While the atmosphere at the Firelands Falcons’ football practice was fast-paced and hard-hitting Aug. 4, songs such as Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Rain” blared over the field and created a strange sense of serenity.
A 7-3 record in 2016 was enough to earn the Falcons a third place finish in the Patriot Athletic Conference Stars division. The team missed out on a playoff spot but secured one in 2015 with an 8-2 mark.
Now they head into the fall under first-time varsity head coach Ryan O’Rourke. Former coach Mike Passerrello departed to lead the Amherst Comets in January after six years in the position.
O’Rourke, 26, previously worked as junior varsity head coach at Baldwin Wallace University and as an assistant for Amherst Steele. As a senior quarterback at Avon High School in 2008, he won the Lorain County Golden Helmet Award and earned All-Ohio first-team honors.
“As far as the attitude of the players, they understand what it takes to have a successful season, those 8-2 years,” O’Rourke said. “We want to come in as a new staff and raise those expectations. We want to raise the standard of how this team plays and how it approaches things on a day-to-day basis.”
“We have a ‘be 1-0’ mentality,” he said. “That means to be 1-0 today. We just focus on today. There’s a schedule coming up where we know we play great opponents, but you can’t be thinking about week six in the middle of August.”
Five offensive and six defensive starters from 2016 are gone, but the team welcomes back 18 lettermen. Senior Nick Denney will again be a big part of the running attack after racking up 792 yards and averaging 7.5 yards per attempt in PAC play last year.
Denney and senior tight end Luke Peterson said the Falcons opponents could see a more balanced offensive attack this year compared to the past few seasons.
“We’re all just hustling and doing our one-eleventh,” said Peterson. “We know we have the talent it’s just a matter of bringing it every game.”
The team will attempt to leapfrog Buckeye and Black River in the division. O’Rourke said that might take “bringing in more of an attitude” than what’s been present in past campaigns.
“There’s 16 seniors here with us,” he said. “We want to play fast and play angry. We respect the teams we play, but we’re on the same pedestal as them. We’re competing for the same things they are.”
Defensively, the team will generally stick with a 4-2-5 front but on the offensive side will end up giving opponents a multitude of looks.
“We’re going to line up where our players give us the best chance to make a play at that time,” said O’Rourke. “The motto I learned at Avon was ‘players first.’ You get them into the right formations and then you worry about plays.”
“We want to build off what we’ve already done to make our team better,” he said. “There’s always things to add, though. There’s better offensive and defensive plays out there to make you a more winning program.”
The Falcons begin their 2017 campaign Aug. 25 on the road in Milan against Edison High School.
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.