretty young and didn’t have the experience like coach Akers,” said junior running back Ravon Eisom. “There’s definitely a better relationship with the coaches than last year.”
The team welcomes back six lettermen: Yarber, Noble, Eisom, Matthew Rasmussen, Aaron Arnold, and Jeremiah Austin.
Akers said turnout for the team is slightly down, but that could change quickly once the stigma of unsuccessful seasons is wiped away.
“You just have to find that good group of core kids first,” he said. “No one thinks they’re going to do anything, then all of the sudden they get on a roll and they win. That’s what we found at Lorain recently. Once you roll off a couple of big wins, you’ll see 10 new kids at practice wanting to play football.”
Oberlin begins its 2017 campaign Aug. 25 on the road at Vermilion.
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.