Sitting at 7-2 and in control of the No. 8 seed in Division I, Region 1, North Olmsted only had to beat rival Olmsted Falls, a team in the midst of a forgettable eight-loss season. But the Bulldogs just reinforced the theory that anything is possible in a rivalry game when they upset their nemesis 17-7 and opened the door for Mayfield to leapfrog North Olmsted into the playoffs.
“It pretty much meant everything,” said senior offensive lineman Beau Bilinsky. “That’s what kept our whole team together in the offseason. When we went though our workouts and all of our conditioning in the offseason, that’s what you referred back to: that sick feeling in your stomach. We were so close to it and let it slip through our grasp.”
With 19 returning lettermen and 10 returning starters, North Olmsted won’t quickly forget what happened last year.
Most of those starters return on the offensive side, highlighted by a wealth of experience at quarterback with three-year starter Brad Novak. Novak is a duel-threat, with 1,590 yards and 14 touchdowns through the air and 1,511 yards on the ground in his career. He led North Olmsted in both passing and rushing touchdowns last season and is getting looks at from a number of Ivy League schools.
“I’m very impressed with our senior leadership,” said coach Tim Brediger, who takes over after spending 14 seasons with the program, the last nine as defensive coordinator. “We have a core group of four seniors that have started three years. They’re our captains, they’re all great kids, all high character kids and high GPA kids. They’ve set the tone for practice thus far, both our summer workouts and during the last couple of days. They have high expectations as our senior class.”
Protecting Novak will be an offensive line that returns four starters. Bilinsky anchors the protection as a captain and three-year starter. He and Jeff Rotheram are both getting looks from MAC schools.
“As an offensive line you act as a unit,” Bilinsky said. “Being together on the varsity field for over a year now is definitely crucial. When you know the guy next to you knows his assignment and you know you know yours you can get stuff done a lot more efficiently.”
Novak will have a familiar target when the Eagles look to stretch the field in senior Brandon Dickey. He also plays defensive back and has accumulated 55 tackles, five interceptions and six pass break ups in his career.
“Me and Brandon Dickey have been friends since second or third grade,” Novak said. “We’ve been out in the front yard throwing the ball to each other since we were really young. You can’t replace that chemistry, there’s no way around it.”
Defense is where the Eagles will need others to step into new roles, though the unit returns a three-year starter at linebacker in Luke Janik and Bilinksy also plays defensive tackle. North Olmsted will have to fill six of the other nine spots with key reserves from 2012.
“We’ve got a new coaching staff and they know a lot of good stuff,” Janik said. “They’re taking guys who haven’t been in normal positions usually and filling them in right where they need to be and showing them how it’s done.”
The coaching staff plans to switch the base defense up from the 50 to a 3-3-5 set, though Janik said the team still plans to showcase the 50 in certain situations. The senior thinks the switch will help the team stop the run more effectively.
“We’ll probably be a little more attacking with our blitz packages than we have in the past,” Brediger said. “Maybe be a little more aggressive up front and take a little more risks.”
Brediger may be in uncharted territory as a first-year head coach, but he’s hardly unfamiliar with the situation. In addition to his time as an assistant, the coach graduated from North Olmsted in 1994. He was an All-District selection in football, an All-Ohio selection in baseball and also played basketball for the Eagles.
“The biggest thing that I’m ready for is just to get the season started,” he said. “I’m excited to just get back to football, to get out of the paperwork and back to the football part.”