Leadership is Devils’ backbone

BERLIN CENTER – The members of Western Reserve football team have proven themselves to be leaders in many ways. The Blue Devils are the Inter-Tri County League lower tier champions, ranked second in Division VII, top seeded in the their region, and remain undefeated.

The hard work, discipline, and perseverance has been shown through the leadership of the seniors as noticed by coach Andy Hake.

“The strength of our team over the last few years have been our seniors,” Hake said. “They’re the lieutenants of our coaching staff. They do what we ask them to do. They’re very loyal, and it’s just been an honor to coach these kids.”

Two of Hake’s lieutenants, senior linebacker/kicker Parker Clegg and outside linebacker Josh Vuletich, have shown their success on the field.

Clegg led the team in punting this season, averaging over 42 yards per punt, kicking for 1,272 yards in 30 punts.

On Saturday night, Clegg showed more of the consistent kicking including a 30-yard field goal along with an average of almost 39 yards per punt during the Blue Devils’ 45-19 rout of Garfield Heights Trinity. Vuletich also got three tackles on defense.

However, for Clegg and Vuletich, the notion of leading a team took some time to get familiar.

“It feels different. I’m not used to it,” Clegg said. “I’m used to it now since we’re past week 11, but in the beginning of the year, I was just like ‘Wow, I’m a senior. This is my last year. I just got to step it up to be a leader to these young guys.’”

Vuletich credits the successful leadership of seniors past to the confidence of the seniors of 2013.

“You’re in a class where you always look up to seniors for advice to make that choice, and now it’s you making the choice,” Vuletich said. “We had great senior leaders, and they set really great examples for us.”

As part of team leadership, the seniors make sure that the pressure of an undefeated season does not overtake them.

“To me, I feel really no pressure,” Clegg said. “Just being in the atmosphere around the stadium with the fans, I don’t feel the pressure. At times, though, I can see it can be pretty pressurable.”

“I feel like a responsibility to have pressure for my teams to play, just to play hard,” Vuletich said.

The seniors also steer the team regardless when the game takes place, although some prefer Saturday games.

“I like Saturdays because there’s an extra day to practice,” Vuletich said. “We watch more film and we’re ready.”

“You aren’t going to go to school, sit through class all day, then you’re exhausted when you go to practice,” Clegg said. “Then you think ‘OK, I got to go play a football game. I got to get my mind set.’”

The leadership on the field and in practice eventually paid off as the community threw their support to the team, as they have been over the past six seasons the Blue Devils went to playoffs.

“Every Friday night and Saturday night we play, there’s always a buzz around the community,” Vuletich said. “Everyone’s always talking about the game, and there’s a buzz all around the community. Everyone is excited.”

Clegg also takes notice in what he calls a football community.

“There’s really no other community around here that are most into football than us,” Clegg said. “Our school is more based on football, and the community really enjoys coming to the game and watching us put on a show.”

The next show that Western Reserve puts on might lead them to a second regional championship game in three years as they battle fourth-seeded Danville on Saturday at Massillon Jackson High School.

“We just approach it like it’s a home game really,” Clegg said. “It’s just a different atmosphere. Hopefully it’s more homey since now we’re the home team.”

As for the game, Vuletich looks to work hard all week.

“We have to outwork Danville this week in practice on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday,” Vuletich said. “Then come Saturday, everything should work out.”

The game may provide a glimpse of next year’s seniors, including wide receiver Evan Nesbitt, who led the way Saturday with 244 yards rushing and three touchdowns, and wide receiver Joe Falasca, who has 41 catches and 971 yards so far this season and is tied with senior running back Dan Zilke for most touchdowns at 15.

“We’ve got a pretty good junior class,” Clegg said. “I think they’ll be really good leaders next year.”

As for Vuletich, he sees next season as a repeat of this season.

“I think we’re going to keep winning,” Vuletich said. “The next class, and the next class coming up and after that just has to outhit the opponents.”