There was a palpable sense of optimism hovering over the football practice fields at Westlake last week as the 2012 season officially began. The frustration of the 2011 season was nowhere to be found.
After a promising 3-1 start last season, things didn’t go as planned the rest of the way for the Demons. They lost five of their last six games, a number of those losses coming late in the game.
This year, head coach Mark Campo and his staff welcomed back a balanced group of Demons, with hopes of turning some of those tough losses into wins.
“We have a good mix of juniors and seniors,” said Campo, who begins his fourth season in charge of the Demons’ program. “We have a strong senior class and a pretty good junior class, and some of them played for us last year as sophomores. The ones who played junior varsity stuck with it and got better, so I like the mix we have.
“We have 16 sophomores included in our group of 54 guys out here total, so the rest are juniors and seniors. I’d like the sophomore group to be bigger, but it is what it is.”
Campo also likes the composition of the team position-wise.
“It doesn’t always happen that way,” Campo admitted. “We got lucky because it just sort of happened that way. Position wise, body frame wise, athleticism...we’re slotted at all 11 positions on both sides of the ball.
“And we have a little bit of depth, which is going to bode well for us down the road and make us better in practice,” he added.
It’s what’s up front that counts
As Campo started talking about his players, he started with his linemen.
On defense, a pair of juniors, Alex Busser and Adam Sandor, got valuable experience as sophomores last year. Busser, a tackle, comes into 2012 at 6-0, 240, while Sandor will man a defensive end slot at 6-3, 190.
Behind them, Campo has a pair of senior inside linebackers returning in Logan Paul (6-1, 190) and Danny Strodtbeck (5-11, 190).
On offense, Busser will man one of the tackle position along with fellow junior Bari Quinn, who comes in at 6-3, 245. Senior Danny Misencik (5-11, 235) will anchor the offensive line at center.
“Everybody knows that the games are won and lost on the line of scrimmage,” Campo said. “The only way you can get better is on the practice field.
“I think we’ve have people who we can put across from each other, create some competition and more experiences that they’re going to see on game night. I think that’s going to make us better.”
A changing of the guard
Gone via graduation are are skilled position players like running back Jonathan Brick, quarterback Phil Brusk and receivers Alex Massed and Kyle Perkins. But Campo feels he has talented players who “have been waiting in the wings” for their chance to contribute.
Taking over at quarterback is junior Kent Axcell (6-2, 180), who Campo said is having a strong camp so far. Paul and Strodtbeck will both have chances to carry the ball from the tailback spot, while senior wide receiver Bryan Mackenzie (6-2, 205) provides Axcell with a “big, physical” target, according to Campo.
Also getting his chance to contribute is senior Shawn Turk (6-0, 180). Campo said he would have more of a role on offense this year, plus he’ll be returning on defense at cornerback. Last year, Turk had four interceptions, returning one of those for a touchdown against Berea.
Big key: Time to get physical
“This team has done everything I’ve asked them to do in the weight room,” Campo said. “We’ve gotten stronger across the board, there’s no question about it. I told them today that it all comes down to how physical we’re going to play this game.
“If we play physical football, a lot of good things could happen. So at this point in our preparation, that’s the question. What level of physicality are we going to have as we play this game on Friday and as we practice out here among ourselves?
”If we get that piece of the puzzle, I’m going to be really excited,” he said.
No easy games in the SWC
Everybody knows how tough the Southwestern Conference is in football. Campo said it may get even tougher this season.
“I think the league is going to be extremely competitive across the board,” Campo said. “I don’t think anybody can look past any of these teams this season.
“Everybody’s going to talk about Avon Lake, Brecksville, Amherst and Olmsted Falls. They’re the ones people look at year in and year out just by past reputation and tradition. But I know North Olmsted is going to be better, and Berea got better last year and has a bunch of players coming back. Midpark has a new coach so they’ll be getting after it.
“I think the league from top to bottom is going to be strong, so we’re going to have to show up and play,” he added.