Andover Football Expects an Uphill Battle
The varsity Barons team of 21 is using size and numbers as a rallying cry in 2011 season.
Jim DeWald, head football coach at Andover, knows he has an uphill battle.
“There’s no question when Andover is on people’s schedule, they look at it as a win,” DeWald said. “We understand that, our kids understand that. There aren’t a lot of people who believe in us.”
The Barons don’t have the size and speed of their rivals and they face a numbers disadvantage. They are one of the smallest varsity teams in the area with 21 players.
“Teams are bigger than us, they have more people than us,” DeWald said. “On a piece of paper we can’t win a game, but games aren’t played on paper.”
Andover is coming off a 1-8 season with no wins in the Oakland Activities Association Blue division. The school’s football program has fallen a long way from its regional final appearance in 2004.
Despite reasons for pessimism, none could be found among the players at one of their initial practices.
DeWald likened his player’s attitudes to the movie “300” where 300 Spartan warriors fought an army of thousands in the Battle of Thermopylae. They are taking an 'us versus them' approach and using the disadvantage as a rallying cry.
“We are 21 strong — it’s just us,” DeWald said.
Getting In Gear…
Andover players don't expect to rest during games this season. Low numbers on the varsity team mean a lot of two-way starters.
“With 21 on varsity we have guys who don’t come off the field,” DeWald said.
Conditioning has been one of the coaching staff’s bigger focuses from the end of last year into the start of this season. DeWald needs players to be in great shape so they don’t tire at the end of games.
Seniors helped the coaches by making sure younger players participated in the offseason conditioning programs.
Offensive and defensive lineman Tony Litzenburg said the Barons were bigger and stronger at the start of fall practice than the previous two years. The senior is one of five returning starters on the offensive line.
The intensity of practices amped up as well. Drills are high-tempo and players get very little down time between repetitions. DeWald said he wants practices to be faster than Andover’s actual games.
“I don’t think any team in the OAA has worked harder than we have,” senior quarterback Winston Urwiller said.
Last year the Barons were one of the youngest teams in the OAA Blue, this year it will be one of the most experienced. The roster features a large group of returning starters including 10 on offense and five on defense.
“We aren’t starting from square one this year,” DeWald said.
It was also the offense’s first year running a a spread-veer system. DeWald switched to the triple-option (three players may run the ball) that is a more effective ball control offense. Colleges like Army and Navy run it.
The inexperience in the system led to a lot of mistakes and quick possessions. That put the defense at a huge disadvantage because they didn’t leave the field and opposing teams started with great field position.
Everyone now is more familiar with the offense.
“I definitely trust the offense this year to give us some time off and to set us up with better field position,” senior linebacker Mark Andonian said.
One of the offense’s goals this season is to have at least four drives with 10 or more plays every game.
"It’s been a lot easier,” Urwiller said. “I feel a lot more comfortable, which helps me with everything. Helps me not think as much and just go out there and play. It makes it a lot easier to tell people where to go and what to do.”
A group of six running backs, led by senior Juarrezz Smith, will try to make that happen. DeWald called Smith, who will also start at defensive back, his playmaker.
How many more wins result remains to be seen. The only guarantee anybody would make is that Andover will surprise some teams this season.
“We are much better than we were last year,” DeWald said. “The expectation on this team is extremely high.”