MINFORD, Ohio — It’s not everyday a team only suffers three losses during a season, yet doesn’t have the opportunity to participate in the postseason. Unfortunately for the Minford Falcons, they are coming off a 7-3 campaign, which wasn’t good enough to earn them a playoff berth a season ago.
If the Falcons have any aspirations of making the postseason in 2014, they are going to have to replace a successful senior class led by Ohio University commitment Jared McCary.
Minford coach Brent Daniels knows his young squad has a tough task ahead of them, but believes they have the right mixture of youth and experience to become dangerous.
“We lost a pretty good senior group,” Daniels said. “They were football-smart. They were good hard players. Anytime you drop a class like that, it makes it difficult the next year because you try to get your younger kids some experience so they’ll be ready for the next year, which I thought we did a good job of that.”
As training camp opened, Daniels admitted his younger guys started out a bit slow, which was a little unsettling because of open competition at several different positions. However, as camp as progressed and the younger players have become more acclimated, the level of competition has increased dramatically.
“They started out slow in two-a-days but the last week, they really picked it up,” Daniels said. “They’ve grasped the concepts we are trying to teach to them this year. We are going to have some youth in there, we are going to be a little younger than we normally are, but hopefully we can get these kids some experience, and grow them up fast enough so they’re ready to go.”
While the younger players are still getting up to speed with the system, Daniels is going to rely on running back Zach Justice, quarterback Matt Joyce and offensive lineman Alex Parker to provide leadership and experience. Justice is a three-year starter, while Parker gained valuable experience during last year’s campaign. Joyce will be the new signal caller for the Falcons this season.
To go along with those three upperclassman, Daniels will be counting on his junior class to help bring along his younger players. Out of 10 juniors on the roster, Daniels said half of them held full-time starting positions last year.
“We are counting on some of those guys to bring up these sophomores, and even a freshman or two that we are going to have playing for us,” Daniels said. “As young get older, the game gets faster. That’s what we are trying to teach these young kids as they come up, they are one play from being in the ball game.”
For the Falcons to be successful, new starting quarterback Joyce will need to learn the ropes of Daniels’ Wing-T offense. Fortunately for Minford, Joyce’s best attribute is his speed, which Daniels plans on utilizing this season.
“Matt has good speed,” Daniels said. “He’s probably one of the fasted kids on the team this year. And we put somethings in that we are going to utilize with him because of his speed. He has experience, he’s been leading this offseason but his speed is probably his greatest asset.”
Protecting Joyce will be Eli Daniels, Cain Madden, Boyd Suter and Parker, while the right tackle position is still up for debate.
Joyce will also have a strong supporting cast as Aron Alley and Dillon Shepherd will be splitting time at the fullback position. At the running back position, Zach Justice, Tate Hall, Eli Fitch and Kody Kennedy will split time, with all of the aforementioned players featuring some varsity experience.
“We’re pretty good at skill positions,” Daniels said. “We’ve got good depth at running back.”
The one concern on offense will be at the receiver position where Caleb Marsh and Sean Gambill are schedule to start. Behind Marsh and Gambill, depth is a concern for Daniels.
“It’s a mixture of youth versus experience,” Daniels said. “We have a little more youth right now but since the start of two-a-days, we’ve started seeing those freshman and sophomores grow up and catch up to the speed of what we want to do.
“Right now I’m happy with them, the efforts been there. Its just translating it to the field on Friday nights.”
Defensively, junior Cain Madden will be anchoring Minford’s four-man defensive line. Madden has started for the Falcons since he was a freshman.
“He’s probably one of the best defensive linemen in the league right now,” Daniels said. “He’s going to be hard to handle.”
Minford plans on rotating Parker, Suter, Chase Harrell and Cody Brickey along the defensive line to help keep players fresh throughout each game.
At the linebacker position, the Falcons return Daniels and Alley. Both players played meaningful minutes down the stretch last season.
Minford has a strong starting unit along both sides of the ball. However, depth is the biggest issue. Daniels is going to have to find different ways to get his star players rest throughout the course of a game, although he believes his kids are in terrific shape.
“The kids have conditioned really well,” Daniels said. “We are a little bit thin on the depth chart this year, so we have to be in extra good shape. I think we are in pretty good shape right now.”
Joyce in particular is one player who will need a break at some point. Despite being the team’s quarterback and likely playing in the defensive backfield, Joyce is also the likely candidate to handle the kicking duties for Minford.
“We have to figure out ways to get him breaks every now and then,” Daniels said. “With him being the quarterback, we can’t have him on the field the whole game. Matt has an extremely strong leg but we have to find a way to get him a blow every now and then.”
The Falcons might have their challenges this season but Daniels just wants his team to compete in a hard-nose conference.
“I think our league is one of the toughest, most physical leagues around,” Daniels said. “You look at us, Wheelersburg, West, Valley, it’s a bruiser of a league. If you can get through it without injuries, your doing good and you’ve got a chance to compete.”
Chris Slone can be reached at 353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.