WESTLAKE — Success results in expectations. In 2013, the Southwestern Conference will find out if Westlake can handle that simple truth.
Last season, the Demons won nine games and advanced to the OHSAA playoffs for the first time since 1989. With plenty of firepower back on offense, and a defense that is short on varsity experience but long on effort, Westlake expects to make a second straight trip to the postseason.
Coach Mark Campo knows, however, that last season’s success does not give this year’s squad an advantage when it kicks off the season at North Ridgeville on Friday.
“Last year’s team showed us what it takes to be successful, but last year is over,” Campo said. “What they were able to do last year doesn’t mean we’re going to be successful this season. We have to practice hard and improve every week. We have a good starting point, but are not where we have to be if we want to be a factor at the end of the season. We have to keep working.”
Senior quarterback Kent Axcell returns to lead a Westlake offense that is balanced. Axcell is a dual threat when he has the ball, as he proved in the playoffs last season when he rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown against Mansfield Madison.
“He’s everything you could want in a quarterback. He’s smart, he puts us in the right plays, has a strong arm and makes all the throws,” Campo said. “If the play breaks down he can get loose with his legs and hurt you that way. He has great speed and is very athletic.”
The Demons will give three different running backs, all with unique strengths, significant carries — senior Mason Makulinski, sophomore Jaquan Hardy and junior Mike Fikter.
“We will have a running back by committee with those three,” Campo said. “They all have their own different abilities. Mason has good speed, but he’s a physical runner that’s very strong. Jaquan is only a sophomore, but he has a ton of athletic ability and he’s a smart runner.
“Fikter is kind of a combination of both. He runs hard and can break the long one, but he’s also punishing between the tackles. He also doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.”
The Demons’ top receiving threat, senior Emmett Rodgers, will be sidelined until early in the season with an injured right forearm.
“Emmett should be back for conference play, and that’s going to be a big boost for us,” Campo said. “He’s probably the best athlete on the team. When he runs and jumps he’s really explosive. He makes a lot of plays on both sides of the ball.”
Rodgers looks forward to getting back on the field. He thinks he should be able to get open due to the Westlake offensive line — a big, experienced group.
“We have a big line with a lot of strong guys, and I think we’re going to do good with this line because they will protect the quarterback,” Rodgers said. “They’re all really close to each other, hang out with each other and are great friends.”
Defensively, the Demons have a load of experience on its front seven, but are waiting to see how the secondary progresses.
“We have a lot of seniors in the secondary, just not a lot of varsity experience,” Campo said. “With Kent (Axcell) at safety, I think our secondary will be good. Kent can play centerfield for us back there and will roam sideline to sideline making plays. He has a lot of experience.”
One thing is certain, the Demons will not catch anyone sleeping this season. Westlake served notice on the SWC last year, tying Avon Lake for a share of the league title. This season, Campo expects a dog fight week after week.
“This is an incredible conference and I don’t have any one particular game circled on the calendar,” he said. “Each week, our coaching staff will have to figure out, through what we do on the practice field and what we see on film, what kind of a gameplan we’ll need if we hope to be successful that week.”
Senior tight end Adam Sandor knows teams will be gunning for the Demons. However, he wanted to point out it goes both ways.
“The SWC is awake and aware of us now,” he said. “They’re going to be gunning for us since we beat everyone last year, but we’re gunning for them, too. We want another playoff spot and the SWC better be ready.”
Senior offensive tackle Quinn Bari agreed.
“There is no slowing down now,” he said. “I have heard teams talk about how they’re gunning for us, but they better realize we’re gunning for them. We’ve worked too hard to let anyone take anything from us.”
Contact Mike Perry at (440) 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.