ELYRIA — When Open Door announced it was forming a football team three years ago, the goal was to be a full-fledged varsity program by 2013.
The Patriots have met their goal. This season they will be a full-fledged Ohio High School Athletic Association varsity team and a member of the newly created Division VII.
They kick off their season Friday night by hosting Lakeside Danbury at Midview High
The Patriots got a brief taste of varsity football in last season’s opening game when they traveled to Danbury. The experience of playing under the Friday night lights was memorable, as was the 63-28 defeat the Lakers put on the Patriots.
“I loved going under the lights last year,” said junior quarterback/defensive end Dan Stintsman, one of four players who have stuck with the program since its 0-8 start two seasons ago. “There’s no other feeling like it, looking up and seeing the field lit up like that. But I did not like getting our butts handed to us. So it’s definitely motivated me to bring some payback to (Danbury) this year.”
Open Door shook off that initial disappointment to win their next six games against junior varsity teams — the first six wins in program history. The Patriots finished the season 6-2 with an increase in numbers and high hopes for this season.
“I think the work ethic improved a lot from that first year,” said junior WR/CB Jacob Lowe, another of the four remaining juniors.
“After we lost our first-ever game, everybody just kind of lay down and accepted defeat. Last year, we got blown out pretty bad our first game, but nobody laid down and took it. We picked ourselves up and won the next six in a row. I think the work ethic improved and nobody was satisfied with defeat, and that mentality has carried over to this year.”
Head coach Ray Lowe, who’s been with the program since it began, cited a couple of reasons for his team’s sudden improvement.
“I believe two different things had a huge impact on our success last season — one of those was the schedule,” Lowe said. “In our first year, we were trying to fill games for the sake of having games. In our second season, we really tried to schedule games that we believed we could be competitive in.
“A second reason for our success was the simple fact that we had one year under our belt together as coaches and players.”
The Patriots return eight starters, including juniors Dennis Robinson and Zach Davis. Sophomores Cody Edwards, Tyler Haas, Caanan Sullivan and Clay Wright made big contributions last season.
The numbers are also growing. Open Door only had 14 players two seasons ago — 11 of which were freshmen. This season, 19 players are on board and that could grow to 23.
“We model our program after the Bible story of Gideon and his army of 300,” Lowe said.
“Our players, both those that played last year and those currently playing, completed a 30-day fast and prayer over the summer months. Basically, we asked our players,
coaches and parents to give up something (Facebook, ice cream, ESPN, etc.) for 30 days and to spend at least nine minutes every night at 9 p.m. in prayer.
“We prayed for each player by name, for the coaches and for God to provide us with those boys interested in playing. We started the program with 14, and this year we’re at 19. What an answered prayer.”
The players and coaches are excited to field a varsity schedule this season.
“I’ve waited a long time to play varsity, and I’m very much looking forward to it,” Stintsman said. “Our first year, we weren’t sure if we should get it or not and most of the players were still learning. Now we’re going out there to kill. We’re going to find whoever has the ball and put 11 helmets on him. We’re going to swarm the ball and knock people out. On offense, we’re going to tear it up and go all out with the spread attack.
“I want us to improve and become a team that people have to worry about — become a danger on offense and on defense.”
Coach Lowe knows it’s still a long road to go.
“We will still be considered a very young team,” he said. “However, our kids have
worked hard during the offseason to get themselves prepared. It’s going to be an exciting fall season for the students, families and faculty at Open Door.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.