OBERLIN — Michael Law wasn’t totally sure what to expect when he made the move down the road from Oberlin College to become the new head football coach of a Phoenix team coming off a 2-8 season.
So far he has been pleased with what he’s seen.
“I wasn’t sure what was in the cupboard, so to speak, when I got here,” said Law, who was an assistant coach at Oberlin College, his alma mater, before replacing Fred Howery. “We’ve got some really good football players here. There is really a lot of talent on this team.”
The Phoenix will have new looks on both sides of the football this year. Law will ditch last year’s spread, wing –T hybrid offense in favor of a pro-style offense that will incorporate facets of the spread offense. According to Law, defense coordinator Bill Roniger, who was the offensive coordinator last season, has installed a new 3-4 scheme. While the Phoenix return the majority of its starters from 2013, many of them assumed new positions in the offseason.
“We want to make the offense and defense manageable for two-way players because we’re going to have a lot of guys playing on both sides of the ball,” Law said. “It’s more important to run a handful of plays on a high level and put our kids in positions when they can excel on Friday night. If we can do that we’re going to be in good position this season.”
Seniors Spencer Pauley and Marvin Jackson III are battling to be the starting quarterback. Whoever wins the job will have the benefit of one of the biggest and most experienced offensive lines in the Patriot Athletic Conference, led by seniors Nicholas Pfeifer and Kennith Twitty Jr.
“We’ve been working with each other, most of us, since freshman and sophomore year and there is a strong bond and chemistry among the guys up from,” the 5-foot-11, 325-pound Twitty Jr. said. “In all honesty, with a new coach there is going to be a transition period but this is a veteran team and there’s a bunch of seniors in that locker room who have been working for this year their entire life.
“I’m not saying we’re going to go 10-0, but we’re definitely going to turn some heads this year.”
The presence of veterans like Twitty Jr. and Pfeifer has allowed the Phoenix to move past rebuilding and march full-steam ahead into the new season.
“We have a strong presence of upperclassmen who have put in a lot of work, played varsity football last year and have brought a lot of leadership in this season,” Law said. “This is an energetic team that likes to have fun but understands when work needs to be done.”
With seven home games on this year’s schedule, Oberlin has a chance to see a huge increase in the win column. The Phoenix open the year with non-conference home games against Lutheran East, Brookside and Richmond Heights, and four of its first five opponents are also coming off losing seasons.
“The entire atmosphere around the team on the field, in the locker room and in the weight room is different this year,” Pfeifer said. “It’s a very exciting time for all of us. We’re playing a different tempo this year, like we’ve found a new energy. This team has a very bright future in front of it, we’re going to win some football games this year.”
Another of Law’s points of emphasis going into the year was to install a renewed sense of discipline into the Oberlin program.
Much like that new offense and defense, he feels the installation has gone as well, if not better, than expected.
“With any high school team if you’re well-disciplined, you’re going to have success,” Law said. “If you can take coaching every day and keep a great attitude and give great effort, you’re going to be ready to win on Friday night. I thought we would have to have a total cultural overhaul here but I have been extremely pleased, these kids have been like sponges. They want to do the right things and do them the right way, they just need to be shown what the right way is sometimes.”
Oberlin has only finished higher than fourth in the Stripes Division once in the history of the PAC, dating back to 2005. While Law said the team’s success won’t be solely on wins and losses, his players, especially the seniors, are ready to shake up the league standings.
“Oberlin’s always been the underdog so we feel like we’ve got something to prove this year,” Twitty Jr. said.
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CONFERENCE: Patriot Athletic Conference, Stripes Division.
2013 RECORD: 2-8 (1-6)
COACH: Michael Law, 1st year.
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 25
RETURNING STARTERS: 16
LAST TIME IN PLAYOFFS: 1985
NUMBERS GAME: 7 … Number of home games the Phoenix will play this season, two of which will be played on the campus of Oberlin College.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Kennith Twitty Jr. The 5-foot-11, 325-pound senior will be a force on both sides of the line of scrimmage for the Phoenix this year.
Aug. 29 Lutheran East
Sept. 5 Brookside
Sept. 12 Richmond Heights
Sept. 19 at Buckeye*
Sept. 26 Firelands*
Oct. 3 at Lutheran West*
Oct. 10 Columbia* (at Oberlin College)
Oct. 17 Clearview* (at Oberlin College)
Oct. 24 at Fairview*
Oct. 31 Brooklyn*
All games at 7 p.m.
* Patriot Athletic Conference game