WILLOW WOOD, Ohio —The Symmes Valley Vikings lost 14 seniors off a team that finished with a 6-4 after the 2013 season. Most of those seniors were role players, complimenting the younger players who gained valuable experience during a transition year. After week five last season, Symmes Valley started six sophomores and five freshman.
On the offensive line, the Vikings lost their center, right guard and right tackle. Coach Rusty Webb is pleased with the reconstruction process, but acknowledged that there is still a lot of work left to be done before the season begins.
“We have some kids that are starting to step up, they’re not quite ready yet, but we are very, very pleased with the way that they’ve been practicing,” Webb said. “We are hoping as they get closer to week one, they are able to help us.”
Webb admitted this is one of the smallest teams he’s had in several years, but their athleticism and conditioning should be an equalizer.
“We are not nearly as big, but our kids are in good shape and they are more explosive off the ball,” Webb said. “We are hoping that will contribute to our offense improving.
“We don’t have the 260 pounders but we have a bunch of 205-pound kids…”
As the offense line battles sort themselves out, there is a competition at the quarterback position between Derrick Smith and Payton Hayes.
Smith his coming off a torn ACL, which occurred during the first seven-on-seven drill of preseason camp last year. Webb has no reservations about letting both players split time under center during the season. Both players, when not running the triple option from behind center, will be taking snaps at halfback.
Along with Hayes and Smith, Brandon Craft, Tanner Mays, Levi Cade and Collin Webb will also be competing for reps at the skill position spots on offense.
“We feel very, very good about our skill positions,” Webb said.
On the defensive side of the ball, Webb is hoping to continue to employ a more aggressive 4-4 (four down lineman, four linebackers) scheme.
“We’re hoping to attack a little more on defense,” Webb said. “We have the past few years. We feel our kids are quicker. We feel we can matchup with some teams that in years past might have had a speed advantage on us.”
Along the defensive line, Dakota Watson, Hunter Nelson, Dustin Holbrook and Jarod Sheppard have been battling for playing time at defensive tackle. At defensive end, Travis Gates, Cameron Meadows, Curtis Lybrand and Blake Bowen have been fighting for playing time.
The Vikings aren’t as deep along the defensive line as they have been in the past, so the coaching staff has been working on the players’ conditioning during training camp. Webb plans on using the junior varsity team to try and develop some younger defensive lineman on the roster this season.
If the younger players keep displaying the same kind of work ethic, Webb knows he’ll develop a strong rotation.
“We’ve been very pleased with the work ethic of our young kids,” Webb said. “They are definitely taking strides in the right direction.”
Lead by Mays, Symmes Valley’s defensive secondary seems to be an area of strength during the 2014 season.
“It’s nice having that experience back there at safety, helping us get lined up and stuff like that,” Webb said.
Webb believes his players have the versatility to match up with the different teams and styles of play that are featured throughout the SOC I. Webb attributed his players versatility and knowledge of the system to Symmes Valley’s developmental system.
The junior high team runs the same system as the varsity squad, while focusing on giving players experience and the opportunity to play different spots on the younger team.
For the Vikings to win the conference, Webb believes Symmes Valley will have to go through Oak Hill.
Chris Slone can be reached at 353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.