HENRIETTA TWP. — The Firelands Falcons head into the 2010 season with a detective's notebook full of questions.
Will the Falcons end their 18-game losing streak in the West Shore Conference? Can they end 17 yearsof frustration against top rival Vermilion in the season finale? Will they be able to turn things around with just nine returning lettermen and six returning starters?
When the dust clears nearly three months from now, Firelands will have its answers.
Listen to coach Todd Pooch talk about the season with WEOL's Jim Allen:
The Falcons will also have played their final game in the WSC and be the newest member of the Patriot Athletic Conference. Firelands and current WSC member Fairview will be making the move to the PAC, while Elyria Catholic and Lakewood are taking their places in the WSC.
But before Firelands can even begin to finish their final season in the WSC, they have a non-conference schedule to play. Two of those teams will be PAC rivals next year - Brookside in Week 1 and Keystone in Week 3.
"(The WSC schedule) is something we haven't even discussed," Firelands coach Todd Pooch said. "All our concentration in on Week 1, we're focusing on Brookside. We haven't looked ahead at the second game or third, let alone conference play."
It's probably a smart move by the third-year coach, as all Firelands' wins the last two seasons have come against non-conference opponents. The Falcons went 2-1 in 2008 and '09 before going 0-7 both seasons against league opponents.
"We'd like to get off to a strong start and get the kids' confidence up," Pooch said. "What we did the last two years is a good tribute to our kids. They were able to come out of two-a-days, work hard and get off to a good start.
"Last year, we were 2-1 and started conference play against Bay, who went on to win the conference championship, and they only beat us 6-0. We also played Rocky River tough the week after that."
Pooch expects big things out of his senior players, and believes they could be the key to the Falcons' success this season.
Two of the six returning starters are seniors - fullback and inside linebacker Brandon Filker and guard and defensive tackle Adam Amanse.
"We (seniors) want to make it more fun and be more laid back this year," Amanse said.
"We seem to get along better this year," Filker said. "Players were arguing in the huddles last year and we just didn't have that great team chemistry. We feel we've fixed that up and that we're playing together as a team."
The other four returning starters - all juniors - are running back and outside linebacker Nick Deichler, all-district safety and quarterback Kyle Smith, cornerback and wide receiver Cody Northeim and tight end and nose tackle Joe DeWitt.
The other returning lettermen are senior Matt Thompson (DB/WR), and juniors Jake Myers (OLB/QB) and Ian Davies (G/ILB). The squad will also be helped by several others who've played varsity football, including junior Joe Kudella, who was out all last season with an injury, and sophomore Zack Hofecker.
Another positive going into this season is that most of the players will be returning to the positions they played last season, unlike a year ago when Pooch had to switch several players to new positions after studying game film from the previous season.
"We had a lot of kids moving around," Pooch said. "This year, the coaches got to work with the kids and we knew which position best fit. We didn't have those moves. Kids aren't wasting time having to learn those new positions."
"Now we're just working on getting the techniques down, working on the little things," Amanse said. "We're able to learn faster because we're more comfortable with what we're doing."
While Pooch and his staff have not been talking about the WSC games on the schedule, the Falcons players are openly frustrated with losing to league opponents, especially top rival Vermilion. The Falcons haven't defeated a WSC team since a 24-19 win over Fairview on Sept. 29, 2007.
"This conference has been really tough because we play a lot bigger schools," Amanse said. "But we're going to come out a lot stronger than we have in the past. We've been growing as a team and you can expect a lot more out of this season."
But will it be enough to down Vermilion for the first time in 17 years?
"For it to actually be a rivalry, we're going to have to win some games," Filker said. "We want to do that and we want to prove some people wrong. We want to show them what we've got."
"We're going to take the season week by week," Amanse said. "But, obviously, when it gets to Vermilion, we definitely plan on going out with a win."
by Rona Proudfoot
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.