The start of a new era doesn’t mean doing away with what already worked.
The Oberlin Phoenix have posted 2-8 records for three consecutive seasons since going 6-4 in 2012. New head coach Garrett Mack hopes returning upperclassmen as well as new faces will be able to lead the team back to prominence.
“We’re bringing a lot of skilled kids into new systems and a new culture on both sides of the ball,” said Mack. “It’s a new atmosphere with an emphasis on spreading the ball around to our playmakers. We’re bring back a fast defensive line and linebackers along with secondary that’s ready to make plays. This is a football team that’s here for a purpose and we’re heading in the right direction.”
Defensively, the Phoenix are focusing on stopping the run and using their defensive team speed to make plays, he said. It will be a 4-2-5 defense that puts the defensive line and secondary at the forefront.
“Getting into the opponent’s backfield is always our goal. We have a great linebacking rotation too that presents no drop off from what we had before,” Mack said.
The Phoenix’s roster has grown to 43 players this season — 10 more than in 2015.
Oberlin will try to replace the departed Elijah Bugg’s production on offense. He was named to All-State, All-County, All-District, and All-Conference teams in 2015.
“This will be a spread offense that focuses on getting the ball to our running backs. We have a platoon of good backs and about seven receivers with great skill. There’s no drop off between those seven guys,” Mack said. “The skill of our quarterback allows us even more to put defenses in uncomfortable positions.”
Senior David Payne III will return under center for Oberlin after an impressive 2015 season. Mack said he’s hoping to allow his signal caller more comfort in the pocket while also finding better spots for him to use his legs and stretch the defense.
“He really grasps the offense and steps up in a leadership role. He’s doing a great job,” said Mack, who expects Payne, Journey Toole, and Devan Yarber to be his foundation on offense while Matt Rasmussen and Najjeed Besarus hold things together in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
“Rasmussen is anchoring our offensive and defensive lines right now,” he said. “He worked really hard in the offseason. Devon (Yarber) is making plays in the backfield and in the secondary. Besarus plays the line on both sides of the ball and continues to step up into his role. Journey Toole is our tight end and defensive end. He is someone that we’re leaning on big time.”
Oberlin will travel to New London Aug. 26 to kick off the 2016 season.
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.
File photo New head coach Garrett Back inherits a Phoenix team that has gone 6-24 since 2013. He hopes returning upperclassmen will help lead the way back to success.