The leaders of the Anthony Wayne football team believe that a family that plays together, stays together.
The Generals employed that close-knit mentality to pull off a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback win over Rogers in the season opener last week. Anthony Wayne trailed by 11 with eight minutes remaining, but quarterback Alex Keyer hit tight end Tyler Schultz for the game-winning score with just over a minute left lifting the Generals to a 25-24 win over the Rams.
You could feel the tension in the air and in the crowd, but we never lost our composure, said Keyer, a senior three-year starter. We just stuck together. Our motto is that we are a family. We always stay together. It really feels like we are a family in that locker room. That s just how we play.
Keyer said he and his teammates will hold a weekly players meeting prior to facing another solid City League team in Clay tonight at home.
We go around the room and each individual tells the team what their responsibilities are, senior linebacker Matt McVicker said. Each person knows their job and what they need to do.
Junior running back Nate Sherman, who rushed for 118 yards on 22 carries and scored three touchdowns last Friday, agreed.
It s a big family, Sherman said. Before the game we meet after school as a team. Each person is held accountable. We look each other in the eyes.
The Generals beat Clay 35-28 last season and started out 2-0 before losing four straight. But AW finished out the season with four wins in a row, outscoring Springfield, Perrysburg, Bowling Green and Maumee 143-35.
We ended last year very strongly, said coach Craig Smith. And we have a lot of good kids back.
Eight return on a defense led by McVicker and defensive end Robert Edwards.
It s the chemistry we built last year, McVicker said. We won four straight games to end the year. That brought us together as a young defense and gave us hope for the future.
Smith and company hope that family bond helps AW win its first NLL title since 1989. Yet the Generals have won more league games than any other NLL team except Southview in the last seven years and have finished second in the league five times.
I feel like we keep kicking on the door, said Smith, who enters his 10th season. Eventually it s going to come through. Everyone is aware [of the NLL drought]. But we are so proud of where our program is at. We re just hoping we get a break. We don t worry about it. When you re that close for so many years it s bound to happen.
Keyer, who threw for 1,066 yards and eight touchdowns last season, said he has the utmost confidence that the 21 returning letter winners have the ability to end the drought.
We want to do it for everyone in this community and this program, our coaches and each other, Keyer said.
Schultz said Keyer has the vocal leadership to win the NLL title.
We are aware of it, Schultz said. This is the year we re going to do it. I have that confidence.
Schultz and Aaron Keyer, Alex s sophomore brother, have been the primary receivers.
While Smith s teams have traditionally focused on establishing the run, he said that with Keyer s arm and experience he expects his team to be more balanced.
We re trying to be more versatile, he said.
Yet his wing-T style offense allows Smith to spread the carries around and he had two backs rush for over 100 yards in the opener.
Sherman takes over for two runners who ranked among the top 10 in the league in rushing. Shawn Parks rushed for 100 yards on 17 carries in his varsity debut last week.
We wanted to run the ball hard, Keyer said. We made a couple big plays in the passing game, but mostly we stuck with the run game.
Perhaps Smith s biggest weapon is senior kicker Travis Baltz, who has verbally committed to play at the University of Maryland. Baltz s longest field goal came from 47 yards. Baltz, an All-Blade and all-district performer in 2005, averaged 41.5 yards per punt last season and routinely sends kickoffs into the end zone.
He s absolutely outstanding, Smith said. We re so lucky to have him.
Baltz said he decided to commit early to Maryland so that he could focus on his senior season, which also includes soccer.
I just kick the ball, Baltz said. I give my teammates all the credit. They do all the work and win the games. I want to help any way I can.
After a tough non-league schedule, which includes Central Catholic next week, the Generals open NLL play against Rossford. AW, which was picked to finish third, then takes on preseason favorites Southview and Northview.
Everyone wants it really bad this year, McVicker said. We ll be ready to go for the league championship.
Contact Mark Monroe at: email@example.com or 419-724-6110.