Linsly primed for another big year
By BUBBA KAPRAL
Executive Sports Editor
WHEELING — The 2017 grid season was a very special one for Linsly. The ensuing campaign could be another.
The Cadets rolled to a 9-2 mark en route to claiming the OVAC 3A championship. Coach B.J. Depew’s charges pocketed several impressive victories in putting together a nine-game winning streak.
The Cadets downed Ohio-playoff qualifiers Martins Ferry, Shadyside and River along with eventual West Virginia state champion Wheeling Central.
Although Depew must replace some key pieces against a new-look formidable schedule, the Cadets appear well-fortified for another stellar, if not championship, campaign.
“I have been part of an unbeaten team here before. When we put that nine-game winning streak together last year it was like that magic was back again. It really was a season to remember,” Depew said. “It comes from the coaching staff and players. We had the right mix of people.
“Now with that said, we lost some quality guys. We graduated some quality leadership,” he added. “That is the one thing we noticed as coaches this summer, we are not quite there yet (leadership wise.) I expect Eli (Petho), Jules (Giovengo) and Stephen (Snyder) to be the players our other kids will follow.”
Three of those graduates played in last month’s OVAC Rudy Mumley OVAC-All-Star Game — Dawson Mellinger, Nick Falbo and Vic Giovengo. Luke Mueller, who saw plenty of time at quarterback, also picked up his diploma.
Those graduation losses are cushioned by a squad that numbers 51 with 24 of those being returning lettermen.
The schedule, which underwent a host of changes, will be a formidable one.
Gone are the likes of Martins Ferry, Shadyside, River and Beaver Local. They are being replaced by Meadowbrook, Morgantown, Beaver Eastern and Crestview. Toss in games with powers Mogadore and Wheeling Central, it is easy to see the Cadets will have few, if any, breathers.
“We really enjoy playing teams like that. We value our schedule more than anyone,” Depew said. “We like the week-to-week preparation for a quality challenge. We enter every game like it is playoff preparation.
“Our numbers are strong. We are really not lacking anything. But we need to stay healthy like most teams,” he added. “We will see how good we are when we have to react when something goes bad. Hopefully, we react well. To win championships, you need some luck to go with good play.”
The Cadets’ impressive experience starts at quarterback where Wyatt Hirt (6-2, 170) resides. The strong-armed senior is a two-year letterman who provides the Cadets the ability to stretch the field via the long pass. He completed 54-of-106 attempts last fall, encompassing 942 yards and 10 TDs.
Hirt’s understudy will be versatile Hunter Kelley (6-4, 160). The elongated and athletic sophomore enjoyed a stellar inaugural year at safety, finishing the year as one of the leading interceptors in the OVAC. Depew will utilize Kelley’s skills at wide receiver when not needed at quarterback. Senior Jesper Korkalainen (6-1, 170) provides additional depth under center.
Linsly boasts a stud of a tailback. Eli Petho (6-2, 185) enjoyed a breakout junior year toting the leather. The tackle-breaking bruiser eclipsed the 900-yard mark on the ground to go with 10 TDs. He also landed 10 passes for another TD en route to a bevy of post-season honors. Petho is on the radar of college recruiters.
“Eli had a tremendous season. He meant a lot to our offense. We look for even bigger things this fall,” Depew noted.
Carl Nyh (5-10, 160) will spell Petho when needed. The quick-footed sophomore flashed some nice ability in limited duty, rushing for 230 stripes.
Depew is big on his fullback. Senior letterman Bastian Gehrer (6-1, 197) is a sledgehammer of a blocker who can also pick up the tough inside yards.
“Bastian is a true-blocking fullback. He will make life much better for our tailbacks,” Depew noted.
Sophomore letterman Steven Felton (5-11, 190) is Gehrer’s quality backup.
Cyrus Hill (5-8, 165) is a veteran presence at tight end. The dependable senior has three letters to his credit already. Junior Paul Cook (5-10, 165) will be his backup.
Depew has a wealth of talent at wideout, headed by junior dynamo Trevin Tush and veteran Jules Giovengo.
The two-year letter-winning Tush (5-7, 160) exploded on the scene last fall, leading the team with 30 catches for 450 yards and seven TDs. He is the Cadets’ deep threat while the dependable Giovengo (5-6, 150) is the possession receiver, landing 22 aerials for 205 yards and two TDs a year ago.
Hirt will have the luxury of throwing to several other solid receivers.
Joe Zaccirey (6-3, 190) enjoyed a fine sophomore campaign, using his great size to snare 21 balls for 427 yards and two scores.
Also in the mix is rising junior letterman Lee Paull (5-8, 140), athletic senior letter-winner Mikal Warfield-Payne (6-1, 155) and sophomore Kobe Hill (5-8, 150). Kelley will also be another viable option for Hirt.
“We have great depth at wideout. We plan to play more guys there to keep them fresher,” Depew said.
Depew appreciated the quality work delivered by his offensive line a year ago. The Cadets’ O-line may even be better this time around.
“Those guys (offensive line) made the difference last year. They allowed us to do a lot of different things,” Depew said. “I am really excited about this year group. We lost only one starter up front.”
The line is anchored by senior star Thomas Aronokhale (6-3, 290). He is one of the premier two-way players in the Ohio Valley and has received several D-1 college football offers. He will start at guard.
“Thomas is a tremendous football player. He means a lot to our football team,” Depew said.
Both tackles return in the form of Neville Krueger (6-2, 220) and Nils Braun (6-6, 320). Krueger is a senior while Braun is a junior. They are on the short list of top tackle tandems in the OVAC.
Junior letterman Parker Blue (6-0, 270) will see quality time as their chief backup. Junior Florian Hirsch (6-4, 235) is added tackle insurance.
Lee Cartwright (6-0, 182) is back again at center after a solid sophomore season. He is backed by sophomore Cole Grimm (6-1, 153).
The one question mark on the O-line is who will be Aronokhale’s running mate at guard. Stephen Snyder (5-10, 220) will be the likely starter. He is a three-year letterman. Junior Chance Knight (6-3, 205) is a two-year letterman who will see plenty of guard duty.
While the Cadet offense brims with explosiveness, the Orange & Black defense will prove a tough bunch to move against. Linsly will utilize a 4-2-3 and will boast talent at all three levels.
Aronokhale is a rock on the line with Krueger and Knight also ticketed for regular duty. The fourth starter will come from a trio of quality performers – Blue, Hirsch and Braun. Depth is an obvious strength.
Snyder returns as a starting linebacker. He is an exceptional defender and is the team’s leading returning tackler. Snyder will be paired with Gehrer. They will be backed by Felton and Cyrus Hill.
Linsly uses a three safety look. All three are returning starters and all three are quality in Kelley, Petho and Giovengo. Cyrus Hill and sophomore letterman Zachai Simmons (5-7, 140) will provide relief.
Tush is a lockdown cornerback and will be joined by either Zaccirey or Warfield-Payne. Paull and Kobe Hill are quality corner subs.
“When you feel good about your No. 2s, as we do, you feel good about your football team. We are anxious to get the season starter,” Depew said. “We have two quality scrimmages in John Marshall and Weir. They will be a great measuring stick for where we are.”
Depew’s coaching staff returns intact.
James Wallace is the defensive coordinator while Chris Kiedaisch is in charge of the offense.
Brian Valentine is the line coach, Mark Dodd tutors the running backs and linebackers, Andrew Swierkos handles the defensive backs and wide receivers while Demetrius Baldwin-Youngblood is in charge of tight ends and assists with the defensive line.
The junior high coaches are Doug Tush, Jay Cartwright, Ron Gill and Joe Giovengo.