PDT Sports Contributor
If there is one word to describe the upcoming football season in the surrounding area, it would be storylines, storylines, and storylines.
While that is nothing new during any particular football season, the 2014 football campaign will feature more changes and more uncertainty from an expectation standpoint than in recent seasons, as coaching changes involving Green (SOC I) and West (SOC II) have people wondering if a future shakeup is in store regarding the divisional standings in each of the SOC’s two divisions.
The Bobcats made a splash in the offseason by hiring one of the area’s most well-known and respected assistants in Ted Newsome. Newsome, who coached for years under Curt Clifford at Portsmouth and spent last season working under the direction of former West head coach Merrill Triplett, is revered for his work coaching in the trenches. Can he use that same knowledge that he gained under Clifford and Triplett to move Green up to the top off the SOC I football standings as the head man?
One wouldn’t have to travel much farther west on US 52 to find the second of two coaching changes as West hired Ben Johnson to lead the Senators in their quest to get back to the top of the SOC II heap. Johnson, who assisted his father, Dan with the Liberty Union high school football program, helped the Lions accumulate a 78-32 record and two Division V Regional Championships as an assistant coach for the program.
With a talented senior class in place (including returning starters in Steven Irwin, Bryson Hurd and Mason Howell) and a feeder system that is thought of as one of the best in the county, can Johnson help lead West to playoff success in the same manner that he did at Liberty Union?
When you talk about consistency from a record standpoint, Oak Hill and Valley have to be mentioned in that category. Both schools have used discipline, hard work and good feeder system development to take home conference championships, as Valley has won the last three SOC II titles while Oak Hill has won four out of the last five SOC I championships.
Jonathan Harrison and Clayton Christensen (Oak Hill) and Bryan Rolfe and Alex Loop (Valley) are just a few of the players that each program will look to as both teams will look to take home more hardware by utilizing some of the aforementioned qualities listed above.
However, Oak Hill and Valley will most definitely not win each of their conferences in a runaway, as Symmes Valley and Notre Dame (SOC I), along with Minford and Wheelersburg (SOC II) will continue to be tough outs in each of their respective conference slates.
The Vikings and Falcons always seem to reload rather than rebuild, and even though both programs missed the playoffs last season, one can always bet that Rusty Webb and Brent Daniels will have their players ready for all the challenges that are present over the course of any football season.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame and Wheelersburg lose some of the best offensive weapons that both schools have had in their history as running backs Jack Kayser and Dakota Smith, as well as Will Haney, an all-purpose threat, depart the Titans’ backfield while quarterback Eddie Miller III and wideouts Dylan Miller and Tyler Claxon will leave the Pirates with some holes to fill.
Line play, however, is expected to be a strength for both squads this season as C.J. Smith (Notre Dame) and Mitchell Warner (Wheelersburg) will be counted upon in the trenches as both squads will look to break the stranglehold that the Oaks and Indians have on the SOC’s main prize.
Many people in and around the SOC realm, however, have their eyes on a possible sleeper team in the SOC I as the East Tartans bring back a talented nucleus from last year’s squad. The Tartans not only bring back one of the top 250 juniors in the entire country in offensive guard Tyler Gerald, they also have a back that rushed for over 1,000 yards – as a freshman – in Akia Brown. The pair will look to prove that East can win an SOC I Championship and make a deep playoff run in Division VII.
Portsmouth (SEOAL) and Ironton (Independent) will look to conclude their final season before joining the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) on an upswing as both programs struggled to 3-7 marks last season due to inconsistent play and injuries that hampered with the depth of both teams. However, the return of quarterbacks Sky Oliver (Portsmouth) and Tristian Cox (Ironton) should help ease the transition into the 2014 season for both teams.
Another big story that developed over the offseason involved Northwest moving to SOC I from SOC II as the Mohawks continue to look for answers on how to get to plus-.500 football. However, Northwest has always managed to field a sizeable roster and the same can be expected of the Mohawks this season.
Piketon and Waverly will look to be tough outs again this coming season for area teams as Piketon loses just six seniors from a program that turned an 0-3 start into a 4-6 record in 2013. The return of quarterback Devon Brewster and receivers Aaron Southworth and Gage Williams could give the Redstreaks the Scioto Valley Conference’s (SVC) top passing attack.
Meanwhile, the Tigers showed improvement throughout the season under first-year head coach Chris Crabtree as Waverly finished 3-7 but lost four games by 10 points or less, including single-digit losses to Minford and West. The competitiveness has always been there from the Waverly football program, but with renovations taking place on the Tigers’ football field and a new fieldhouse being constructed, the future certainly looks bright for Waverly.
Lastly, the Greenup County Muskeeters will look to prove that they will be a tough out in Class 4A, District 8 as Chris Mullins looks to record the first winning season for Greenup County since the T.J. Maynard era. Ryan Byrd will return to lead the Musketeer offense on the ground as the junior took advantage of newfound playing time in 2013 (due to injuries) and ran for over 1,000 yards on the year, including a 447-yard, four touchdown performance in a 60-35 win over West Carter (Ky.). However, Byrd tore his ACL late in the season and had to undergo knee surgery to repair the ligament. Byrd is now back at practice, but can he recover to be the same player he was last year, before the injury? Can Greenup County get its first winning season in more than 10 years?
As you may have noticed, there are a lot of questions that have yet to be answered, and some of those questions will not be answered until the final week of the regular season – or longer. However, with media days coming up, Chris, Alex and I will be looking to solve some of those questions as the regular season approaches.