Firebirds seeking return to Division I playoffs

LAKOTA WEST

Coach: Larry Cox, 20th season (110-87 at West, 123-94 overall)

OHSAA designation: Division I, Region 4

Playoff history: 2-5 in five appearances (2004, 2006, 2009, 2013, 2014)

2015 record: 7-3 overall, 6-1 in the Greater Miami Conference (second, tied)

Schedule: Aug. 26 — vs. Moeller at Nippert Stadium, 8:30 p.m.; Sept. 2 — at Centerville, 7 p.m.; Sept. 9 — Wayne, 7 p.m.; Sept. 16 — at Mason, 7 p.m.; Sept. 23 — Fairfield, 7 p.m.; Sept. 30 — at Princeton, 7 p.m.; Oct. 7 — Oak Hills, 7 p.m.; Oct. 14 — at Middletown, 7 p.m.; Oct. 21 — Colerain, 7 p.m.; Oct. 28 — Lakota East, 7 p.m.

Last season was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Lakota West High School football team.

Instead, it was more of a “statement” season about where the program is, according to coach Larry Cox.

The Firebirds finished 7-3 overall and 6-1 in the Greater Miami Conference, just barely missing a third straight trip to the Division I playoffs despite returning five starters at 22 field positions. Now, entering his 20th season since starting the program, Cox continues to focus on carrying on that competitive tradition — and this time, he has fewer holes to fill.

“A lot of people, coaches included, put a lot of pressure on playoffs,” Cox said. “I would say we had a good year last year, not a great year, but there would be a lot of people that would love to trade places with us at 7-3, 6-1 in the league. There are some good things we did, and you hope the kids are carrying the torch of consistency. Last year was a statement more than anything of consistency, and you hope kids continue that tradition.”

Several returning players in key spots will help carry that torch to the newcomers.

West has what Cox calls potentially his “best defensive line in years” with three of four starters returning in All-GMC first-teamer David Walcott, fellow senior Tyler Green and junior Tyler Bentley. They are joined by sophomore Steven Faucheux, an up-and-coming player who already is fitting right in, according to Cox.

The rest of the defense has question marks, but third-year starter Clayton Bell anchors the linebacking corps and Marcos Aull leads the secondary as one of the top returning defensive backs in the area.

“We’re about as good as we’ve been on our defensive line, so we feel good about that, but we’ve got to find three others in the secondary and two others in the linebacking corps,” Cox said. “The willingness is there, and everybody looks good to a point, but now we have to get it under competition and see where it lands.”

Offensively, it’s the opposite situation.

West has skill players like quarterback Tony White (1,003 yards passing in 2015), running back Zelwyn Robinson (1,202 all-purpose yards, 21 touchdowns) and receiver Payton Porterfield back, but senior Brian Qua is the only returning starter up front. The Firebirds also had one returning starter on the line last year. but Robinson was the only returning skill position player on offense.

“We’ve got some important people coming back that help, but we’ve got a whole offensive line to reconstruct,” Cox said. “Where’s that at? I don’t know. The kids are working hard. I would like to see us get a little more aggressive up front. I would like to see us get a little more of a demeanor up front. They are working hard, but they are just young. You’ve got juniors or seniors in there that have never started, and they’ve got to learn what that next level is about.”

Like last year, West will learn quickly what it needs to improve.

The Firebirds open against Moeller, which is ranked No. 4 in the MaxPreps.com Ohio Preseason Fab 5, in the Crosstown Showdown on Aug. 26 at Nippert Stadium. They then face another traditionally strong Centerville squad before hosting Wayne, which ranks third in the Fab 5, on Sept. 9.

West’s two nonconference losses last year were against Wayne and Elder. Its only other defeat was to GMC power Colerain.

“There are years you have talent to do it, there are years you don’t, but if you consistently play a competitive schedule, it will happen,” Cox said. “Your kids will be ready for it, and your kids won’t back down. I want our kids to have a competitive nature, to always want to compete against the top programs in the state because that’s the only way you are going to become one of the top programs in the state.”