Westlake High School provided high school football players a chance to showcase their skills in front of college coaches May 28 at the inaugural Southwestern Conference football combine.

About 125 upcoming juniors and seniors lifted weights and ran in drills and other standard combine events in front of area college coaches. Baldwin Wallace University, John Carroll University and Oberlin College were among the nearly 15 colleges in attendance.

Westlake football head coach Dan LaRocco ran the event, which was moved to the school’s gyms due to weather. He was thrilled with the turnout. Lakewood was the only conference school not in attendance.

“The feedback from the other coaches has been outstanding,” LaRocco said. “I see well over 40 colleges’ coaches … I am thrilled to be honest. This started out as a phone call the day before Easter break on Good Friday. I said, ‘I want to do this. How cool would it be to do this for the whole conference?’”

After breaking into six groups based on year and position (bigs, mids and skill players), the players rotated between the weight room for bench pressing and the two gyms for the 40-yard dash, L-drill, star drill, 20-yard shuttle and vertical jump measurements. When all that was done, everyone took the field again for 30 minutes each of offensive and defensive practice.

Junior Nick Marsh, a defensive end, tight end and receiver for Avon Lake, said working out in front of college coaches for free was big for him. He also enjoyed doing it with his teammates and other players in the SWC he’s gotten to know over the years.

“It’s great,” he said. “We were just talking and we can’t wait to meet up again in the fall and play each other.”

Baldwin Wallace head coach Jim Hilvert said a combine like this gives coaches another chance to look at players who they may not have seen much on film. That doesn’t mean a quick 40-yard dash time is the be-all and end-all, though.

“It’s great to see the development of a kid, be able to put your eyeballs on him, see him do different drills,” Hilvert said. “For me, it’s about film. Control what you can control. You can control the film. The eye in the sky doesn’t lie. I think that goes a long way too in the recruiting process.”

In his first year as the Demons’ head coach, LaRocco hopes the work he put into the combine will set him apart from other area coaches and put Westlake, which won just one football game last season, in the right direction for the upcoming season.

“It’s easy to talk about doing things like this and it’s difficult to put in the time and the organization to actually do it,” LaRocco said. “I want to prove the point that I’m willing to do what others are not. When you take over a program that’s 1-19 in the past two years, there’s a lot of talk and I’m not a big talker. I’m not a lot of things, but you will not outwork me. And that is something I can control.”

Contact this reporter at jkopanski@westlifenews.com or 440-871-5797.

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