NORTH BALTIMORE — For North Baltimore third-year football coach Wade Ishmael, teaching the local kids how to win means everything.
That is because he grew up in North Baltimore, moved to Oak Harbor where he played prep football for legendary coach Gary Quisno, and then came back to coach.
North Baltimore has been to the playoffs only twice, in 1995 and 2020, and has yet to win a playoff game.
Since Ishmael considers North Baltimore his hometown, that drives him to drive his players.
“It’s along the same lines as last year,” Ishamel said. “We are still trying to change the culture here and make the kids want to be a part of something successful. Winning breeds success.
“These kids are not used to a structured culture. They are but they aren’t. Winning is not a huge thing around here and we are trying to change it. Winning is not everything, but we do need to win games.
“It’s about changing the culture. It’s a long road but we’re willing to battle no matter how long it takes.”
Last year, NB went 3-6, defeating Crestline, 54-0, Cory-Rawson, 39-7, and Vanlue, 40-14, but it was the school’s final year competing in the Blanchard Valley Conference.
The Tigers had a 27-7 loss to Evergreen and 21-0 loss to Van Buren in games Ishmael feels could have gone better.
Ishmael, who has been coaching 13 years, found the BVC a different kind of football than the Sandusky Bay Conference, where he played his high school football.
“It’s a little bit different, for sure. A lot less power and a lot more finesse,” Ishmael said.
This year, NB goes independent and will open hosting Evergreen. Three other home games are against Upper Scioto Valley, Vanlue and Van Buren.
Six away games are at Crestline, Hilltop, Arcadia, Cory-Rawson, Caldwell and Windham In the final two games, the Tigers will be traveling to schools not located in Ohio’s Northwest District.
“We picked our own schedule, so we’ll be traveling a lot,” Ishmael said. “I honestly think our schedule is in our favor.
“Even though we have to travel a lot, these kids are very determined in the weight room all summer and in the offseason.”
Next year, NB will move to the Northwest Central Conference, which the coach believes will be an improvement.
“It won’t be too bad. It will be more competitive for us,” Ishmael said.
There are other changes. To get the players motivated during the offseason, Ishmael ran a Lifter of the Week award for the players who worked hardest during the offseason.
And, the Tigers will have a new place to play this year.
“We’re in the middle of building our own stadium here. It is going up as we speak. They are putting the bleachers together,” Ishmael said. “It’s going to be a beautiful field, beautiful stadium, and hopefully it will help them get riled up and have a good season.”
Playing on that field will be 14 returning lettermen out of a 22-man roster. Returning to Ishmael’s double-winged, double-tight offense are skilled players Gaige DeWitt and Brady Burlekamp, both seniors.
Burlekamp will play H-back behind sophomore quarterback Braiden Solly. Solly brings an exceptional discipline to the signal-calling game, says Ishmael.
“He’s a very hard-working kid,” Ishmael said. “No matter what we do, he does it. If you tell him to do it, he is going to do it.”
Ishmael also returns a contingent of linemen, anchored by senior Adin Burleson and junior Andre Johnson.
The coach says tackling will determine how successful his defense can be.
“It’s a tackling defense. We must make tackles, or it is not going to work,” Ishmael said. “We’ve got Andre Johnson, who plays D-Line and linebacker a little bit, and Gaige DeWitt plays defensive end.”
Other seniors contributing are Evan Pelton and Kaleb Kelley, and juniors include Jeremiyah Horner, Rowan Spangenberg-Tackett, Peyton Carlton, Andre Johnson, and Zach Trout.
Sophomores include Eli Smith, Josh Hernandez, Jose Pardes and Isaiah Boice.
“I think we’re going to be young, and we have a lot of freshmen playing, but I think we’re going to win some games this year,” Ishmael said.
Freshmen contributing include Jaliden Bixler, Brody Walter, Thain Spangenberg and Noah Laureano.