Historic Toledo football programs enjoying renaissance in 2018

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    Waite's Javon Pratt has helped lead the Indians to their best start since 1989. They're 3-0 and face Lima Central Catholic on the road Saturday.

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  • Judging by the standards set around a century ago, it is difficult now to grasp how great the football programs once were at Toledo’s oldest high schools — Scott and Waite.

    Scott, which opened in 1913, won five mythical state championships from 1916-23 and was regarded as national champion in 1916, 1922, and 1923, as proclaimed by the National Sports News Service in the days before state polls and state playoffs.

    Waite, which opened in 1914, was considered the state and national champion in both 1924 and 1932, and also added mythical state titles in 1939 and 1945.

    For a half century (1914-1963), the two rivals squared off in legendary Thanksgiving Day games, some of which drew an excess of 20,000 spectators.

    Compared to that lofty history, what is happening on Collingwood Boulevard and Morrison Drive in 2018 is a bit watered down.

    But a deeper look reveals a significant time for both Scott’s Bulldogs and Waite’s Indians, who are each off to a 3-0 start to the season.

    Scott, which was picked in the preseason to finish last in the City League, opened with a 50-35 home win over Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard, followed with a 45-13 victory at Fostoria, and last Friday prevailed 24-21 at Southview.

    Waite, picked to finish fourth in the CL, started with a 20-12 triumph at Northview, beat visiting Maumee 21-6, and last Friday rallied for a thrilling 30-28 home win over East Side rival Clay with a touchdown on the final play of the game.

    Starting off 3-0 isn’t that big a deal at more high-profile programs. But at Scott and Waite, it has been rare.

    The last time a Scott team opened 3-0 was in 1986, when the Bulldogs started off 5-0 before losing at Dayton Dunbar. This came on the heels of Scott’s back-to-back City League Shoe Bowl championship seasons in 1984 and ‘85 under coach Johnny Hutton.

    As for Waite, its last 3-0 start came in 1989 when the Indians opened 4-0 before falling to Clay. That Waite team finished 7-3 overall and 5-1 in City League Blue Division play, but a loss to St. John’s cost them a trip to the Shoe Bowl.

    So, what has changed this season at these once iconic football havens?

    Two coaches — one twice the age of the other — have “driven” their players reach higher. They have found a way to pump life into their teams, creating discipline and instilling belief and confidence.

    “Do something about it”

    From left Scott High School football players Javon Johnson, Lawrence Kynard, head coach Mark Weaver, and Jamie Johnson have the Bulldogs off to their best start since 1986. They'll play at Akron Kenmore-Garfield on Saturday.
    From left Scott High School football players Javon Johnson, Lawrence Kynard, head coach Mark Weaver, and Jamie Johnson have the Bulldogs off to their best start since 1986. They'll play at Akron Kenmore-Garfield on Saturday.

    Mark Weaver, now 50, played on Scott’s 1986 team and was also on Hutton’s 1985 City championship team. He coached the Bulldogs’ freshman team in 2000, and returned as an assistant under Mike Daniels in 2013 before becoming head coach last year. In between, he coached the junior-high level Mid-City Bears.

    Weaver remembers the Bulldogs’ glory days under Hutton, with such talented teammates as Lance Price, Adoaf Harris, Roosevelt Nix, Robert Moody, and Abe Harrison.

    The one-time Scott receiver saw most of Scott’s seasons since 1986 bear little fruit, and it frustrated him.

    “This is my alma mater,” Weaver said. “I love this place. We wanted to bring it back, and I got tired of people talking about it and nobody doing anything about it. So I made the decision to try to do something about it.”

    After their 8-2 season of 2014, the Bulldogs plummeted. They were 1-9 in 2015, 0-10 in 2016, and in Weaver’s first season last year 1-9. That span included a 23-game losing streak.

    HIGHLIGHTS: Scott downs Southview to move to 3-0

    But there was light at the end of the tunnel as the players began to catch on. Although the 2017 Bulldogs lost nine games, three of them were by a combined six points.

    “This was actually more than I anticipated,” said Weaver, whose full-time occupation is as a truck driver for Heidelberg Distribution. “I had been coaching at a lower [youth football] level for a while, and I didn’t realize how much responsibility came with this.

    “Every once in a while it kind of shakes me. I just want to coach football, so I had to compartmentalize to make sure I could do the head coaching instead of just teaching football.”

    Weaver has relied on some of the basics he learned from Hutton.

    “He instilled discipline,” Weaver said. “We were a disciplined ball club. Coach Hutton always made sure we were on time. Preparation was in check. He made sure we were doing other things besides getting ready to play a game.”

    Whatever Weaver is saying, his players are listening.

    They have a solid chance to go 4-0 on Saturday when they travel to Akron Kenmore-Garfield, an 0-3 team that has been outscored 124-20 this season.

    “We’ve just put in the extra work and dedicated ourselves,” junior receiver/cornerback Jamie Johnson said. “We’re coming [together] as a family. We’re not falling apart like we used to. We’re going hard from the first quarter to the fourth quarter.

    “It was the extra practice, the weight room, and the studying. It gave us chemistry.”

    Johnson has six receptions for 232 yards and has scored three touchdowns. His senior brother, Javon Johnson, a receiver/linebacker, has 10 catches for 304 yards and two TDs. He also has 25 tackles on defense.

    Senior running back Perrion Jones has rushed 46 times for 503 yards and five TDs, and junior quarterback Darnell Thomas has passed for 553 yards.

    Defensively, 6-foot-4, 240-pound Lawrence Kynard, a two-way tackle, has 15 tackles, including eight for loss.

    “We’re just playing together,” Kynard said. “We have teamwork, and we don’t give up. That’s the key. We put in a lot of work in the off-season and our mentality changed.

    “We don’t give up any more. That’s what coach Weaver teaches us — don’t fold. Just keep going. We believe in him. We’re playing as a unit.”

    “Why not us?”

    Brian Lee, who turned 25 in June, is not much older than the players he coaches at Waite. Whatever he lacks in life experience and long-term football knowledge, he makes up for in pure, unbridled enthusiasm and a desire to help kids.

    Lee is just seven years removed from his days as a City League player at Start, where he earned Division I third-team All-Ohio honors as a linebacker in 2011.

    After a two-year career playing at Siena Heights, Lee became a high school assistant at Start under his former coach, Tyson Harder. When he applied for the Waite heading coaching post, he was aware of the Indians’ unique football feeder system.

    HIGHLIGHTS: Waite wins on last play to beat rival Clay

    The East Toledo Junior Football League currently has six elementary school teams that have stocked Waite’s high school program for the past seven decades.

    “There’s no reason they shouldn’t have a stable full of horses over here,” Lee said. “There’s plentiful talent over here. But the [high school] coaches have to go to their games. They’re here at our stadium on a Saturday or a Sunday.

    “This past weekend I was at their games, and all the kids embraced me. I made sure I was on both sidelines shaking hands, congratulating the kids and the coaches. It starts with your feeder system. You’ve got to make sure those kids want to play for you.”

    Lee, who obviously has looked to the long-term future, first had to assess the present upon his arrival. When he did, he saw the team had the talent to win, so his first question to his players was “Why not us?”

    Why couldn’t Waite compete and succeed like other programs?

    “When we first met I asked everybody, ‘What are your goals?’ Everybody’s goal was to just have a winning season and be City champs,” Lee said. “I looked at them and said, ‘You’re selling yourself short.’

    “Why can’t you push yourself to get to the state playoffs? Why can’t you be repeating City champs? Why can’t you be first-team All-Ohio? These kids never had goals outside of minor goals. So, I preached to them that the sky’s the limit over here. If you buy in and give me everything, I’ll give you everything. I will put you in a position to succeed.”

    Winning games takes talented athletes, and Waite has one of the City League’s best in speedy 5-6, 165-pound junior quarterback Javon Pratt, who has been instrumental in all three of the Indians’ victories thus far.

    Pratt has rushed 42 times for 404 yards and four touchdowns, while passing for six more TDs.

    “The offense we have is designed around me making plays,” Pratt said. “If my playmakers aren’t open, I’m able to use my feet as a weapon. Being able to throw or run, teams aren’t able to game-plan against you.”

    “Javon has that ‘it’ factor,” Lee said. “You never know when a play is over. It’s frustrating at times because you don’t want your players overextending plays and taking unnecessary hits.

    “But Javon’s an athlete. His older brothers were athletes. So it’s natural for him to be a leader and step up.”

    Last Friday, after Clay took a 28-24 lead with 1:20 remaining, Pratt took the ensuing kickoff 30 yards, ran twice, then completed three straight passes to 5-3 senior cousin Alex Boose. The last of them, a 12-yarder, gave Waite its 30-28 win on the game’s final play.

    “I’m glad to be part of this team and to have Coach Lee as the head coach,” said Boose, who has four TD catches this season. “The energy he brings is all around, and you feel good.

    “The confidence and energy he brings make a big difference. We believe in the ‘Why Not Us,’ big time. We feel like we can go 10-0 this year.”

    Other top contributors to Waite’s early success have been 6-5, 190-pound junior receiver/defensive end Marcus Hannah, 6-3, 280-pound two-way tackle Matt Broyles, senior safety Vincent Smith, junior linebacker Juan Delira, and junior defensive end Ryan Bishop.

    Lee, who drives school buses for Toledo Public Schools, is just three games into his head coaching career but seems to have an immediate expectation for excellence. Time will tell if he can make that happen.

    The Indians, who won their last three games of 2017 to finish 3-7, face a tough road test at Lima Central Catholic (3-0) on Saturday. The Thunderbirds are ranked No. 8 in the Division VI state poll.

    “We beat NLL teams and a TRAC team,” Lee said. “You take wins like that and your confidence grows. They think they can compete with anybody, no matter the jersey.”

    Contact Steve Junga at sjunga@theblade.com419-724-6461, or on Twitter @JungaBlade.