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The little program that could

Western Reserve has been a success in the making

November 21, 2011
B.J. LISKO - Salem News Sports Editor ( , Salem News

In 2006, then sports staffer Mark Stevens and I made a bit of a controversial decision when putting together the annual Salem News football preview.

It's obvious to say Salem is our top school in terms of area coverage, but we've also always historically reported a great deal on sports at West Branch, Sebring, Leetonia, United and many others.

Western Reserve at the time and even still today is to football what Hickory High School was to basketball in the movie "Hoosiers."

Article Photos

The 2006 Salem News Football Preview cover featuring Western Reserve. The Blue Devils success started some half-dozen years ago under then head coach Mike Kopachy. Current head coach Andy Hake took that success and has built upon it. (Salem News file)

A tiny little school set on a country road out all by itself - it's got Cinderella story written all over it.

We could see the progression in the team in 2005. Though the '04 and '05 Blue Devils went just 3-7 in then head coach Mike Kopachy's second and third seasons, in 2006 we knew the team was returning a talented quarterback in addition to quality receivers and a total of 19 starters on both sides of the ball - more than any other team in the Inter-Tri County League. Kids in Berlin Center were starting to buy into the program.

So we put them on the cover. (See picture)

We still had a nice big feature on the Quakers and then first-year head coach Bill Miller and had a photo of him on the cover as well, but the reason we went with Reserve as the main package was because they were the area team we felt most likely to make a playoff run that season.

True to form, Western Reserve didn't disappoint. Kopachy's Blue Devils went 9-3, won Tier 2 of the ITCL, won a playoff contest at Ledgemont and nearly pulled of a second-round playoff upset of Columbiana.

2007 was a bit of a reloading year for Reserve as the team went 6-4 grooming new players for Kopachy's spread offense. But in 2008, again the Blue Devils were back in the playoffs against perennial foe McDonald. They finished 8-3.

In 2009, Andy Hake took over when Kopachy left for Salem.

Hake picked up where Kopachy left off and built on the team's previous successes, and the Reserve program continued to grow. The Blue Devils made the playoffs again in 2009 and 2010 finishing each season 9-2.

This season, everything has clicked.

When kids buy in to a program, even one that went 1-9 in as recent as 2003, the fruits of that labor is what you're seeing on the field this season.

This Western Reserve team dates back to when Kopachy was at the helm and more and more kids started believing in the team's philosophy from the varsity level all the way down the ranks.

That's not to take anything away from Hake who took over the program as an enthusiastic 29-year-old after stints as an assistant at Mineral Ridge and East.

Hake's teams have been just as hard-nosed and perhaps even more physical. Whether you like him for his boisterous and energetic coaching style or not, simply put, he produces results on the field.

Way back at Mineral Ridge his team's were 25-5 with Hake calling the plays, so he was no novice. When he was an assistant at East High School, his team's were 20-10 when he called the plays.

This season Western Reserve has absolutely steamrolled opponents. They are outscoring teams 41-11. They hold teams to 160 total yards per game, and that number would likely be even fewer if the team's first team defense played for four quarters.

In 2006 we didn't foresee Western Reserve one win away from the state title game that year or even five years later. We just saw the potential for success. Now we're seeing success breed success.

So is everyone else in the state of Ohio.

Western Reserve plays Buckeye Central 7 p.m. Saturday at Massillon Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.

E-mail B.J. Lisko at



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