OBERLIN — If there’s any truth to the old phrase that “good things come in small packages,” then the big smile on third-year Oberlin coach Fred Howery’s face may tell the tale of the Phoenix football season.
Despite the fact he has just 32 players on his roster and his team is coming off a pair of winless seasons in the Patriot Athletic Conference, Howery has a feeling things are going to be just fine in Oberlin this fall.
“I’m very happy with what I’ve seen so far, and I’m looking forward to having a great season,” the coach said just before heading out on the practice field.
“Our numbers are down this year, but the kids have been busting their butts from the very first day in the weight room and on the field. That’s exciting. And it’s a very cerebral team this year. We already have our offense, defense and special teams in. Injuries could hurt (due to numbers), but we look to have a good season.”
For that to happen, Howery will need to count on his seniors to lead the way on what is a very young, but experienced squad. Jason Moore, who is being recruited by Division I colleges and was a first-team all-conference and all-county selection last season, returns at quarterback and defensive back.
He’ll get some help from fellow seniors Antonio Nicholson (OL/DL), Khalil Witworth (OL/LB), Khalif Townsell (RB/LB), Monte Young (LB) and junior Tyler Thomas (LB).
“We have a lot of positive people on this team, and I think that will play a big part in our success this year,” Witworth said. “Everything has been rolling along for us, so far. On both offense and defense, we seem to be clicking. Our numbers may be low, but because of that we all have each other’s back. We’re focused.”
“Our line has really stepped up,” he said. “They’ve been hitting the weight room hard and have become bigger and stronger. We’ve really tried to improve on the defensive side, and I think that will help us a lot. Our pass defense needs to be better this year, and I think it will be. We have a good mix of young guys and older leaders, so I think we’ll be solid this year.”
Sophomores Nick Pfeifer (OL/DL), Marvin Jackson (QB/DB) and Kenneth Twitty (OL/DL), all of whom saw extensive varsity action a year ago, will need to play larger roles this year.
“All three of those guys will be starting, after lettering last year, so we’re going to have to count on our underclassmen quite a bit to help us get through the season,” he said.
One area in which Howery is particularly confident is with his coaching staff. Last season he was able to make changes and put his stamp on the staff, and now he’s is comfortable moving forward with the rebuild.
“This is our second full season with this coaching staff, and that’s a plus,” he said. “The staff my first season, we just didn’t vibe. It wasn’t a staff that I was able to go out and get. This staff, we’re all on the same page.
“And the kids are very receptive to the coaches, and are listening and working with them real well. Some of the issues we’ve had in the past have gone away. We had a lot of issues with discipline last year, but that’s disappeared. And that’s been a good thing to help the team’s overall morale.”
What should also help is a schedule that features seven home dates, four to start the season. And gone are the long road trips to McDonald and the Columbus area, replaced by much shorter bus rides to Firelands, Lutheran West and Fairview.
“That’s a big break for us right there, having seven home games this year,” Howery said. “And our first four are at home. I don’t know how that happened, but I’ll take it. That will be good for us. We’ll go out and prepare for every game, and we expect to be in more ballgames this year. We’re on the right track and moving in the right direction.”
Contact John McDermott at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• CONFERENCE: Patriot Athletic Conference, Stripes Division
• 2011 RECORD: 2-8, 0-7
• COACH: Fred Howery, 3rd year (2-18)
• RETURNING LETTERMEN: 10
• RETURNING STARTERS: 13 (6 offense, 7 defense)
• FAST FACT: With last year’s wins coming at Lutheran East and at Richmond Heights, it’s been a while since the Phoenix have won a game at home. But with seven home games this season, Oberlin should have a good chance to impress its fans.
Aug. 24 Lutheran East
Aug. 31 Vermilion
Sept. 7 Richmond Hts.
Sept. 14 Brookside*
Sept. 21 at Firelands*
Sept. 28 Columbia*
Oct. 5 Clearview*
Oct. 12 at Fairview*
Oct. 19 at Lutheran West*
Oct. 26 Brooklyn*
All games at 7 p.m.