Newark Catholic football history is not on the course list at the high school.
It was, however, part of Mike Lohr’s curriculum at NC. Lohr came to the school for his freshman year, and he quickly was indoctrinated in the NC way.
“There are big shoes to fill,” Lohr said. “When I get told all of the stories of past players and their dads about Newark Catholic football, I feel honored to be able to have a chance to follow in their footsteps. It is just a lot of hard work, and you are in.”
Lohr is one of the occasional players the Green Wave pick up from St. Pius X school in Reynoldsburg. Most students go to Bishop Hartley, but NC is happy Lohr is one of the few to sneak away from the Hawks and fly east.
Just as Kevin Bourne did the year before, Lohr started at safety as a sophomore in 2011. Now, as a junior, Lohr has become one of the Green Wave’s most dependable players and a big-play machine on special teams. His blocked punt and subsequent return for touchdown got NC rolling in its 20-13 victory against Glouster Trimble a week ago.
“I was completely surprised,” said Lohr, of that first starting nod. “I was just trying to do my best on special teams as a sophomore. I wasn’t expecting to see the field. When they called my number in the preseason, I was really happy and excited to take the opportunity. I wanted to prove to my coaches they made the right choice.”
NC (10-2) plays Danville (11-1) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Westerville Central in the Division VI, Region 23 final. The winner plays Mogadore or Youngstown Christian in the state semifinals.
Friday will be a battle of strengths. Danville quarterback Bryce Staats has thrown for more than 2,500 yards. An experienced secondary has 16 of the Green Wave’s 20 interceptions on the season. Cornerbacks Mitch Cox and Anthony Wing each intercepted Trimble quarterback Konner Standley, and Bourne and Lohr have five apiece.
“Veteran experience in the secondary is a great help to us,” Lohr said. “The linebackers and linemen don’t have to worry about us because they know that we have their backs in the passing game.”
Traditionally, sophomores and the starting lineup have not been in the same sentence at NC. With small senior classes each of the past two seasons, more young players have been pressed into duty.
Patrick Oehlman is starting as a sophomore at linebacker this season, and linemen Brenden Jurden and Brent Benner were among those current juniors that started a year ago. Quarterback Chayce Crouch started the final two games in 2011 after spending most of the season at defensive end and tight end.
NC finished 5-5 in 2011 and watched the postseason from the sidelines for the third time in four seasons. The Green Wave now are making the most of having two- and three-year starters.
“There is definitely a learning curve. There is a process, and sometimes you have to put a group into the fire a little earlier than you’d like,” NC coach Bill Franks said. “The downside is it’s challenging. The upside is down the road they gain experience.”
Lohr has been a part of it every step of the way this season, and he already is writing his name into NC lore. His blocked punt for a score is the first such play in the Green Wave’s storied postseason history. He also converted a fake extra point for a 2-point conversion.
Lohr, however, has something else in mind. Only one way can an NC player become truly legendary.
“We are expecting nothing but state,” Lohr said. “We’ve worked hard, and we want to keep working to make that 15th game and take home that state championship.”