BERLIN CENTER-Over the past four seasons, it has become customary to see the Western Reserve football team playing deep into November.
During that stretch, the Blue Devils put together as good a run as any small school in the state, posting an overall record of 44-7, three Inter-Tri County League lower tier titles and two state semifinal appearances.
The program's consistent excellence will be rewarded next Saturday when linebacker Dan Zilke, quarterback Nick Allison and head coach Andy Hake represent the Div. IV-VII North squad in the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association North-South Classic. Hake will serve as the head coach of the North team and couldn't think of a better way to close the year than coaching two of his leading seniors.
"It's about them, not me," Hake said. "Having the three of us in this game is really a total program achievement. We've been very blessed over the years to have quality kids and coaches."
A cornerstone of the Blue Devils dominance has been Zilke, a three-year starter at linebacker. The senior was a two-way force last fall, recording a team-high 80 tackles and 10 tackles for loss at linebacker, while also being the team's leading rusher.
"Just to be in this game is big, but it's even better being coached by the guy who's coached you you're whole career." Zilke said. "It's a huge honor."
Allison helped direct a balanced offense with his precise passing. The 6-foot-5 two-year starter was named co-offensive player of the year in Division VII, passing for 2,314 yards and 22 touchdowns with six interceptions as the Blue Devils advanced to their second state semifinal in three seasons.
"We have had a run of great quarterbacks here and Nick has continued that," Hake said. "He was our offensive leader and a huge part of our success."
Like many successful programs, the Blue Devils rise to statewide prominence can be traced to a mixture of talent and tradition. Zilke credits the seniors above him with setting a winning attitude and hoped he did the same for those coming behind.
"When you are a young player, it's much easier if the guys above you have already won games and experienced the playoffs," he said. "They show you the right way to do things and you pick up on it. We almost made it to the state championship last season and hopefully the young guys feed off that and go all the way next year."
Zilke also said Hake and his staff create the right environment for success. Since taking over five years ago at the age of 29, Hake has become known in the area for a constant high-energy style of coaching.
"No matter the situation, he (Hake) coaches like it's the state championship game, there is always a lot of hard coaching going on" Zilke said. "His message is always to go out there and compete hard. After four years you get a little tired of hearing the same stuff, but he really gets you motivated. During two-a-days it really helps."
According to Zilke, Hake as approached the North-South practices with the same passion.
"He is no less intense," Zilke said. "It's been a lot of fun being coached by him for this game."
"It's been a nice last hurrah," Hake said. "It's a great opportunity to be with these guys one more time before they leave."