October 20, 2014

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High school football 2014: Westlake could be contender in SWC

Westlake quarterback Andris Balodis is tackled by a North Ridgeville linebacker last season. The junior will take over starting quarterback duties this year for the Demons. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

Westlake quarterback Andris Balodis is tackled by a North Ridgeville linebacker last season. The junior will take over starting quarterback duties this year for the Demons. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

Westlake coach Mark Campo just smiles.

He’s told after a Demons scrimmage that a lot of people are talking about his team, about Westlake again challenging for a Southwestern Conference crown, about running back Quan Hardy, about new quarterback Andris Balodis.

“Let’s just say that I’m excited to coach them,” he says coyly.

“As long as we get better each day, we’ll be in good shape,” he says, not quite reaching cliché Level 10 but getting close.

No coach would publicly admit, of course, that they’re confident in their team’s chances. But other coaches have taken notice: The Demons are big, skilled offensively and have a chance to upend the SWC tradition.

“We’re pretty confident,” said junior quarterback Andris Balodis, a varsity player in three sports as a sophomore who takes over for the departed Kent Axcell (and who will be featured in Thursday’s Chronicle-Telegram football preview section).

“We’ve been doing a lot of things during camp to perfect things and we’re improving.”

The Demons qualified for the Division II, Region 6 playoffs in 2012 on the strength of an 8-2 record and 6-1 record in the SWC, the only blemish coming against North Olmsted. Westlake couldn’t duplicate the feat last year, as close losses in winnable games vs. Olmsted Falls and Berea-Midpark doomed them, as did an imbalance at times on offense. (The Demons, though, did get revenge on North Olmsted, with a wild, 29-28 win that spanned two days.)

That imbalance should be rectified this year, as Balodis has shown signs of carrying the load on offense and is surrounded by veteran players. Balodis, one of the Demon baseball team’s best pitchers and point guard on the basketball team, has been successful at every level, including throwing 29 touchdowns on the Demons JV team a season ago.

He spelled Axcell last season in mopup duty, and this year has looked good throwing and running in Westlake’s shotgun/spread offense. He also has a pretty good backfield mate: Junior back Quan Hardy, who flashed brilliance at times last year, including a 300-yard, seven-touchdown performance against Rocky River on Oct. 11.

“Having Hardy helps when you can get him the ball all the time,” Balodis said. “When a defense focuses on him, and they will, I have more room to work.”

On the outside, they’re joined by Mark Schuler (6-3, 180 pounds) and Dillon Schneider (6-1, 170), two bigger targets, and Nick Moracz, Sal Russo and Logan Fisher (tight end), among others, inside. Justin Godfrey (6-2, 260) is the only underclassman on the offensive line, joining seniors and vets Cam Brown, Marko Jamsek, Justin Godfrey and Max Humphrey.

Brown also is a veteran along the Demons’ line, and Chad Bata (6-1, 205 pounds) has impressed from his linebacker spot. Campo has said one area his team needs to improve in is the linebacking corps, and specifically that unit’s pursuit to the ball. Campo also said the Demons have been working on their tackling skills as camp has gone on.

Berea-Midpark appears to be the conference favorite, with usual subjects Brecksville and Avon Lake providing challenges. If Westlake wants to crash the party, they’ll have to win close games, though the Demons will play host to both Berea-Midpark and Brecksville at Lou Duchez Field.

“Berea-Midpark is a team to be reckoned with,” Campo said. “Top to bottom, everyone’s going to come to play.”

Contact Joel Hammond at 329-7135 or hammond_joel@yahoo.com.

Westlake Demons

CONFERENCE: Southwestern Conference
2013 RECORD: 5-5 (2-4)
COACH: Mark Campo, sixth year
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 10
RETURNING STARTERS: 8 (4 offense/4 defense)
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 4
LAST TIME IN PLAYOFFS: 2012, lost to Madison in opening round
NUMBERS GAME: 2 — The Demons lost two games last year they probably should have won (vs. Olmsted Falls and
Berea-Midpark), which could have put them into the playoff picture for the second straight season.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Tailback Quan Hardy burst onto the scene as a sophomore last year, registering seven touchdowns vs. Rocky River and other big plays against Brecksville, Amherst and more. He missed time in camp with an injury, but if Hardy is healthy he provides the Demons with the offensive balance for which they’re looking.

SCHEDULE

Aug. 29 ………………………………………………..vs. North Ridgeville
Sept. 5 ……………………………………………………………………at Bay
Sept. 13 …………………………………………….vs. Youngstown East
Sept. 19 …………………………………………………at North Olmsted*
Sept. 26 …………………………………………………vs. Olmsted Falls*
Oct. 3 ………………………………………………………….at Avon Lake*
Oct. 10 ………………………………………………………at Rocky River
Oct. 17 ………………………………………………..vs. Berea-Midpark*
Oct. 24 …………………………………………………………..at Amherst*
Oct. 31 ………………………………………………………vs. Brecksville*
* Southwestern Conference game
All games at 7 p.m.

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