WAVERLY, Ohio — For the Waverly Tigers, the 2013 season was one to forget. Under new coach Chris Crabtree, the Tigers struggled to a 3-7 record last season while winning just a single SOC II game.
But changes abound for Waverly in 2014, signalling a new era of Tiger football. For starters, the school is building a new field house and locker room for the team, as well as giving the football stadium a bit of a facelift. All the upgrades should be in place and ready to go by the time the Tigers take the field for their home opener in Week 2.
“It’s going to be a better atmosphere in general for the fans, our players and us. Our community, they’ve done a lot. They pony up a lot of money to try and make things better for us and we definitely appreciate it,” Crabtree said. “We want to do our part to go out there and put a good product on the field, and get that community support.”
The Tigers look to be much improved on the field as well, especially on the offensive line. Led by four-year starter Connor Smith (6’6”, 310 lbs.), Waverly will be returning a good amount of size in what figures to be its strongest unit in 2014.
“We’re probably as big as we’ve been in a while up front on the offensively line. Our size up front should help us in regard of what we want to do running the ball,” Crabtree said.
Smith, along with juniors Aaron Elliot and center Abe Kelley should be able to open plenty of holes for fullback Devon Rigsby. Though the senior has big shoes to fill after the graduation of running back Tyler Dray, Crabtree has seen his fullback take a big step since the end of last season.
“This year, he’s heavier, he’s stronger, he’s really worked hard in the weight room this year and so I think he’s going to be a big key somewhat in carrying that load carrying the football for us,” he said.
Senior tailback Bryan Cydrus also brings plenty of experience touting the rock, which will be vital in the Tigers in setting up the play-action pass. Waverly’s quarterbacks expect to employ it throughout the season, whether it’s the seasoned veteran RJ Perkins under center or sophomore Logan Kottenbrook under center. In Crabtree’s offensive scheme, he hopes the running game will set up the pass.
Even if Perkins isn’t under center, it’s safe to assume he’ll be on the field in some capacity. The senior can jump in anywhere, be it at receiver, defensive back or even punter.
“RJ will play more than just quarterback. He’ll play defense, punter. He punted for us last year, got us out of some binds. He can play receiver, whatever,” Crabtree said. “He’s going to do whatever it takes and what’s best for the program and best for the team.”
Whoever lines up at quarterback for the Tigers will have plenty of targets to throw to this ball. Wide receiver Tim Wells, who played his first season of football last season as a junior, will return for what he hopes will be another productive season. Senior defensive back Drew Harris will also split time on the offense to help with passing-catching duties.
Dray’s absence will also be felt on the defensive side of the ball. After he and fellow All-SOC linebacker Amin Gilbert graduated after last season, the linebacker position seems to be a bit of a quesiton mark. However, Crabtree hopes he can replace size and strength with an increase in team speed, with players like Rigsby, and juniors River Sears and Ryan Colburn.
“I just think we’re going to be a little bit faster overall on the defense in general,” he said. “We’re going to get some guys swarming to the football and I think that’s going to help.”
Crabtree is also exicted about the speed in his defensive backfield. Harris, Wells and Perkins lead a group that will be one of the quickest in the SOC II. The trio also bring experience and leadership to the squad after seeing a lot of playing time in the past couple of years.
In addition to the core of senior leaders on the 2014 Waverly squad, the Tigers will also be playing a large amount of sophomores and juniors. Crabtree is excited to see what they can bring in live action, and is also thrilled to see what they can bring in seasons to come.
“I think the sophomores that are going to potentially be able to step up and play, I think they’re ready,” he said. “We do have some special cases here where the kids are pretty athletic and they’re ready to step in there.”
The young Tigers won’t have much time to prepare. In week one, they travel to Piketon to face off with their county rivals in a battle of two greatly improved teams. They also have tough non-conference games against Jackson and Portsmouth before opening the conference schedule at Valley in week six. With Valley, West and Wheelersburg all losing a number key starters in the offseason, the SOC II looks to be a wide-open race in 2014.
“I think that’s one of those things when I took this job, obviously we’ve got to get back to the point where we want to compete for the league title year in and year out. That’s what we’re looking for,” Crabtree said. “We want to be able to win the league and then whatever comes after that, that’s a bonus and we’ll take it.”
Alex Hider can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter