BEREA  Sometimes, talented athletes can succeed at the high school level even if they’re not the hardest worker on their team.

Raw physical talent can be enough to power past, run away from or jump over a high school rival, but the equation changes when a player moves up to the college level. There, most everyone was the player on their high school team who was better than anyone they faced.

Baldwin Wallace junior defensive lineman Wezlee Spence admits that when he suited up for the Hoover Vikings, he wasn’t as focused and detail-oriented as he needed to be.

“My goal for myself is to be on one of the All-OAC (Ohio Athletic Conference) teams,” Spence said. “Honestly, I feel like my work ethic has gotten a lot better since I was here. I was lackadaisical in high school at times, but having guys here pushing me really has helped.”

Earning his way onto the field at B-W took time as Spence adjusted to the college game. He didn’t play in a varsity game as a freshman, but earned his way onto the field as a sophomore, appearing in eight games.

He recorded five tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and four quarterback hurries, earning his first varsity letter playing alongside many local players he either played against or knew in high school.

“It’s a pretty cool thing … there are a lot of local guys from my area, including Anthony Gillems from Canton McKinley,” Spence said. “He reached out to me the summer before I got here and we worked out together.”

After appearing in eight games last season, Spence is seeking an expanded role this season and is hoping new head coach Jim Hilvert can help B-W turn things around with a new approach after the Yellow Jackets went 3-7 last season. 

Spence and his teammates can’t help but think about the fact that the Yellow Jackets didn’t play as well as they could have in 2016. They came up just short against a John Carroll team that went on to end Ohio Athletic Conference juggernaut Mount Union’s league winning streak and had several chances to win more than three games.

A seven-point loss to John Carroll and a three-game losing skid against Muskingum, Otterbein and Capital by a combined five points left B-W wondering what could have been.

The schedule is similar this season, with John Carroll and Mount Union back to back in the second and third weeks of the season. It will test Hilvert’s ability to implement his approach at the college level after leading Cincinnati La Salle to Ohio High School Athletic Association Division II state championships in 2015 and 2016.

While those close calls may have left a sour taste, Spence believes that the team’s returning players can use them in a productive fashion.

“We have a lot of experience, we have a lot of returning starters and guys who got reps last year and we have a lot of depth, especially on the defensive side,” Spence said.

After taking a big step forward last fall and proving that he can contribute at the college level the 6-foot-1, 215-pound defensive lineman has designs on another season of growth this year. As a history major, he’s more interested in writing a winning chapter for his team than focusing on last year’s disappointment.

In addition to Gillems, Spence has a lot of fellow Akron-area teammates by his side, with players from Green, Buchtel, Stow, North, Mogadore and Copley all on the roster. Those local athletes and the rest of the roster have a lot on their plates when it comes to elevating B-W in the OAC, but as with the start of most any new season, there is optimism from a fresh start under a new coach. 

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB