If Mark Solis was looking for leadership when he took over at Lorain, it didn't take long to find someone to provide it.
"This kid epitomizes what a student-athlete means," Solis said of Matt Cox, the 6-foot-2, 240-pound senior letterman. "He's No. 1 in his class. He's very organized and transcends what leadership is all about. He never missed a lifting session during the offseason. That speaks for itself."
Cox figures to play a huge role on both sides of the ball for the Titans this year and he's pretty honest in his self-appraisal.
"I missed one," Cox said of the offseason weight-lifting sessions.
The task for Solis, Cox and the Titans won't be an easy one. In the school's first year of consolidation, the growing pains were evident.
Lorain won its first game of the year against Midview but struggled to a disappointing 2-8 season. When Solis became available, it didn't take long to bring him over from Twinsburg. He was in the building by February.
"We haven't had a lot of success in football," Cox said. "Coach is preparing us for the season. He's got me excited. He's got the community excited. There's been a lot of people just out to watch us practice."
The first thing Solis did was revamp the fieldhouse at George Daniel Stadium. He brought in new weight room equipment and traded off some of the older stuff. He reconfigured the space inside to allow expanded film watching. He got more kids involved.
"We had to change the culture," Solis said. "It's been a pretty negative culture. It's easy to say they should win because you've merged two high schools, but people don't understand how hard it is. They really don't understand there's really not a whole lot of tradition here when it comes to football. That's not a knock on anybody previously. It is what it is."
Solis knows the history.
Admiral King and Southview combined to go 4-16 the year before the merger. Until King's previous two years under Mark Campo, no Lorain school - including the old Lorain High - had back-to-back winning seasons since 1987 when Admiral King completed a pretty good six-year run that included the city's lone playoff appearance in 1984.
"He's brought more discipline to the program," Cox said of Solis. "Attitude is everything and he made an impression on us right away. We have a lot of new kids out this year. I think that's great. He's preparing us well for the season."
"We have a lot of work to do just from a technique standpoint," said Solis. "We've got to clean some things up. We've been filming practice and watching the film with the kids. They're getting better. The kids are buying in."
Cox has certainly helped just by example.
"I don't think a kid is destined to be No. 1 in the classroom," Solis said of Cox's prowess. "He understands preparation and hard work. He gets it. He's being recruited by the Ivy League schools and the military academies. He certainly can play football. How he prepares in the classroom transcends to the field.
"We've got an offensive line. We've got some guys who can move extremely well. We can control the line of scrimmage."
Cox has the work ethic Solis wants throughout the team.
"I didn't even know that," Cox said of having the top grade-point average. "I just want to lead by example. I want to help the younger guys and take them under my wing - help whenever they need it."
Cox will be Lorain's left tackle and line up at defensive end as well. He prefers the offensive side "where I can knock people back," he says.
"His personality is very good," Solis said. "He's a quiet young man. I call him a quiet storm. He loves working hard and just getting better. He's the kind of kid that makes your job easier."
Lorain plays in the Lake Erie League, one of Ohio's oldest conferences and considered one of the most competitive in the state. What used to be two divisions is down to one nine-team league, but the week-in and week-out schedule is a bear. Maple Heights is defending
Division II state champion.
"We have to come out of the gate," said Solis. "I think we can compete with anyone we play. We're a lot better than we were when I started back on Feb. 14. We're not going to know where we're at until Week 1 but I like what we're doing."
Lorain opens with Midview, Parma and Avon before starting the LEL schedule with Cleveland Heights.
"I'm looking forward to the season," Cox said. "I think it's going to be a fun year."
It could be a new day for Lorain football.
Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or email@example.com.
"His personality is very good. He's a quiet young man. I call him a quiet storm. He loves working hard and just getting better. He's the kind of kid that makes your job easier."
Lorain coach Mark Solis, on senior Matt Cox