To Devin Mize, the answer is obvious.
What’s the difference between National Trail High School’s football team now and the winless 2010 team when he was a freshman?
“I guess it’s … the heart,” Mize said. “We always thought we were going to lose. This year, we came into every game knowing we were going to win and we just got the job done.”
It starts at the top, says left tackle Nick Davis, also a senior:
“We got new coaches, that’s the biggest thing. We got coaches that really want us to buy in, and not just the team, but everybody. We got the community involved. They really got everybody else to come out and buy into everything we have done.”
Seems to be a little bit both, plus some changes to the team’s approach. Whatever it is, it’s worked.
When Mize and Davis were both freshmen, National Trail finished 0-10 and was in the middle of a 22-game losing streak.
Fast-forward four years, and the Blazer program has turned 180 degrees.
Richmond graduate Tony Sonsini and his coaching staff took over leading the New Paris, Ohio, program in 2011, and two years later, the Blazers are 8-2 and in the Division VI playoffs.
They have back-to-back winning seasons, and are among the 31.4 percent of Ohio teams which get to continue their varsity seasons this Friday.
“Obviously that’s great that we did that. It’s been a great year. It’s been a lot of fun, and hopefully, we can win next week and keep it going,” said senior Adam Behringer, who has 101 total tackles, 18 for losses and seven quarterback sacks.
National Trail is ranked No. 5 in the Division VI Region 22 of the OHSAA’s computer ratings and will travel Friday to Mechanicsburg for opener of the OHSAA regional tournament.
Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.
Only the top eight in each region make the playoffs, and it’s Trail’s first trip ever.
“It’s just great to be a part of it,” Mize said. “I never had so much success at any of the sports at Trail, but especially football. Having this much success and carrying on from last year is great for the community and especially for our players too.”
A pep rally is planned for 7 tonight at the high school gym.
Pre-sale game tickets are on sale for $7 in the National Trail athletic office from 7:30 a.m.-7 p.m. today and following the pep rally tonight and 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday, with a percentage of pre-sale money going to the National Trail athletic department.
Tickets at the gate are $9.
National Trail snapped its 22-game losing streak with a narrow, 15-14 win over Mississinawa Valley in 2011’s Week 6.
Hardly a strong statement, the Blazers returned hungry for more the next season, and got things started a little bit sooner.
Their first win of 2012 came in Week 1. The second in Week 2, third in Week 4, and a 9-7 Week 7 victory over Bethel was their sixth of the season, a school record at the time which clinched the program’s first winning season in 15 years.
“It’s an amazing feeling to come together and start winning and get this far, but we’re not satisfied,” Davis said. “We want to keep going.”
Three straight losses followed to close the season, and again, they were hungry.
This year, they weren’t catching anybody by surprise, and they were OK with that.
A seasoned quarterback, Garrett Griffin, surrounded by a strong core of skill players have led the Blazers to not a repeat of last year, but an improvement, raising the school wins record to eight. The two losses came to Cross County Conference powers Miami East and Covington.
The eighth win was the first over Preble County foe Tri-County North since 1997, and was an exclamation point to an already-strong season.
Ranked No. 7 in the region heading into the final week of the season, the Blazers had a chance to make the playoffs regardless of the result.
But they weren’t taking any chances.
They downed their rival 15-12 as North missed a field-goal attempt and the Blazers held on.
“Winning the game last Friday night was probably the biggest win in my coaching career,” Sonsini said.
” … I was just extremely proud of, not only the players, but my coaches, because this program, where we’re at now compared to where it was just a few years back, it’s just amazing.
“We go out, we play hard, execute, we’ll see what happens. The main thing is we can’t be satisfied with just being in the playoffs.”
Tri-County North (7-3) is headed to the playoffs for a third straight year. It is the No. 8 seed and travels to No. 1 seed Miami East (9-1). The winner gets either National Trail or Mechanicsburg.
Trail and Mechanicsburg are both 8-2.
“They have a very good team, they’re there for a reason, just like we are,” Davis said. “They’re there to try to get to the next level. They’re a very physical team and they’re fast. We’re going to have to match them and do what we do.”
Also in the regional, No. 7 seed Cincinnati Summit Country Day (8-2) plays at No. 2 Cincinnati Country Day (10-0), while No. 6 West Liberty-Salem (8-2) is at No. 3 Williamsburg (7-3).
The regional semifinals are Nov. 15 and the championship is Nov. 22.
“Honestly, if we just continue to come out and play like we did last Friday, play physical with them, if we do those things and execute our game plan, we’ll have a chance,” Sonsini said.
” … The biggest thing is just believing in yourself, believing in your teammates, the coaches, the game plan — just having confidence. Before they didn’t know what winning felt like, but once you do it, it gets contagious.”
Griffin has 190 completions this fall for school records of 2,891 yards and 36 touchdowns. He also tied the state record with nine touchdown passes in a 67-30 Week 5 victory over Ansonia.
He has five rushing touchdowns and leads the team with 271 rushing yards on 118 carries.
Mize is 57 receiving yards shy of 1,000 with his 943 on 57 catches this year. He has a team-high 12 touchdown receptions, while Phillip White and Josh Lee both have 10.
White has 737 receiving yards and Lee has 687, along with 178 yards and three touchdowns rushing. Austin Moore has 163 rushing yards.
Zach Sullivan has a team-high 137 total tackles, including 13 for losses.
Griffin and Bailey Stewart each have two interceptions, Sullivan has recovered three fumbles and White, Niko Nakis and Behringer each have two.
Nick Carpenter has four sacks and has forced three fumbles, while Sullivan and Cameron Boggs have forced two fumbles.
“We’re going to treat it like any other game,” Davis said. “We’re going to soak it all in. I mean it’s the playoffs, but we’re there to do work.”