Western Reserve Academy football team honors players at awards banquet

Published:

Staff report

The Western Reserve Academy football team continued to make progress in 2013 with a roster dotted with young players.

And while the team's record (2-7) is not where he would like it to be, head coach Jeff Hildebrand has seen the team make strides in his three years leading the Pioneers. 

 "The players give me feedback and they tell me that they have never felt this way about WRA football," Hildebrand said.

"The attitudes and culture around the team are changing and we made a big step this year.

"We had some players join us midseason because they want to be a part of our positive energy and the returning players are already excited about next season.

"I am encouraged by this past season because we have great kids with great attitudes.

"They supported each other and respected each other, which is important. We were a young team this year, which meant that many of our players had to learn the game on the run.

"Our sophomores and freshmen earned a lot of valuable playing time and that is encouraging for the future. They know now what they need to do in the off-season to become bigger, faster and stronger for next year."

Among the younger players the Pioneers will rely on next season are sophomores Kendall Anderson, Sam Becker, Maison Cunningham and Colton Roe and freshman Dakota Gibbons.

"Kendall became a better defensive player this year in the secondary and he led the team in rushing yards and was third in receiving yards," Hildebrand said.

"Sam was very reliable as our center on offense and our nose guard on defense.

"Maison led the team in tackles and his 7.5 yards per carry and almost 17 yards per reception made him a real playmaker on offense.

"Colton was a solid defensive player, led the team in receiving yards and scored half of our touchdowns. He is a player that you want on the field as much as possible.

"Dakota proved to be one of our best tacklers and toughest players on the field. He led the team in solo tackles, was second in total tackles and also had two interceptions."

The Most Valuable Player award was presented to senior Justin Cook.

"In his short time here at WRA, Justin made an immediate impact on the team," Hildebrand said. "His talents were apparent to all, even opposing coaches, who expressed their respect for him.

"Justin is a fine example of what a football player should be: Mentally tough, energetic, selfless and inspirational."

Senior Robert Head and junior Alex Cecchini were co-recipients of the Most Improved Player award.

"Robert was our team leader on the defensive side of the ball and led us in sacks," Hildebrand said. "His physical play and solid fundamentals have really improved over the years.

Alex has shown tremendous growth and his skill on both the offensive and defensive line has been obvious."

The William F. Starn Spirit Award was presented to junior tri-captain Jung Hyun Min, who suffered an injury early in the season.

"At the beginning of every practice, meeting or team activity, Jung Hyun was consistently the first player to anxiously exhort his teammates into an enthusiastic start," Hildebrand said.

"He is committed, loyal and compassionate. While others would have quit and parlayed [an injury] into an excuse to be selfish and lazy, Jung Hyun was back with the team, shouting encouragement for his teammates on the field and in the locker room."

As the Pioneers prepare to turn the page to the 2014 season, Hildebrand acknowledged the contributions made by this year's senior class, including tri-captains Griffin Trau and Jabril Smith, Minh Pham and Charles Pearlman, in helping him reshape the team.

"We had a handful of seniors who gave a great effort, and I am extremely grateful to them for sticking with WRA football through thick and thin," he said.

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