LORAIN — Anthony Edwards and Tim Taylor were not even been born the last time Admiral King tasted a winning football season. None of the Admirals were.
Those days are lost memories of a bygone era — dusty reminders from past generations.
No one is trying to turn back the clock, said Edwards, the team’s outspoken offensive tackle.
“This isn’t about what we did years and years ago and trying to duplicate past success,” he said. “We see this as a blank slate. We know people want us to win, but they can’t expect us to win because we’ve been losing for 20-something years. So we have something to prove.”
Admiral King is proving itself as a formidable football program again. They closed out the 2006 season with a four-game winning streak — the longest stretch of success in 21 years, capped by a share of the Lake Erie League’s Erie Division championship — and have opened 2007 with an inspired 3-1 start.
For a program that’s long measured its success in baby steps, Admiral King has taken quantum leaps.
“A lot of what you’re seeing is the kids understanding what it takes to be a part of a football team and the kind of mentality and work ethic it takes to make a winning football team,” said fourth-year coach Mark Campo. “We’ve gained a lot of confidence and momentum. They realize that and want more of it.”
Following a 41-20 thrashing of Sandusky last week, the Admirals will turn their attention to Trinity tonight.
It hasn’t been an easy ride for Campo, who is 11-23 overall and 5-10 in division play.
When Campo was promoted from assistant to head coach in 2004, he took over a program that had skidded off the side of a mountain. That first year, the Admirals went 0-10, losing their games by an average margin of 21.9 points per game.
Campo began by immediately instituting a policy of professionalism from his players. If anyone wanted to slack off, they could walk away. He had no patience for non-believers.
By Year 2, according to senior safety Matt Toth, there weren’t enough sophomores to field a junior varsity team.
Still, there were signs of progress. The Admirals nearly doubled their offensive output per game and posted impressive wins over Shaw, Southview and Lakewood.
“When I was a freshman, I remember the attitude of the guys on varsity being totally different than it is today,” said Edwards. “It’s all business here. I think for a while, it wasn’t always taken seriously. I think there’s more of a sense of urgency and getting it done now.”
Admiral King lost five of its first six games in 2006, then, beginning with a shocker over Warrensville Heights, knocked off Bedford, Shaw and Southview to close the year.
“That was when we started to really see things were turning around here,” said Toth.
The signs are everywhere. The school, with significant help from the team’s booster club, built a state-of-the-art weight room, which has allowed the coaching staff to emphasize weight training that stretches beyond the football season.
That sense of excitement has spilled out into the stands at George Daniel Field.
Admiral King’s ascent has coincided with the development of a prolific rushing attack that has accounted for over 85 percent of the team’s 1,426 total yards of offense this year. The triumvirate of Tim Taylor (561 yards on 55 carries, 10.2 per carry, six touchdowns), Cameron Byrant (248 yards on 30 carries, three touchdowns) and Julius Rollins (273 yards on 38 carries, six touchdowns) has become the focal point of the offense.
“I’m a believer that you have to run the football in high school to be able to compete,” said Campo.
But while the tailback brigade gets much of the statistics, it’s Admiral King’s offensive line which has quietly become the team’s greatest strength. They’ve opened holes big enough for bulldozers, then sent greyhounds through them.
“We’ve been a running football team forever — that’s what we do,” said Edwards. “And we take pride in driving the football down the field. We like letting the defense know we’re the better team. In the trenches, that’s the jungle and we’re the dominant species.”
That emphasis on the ground game has made quarterback Terrance Atkinson almost an afterthought. But the transfer student from North Carolina, who has averaged just over 50 yards through the air over the first four games, hasn’t needed to press the passing attack.
“When you’ve averaging like 300 yards of rushing a game, why force it?” asked Taylor. “I’d rather run all day. We can pass. We just haven’t had to yet.”
That time though is soon coming with the schedule turning toward league play over the second half of the season.
With three more victories over their final six games, Admiral King could be in line for its first winning season since 1987, when the Admirals went 9-3. But Taylor didn’t seem particularly moved by that prospect.
“Our expectations are a little higher than that,” he said. “We want to compete year-in and year-out for the conference championship and put ourselves in position for the playoffs.”
Senior tight end Orlando Carter is hoping those days are beginning at Admiral King.
“We’re trying to build a name for King,” said Carter, who came out for football after a two-year absence. “We’re trying to bring back everything they built in the 60s and 80s. We want to turn it all around and start a dynasty of our own.”
Contact Pete Alpern at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.