The Woodridge High School football team’s mantra of “Say it. Believe it. Know it." and the actions behind it have proven to be quite the effective visualization exercise.
“We start by setting goals, saying and learning our roles on the field and saying the game plan each week,” third-year head coach Jeff Decker said. “We learn to believe in the game plan, ourselves and our team during the season and each individual week. “Then, once we do those things and perform doing it on Friday nights, we know it to be true.”
In Peninsula, the proof is in the results. The Bulldogs (10-0, 7-0 Portage Trail Conference Metro Division) enter Friday’s Division IV Region 13 first-round home playoff game against Struthers having just completed their second straight perfect regular season.
Woodridge, a playoff qualifier each of the past five seasons, has dominated this fall and earned a sixth-place ranking in the final Associated Press state media poll of the season. Averaging 53 points per contest, the Bulldogs’ lopsided third-quarter lead against each of its 10 opponents has necessitated a running clock and mass substitutions. Similarly, the team’s starting defense has only surrendered four touchdowns.
The team’s average starting field position has been the opponent’s 48-yard line.
“Fast starts by the special teams’ unit and defense have given us great field position,” Decker said. “The offense has been putting points up early in games. Our balance on offense has allowed us to take whatever the opponent’s defense has given us on the ground or in the air.”
In the Bulldogs’ spread offense, junior quarterback Mason Lydic has completed 82-of-131 passes for 1,512 yards and 24 touchdowns. Senior receiver Sharif Howard has caught a team-best 35 passes for 661 yards and 10 scores. Senior King Sanders, the team’s top rusher, has gained 1,134 yards on the ground and scored 18 touchdowns.
Junior middle linebacker Spencer Robison has recorded a team-best 84 total tackles, two sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception in the Bulldogs’ 4-3 defensive scheme.
Decker recently discussed his team and its season thus far with WKYC. Read the Q&A below to learn more about the Bulldogs heading into the first round of the Ohio High School Athletic Association playoffs.
WKYC: What are three adjectives that describe your team and/or its play this season?
Decker: Fast. Physical. Balanced.
WKYC: What was the low point of your team’s season? What was learned from the experience?
Decker: We lost a starting safety and linebacker to injuries during games. It was clear that each would be out for multiple games. Our backups came in those weeks and did more than a solid job, and our defense continued to play as though nothing had happened. Our team knows if one guy goes down, the next guy in has worked just as hard, knows his job well and we will be able to keep doing what we do. Say it. Believe it. Know it.
WKYC: Who are your team's leaders? What does each bring to the team?
Decker: We have so many that it is tough to list them. That is really a strength of the team that, at any given time, one of 12 different guys might step up to lead in his own way - some with words, but most just with actions. We really don't have that many vocal leaders, but guys who just lead with their actions. For example, our starting running back King Sanders, quarterback Mason Lydic and wide receivers Sharif Howard and Jake Margroff - who are all either Player of the Year in the conference or first-team guys – all volunteer to help run the scout team against our defense. They recognize we get such a better look at an opponent’s best guys if they step in to do the job. Most of them also have a defensive role, and then switch to offense in practice when they need to. I don't think you'll find that on most teams.
WKYC: Who has been your team's unsung hero this season?
Decker: Our offensive and defensive linemen - Kyle Lamson, Dontae Craft, Kasey Kelleher, Austin Hindley, Brentyn Burden-Burns, Jaylin Clark and Hayden Gerdes. All have played tremendously, but of course, the skill guys get most of the accolades.
WKYC: What must happen for your team to be able to make a deep playoff run?
Decker: Stay healthy, continue to win the turnover battle - as we have won in every game this year - and continue to win the field position battle through defensive stops and special teams’ play. Our offense is so fast and potent with four guys having 10 touchdowns or more, I expect us to continue that.
WKYC: When the season is long over, what will you remember most about this year’s squad?
Decker: The family atmosphere they have created and the friendships they show on and off the field. On the field, their awesome desire to compete at such a high level as a team.
WKYC: Is there anything you’d like to add about this year’s team and/or its season?
Decker: My assistant coaching staff - Jeremy Maxa, Dennis Dever, Jeff Ladner, Isaac Williams, Scott Margroff Chip Hilling and Cam Hilling – is truly amazing. These guys work so hard not only creating a great game plan each week and making great calls and adjustments on game nights, but more importantly, being tremendous role models and counselors for these guys who are becoming young men right before our eyes.
For more Northeast Ohio high school sports news, scores, photos and videos, visit WKYC.com/hss.