Barnesville seeks season-long consistency
BARNESVILLE — There’s nothing like game experience, no matter what the sport. There are times when teams have to play younger kids in order to get through some tough situations.
In each of Blake Allen’s three seasons as head coach at his alma mater, Barnesville has won its season-opener but hasn’t had much success in the weeks following. The Shamrocks finished 3-7 in his first campaign before posting back-to-back 5-5 seasons. However, they started 3-0 last fall and had fans in western Belmont County buzzing only to lose the next four contests. They did bounce back to win two of the final three.
The 2018 Shamrocks were similar. They started 2-1 until a four-game slide halted that promising season. They won their final three to finish at .500.
“I’ve got pretty high expectations. We’ve got a lot of guys back. This is the first time since I have become head coach that, if we started right now, every starter would be a junior or senior,” Allen noted. “That’s a good feeling. We’ve started a lot of younger kids the last two years and now they’ve got a lot of experience. I think they know what it takes to win at the varsity level.
“I’ve got high expectations as long as we stay healthy and keep working hard.”
Allen was smiling last year when Barnesville reeled off impressive victories over Buckeye Local, Meadowbrook and Buckeye Trail before the injury-bug bit hard and several other issues factored into the losing skid.
“I don’t want to blame it on injuries. We just didn’t play very good football in the middle of the season,” he admitted. “The last couple of years we’ve started off pretty well but then we’ve lost four games in a row in the middle of each season.
“We’ve been preaching this year that football is a game where you get knocked down, but you have to get back up. Sometimes we dwell too much on the getting knocked down part. We need to focus more on the getting up back part.
“Responding to adversity is something that we’ve been focusing on. We didn’t do that well last year. We’d lose a game, get down on ourselves and that would lead to losing another game. We also turned the ball over way too much last season. I think we had 25 giveaways last year. You just can’t win like that.
“Turnovers. Poor tackling and penalties. The basic fundamentals. I think we’ve got the skill to win a lot of games this season, but we’ve got to take care of the little things. It doesn’t matter how talented you are if you continue to shoot yourself in the foot over and over.”
Barnesville has 44 players out this season. Nearly half of whom are returning lettermen, with a more than a handful being three-year vets.
“Pretty good numbers. We’ve been around the mid-40s the last few years. I think for a school our size that is a pretty good number,” he added. “Our younger grades have good size, too. We have 15 freshmen and good numbers in the junior high programs. So, I’m excited for the future, as well.
“Our seniors were freshmen when I took over as head coach, and some of them actually played because we had a young team that year. So a lot of them have been playing for some time now,” he said. “It’s been a great feeling, even with all of this COVID-19 stuff, we’ve been able to adapt. The kids know the program and my expectations. Everything has been really smooth and we’ve had great leadership all the way through.”
Returning to the field general role is senior Ayden Hannahs (5-10, 186). He completed 90 of 148 passes (60.8) for 1,266 yards and 13 touchdowns in six contests before being injured.
“Ayden is a great leader at the quarterback position. It all starts with him,” Allen praised. “He has improved tremendously since last year, but he got hurt and missed the last month of the season. That just killed him because he is such a great competitor. Everyday he works at getting better. He asks questions. He watches film.
“I tell him that his biggest benefit is also his worst enemy,” he added. “He’s such a competitor and sometimes he doesn’t want to give up on a play and forces some things, so we’re trying to work on those things with him. But as far as his athleticism, he can make the throws. We just want to make sure he’s making good decisions.”
Other quarterbacks are sophomore C.J. Hannahs (5-7, 133) and freshman Aydon Van Horn (5-8, 139).
“C.J. will be our backup. He’s a very athletic kid,” Allen said. “Aydon has done a nice job so far.”
The Shamrocks lost their top two running backs in Alex Meade and Caden Lake to graduation, but Allen is confident of the group he has back.
Senior Cameron Woods (6-0, 170) will get the majority of the carries at tailback and classmate Jake Boulet (5-10, 174) will start at fullback.
“Cameron is a tough kid and Jake is hard-nosed,” Allen revealed.
Junior Owen Wyse (5-9, 174) has opened some eyes in camp.
“We’re excited about his potential. He’s very agile and athletic.”
Another promising junior, Connor Jones (5-9, 203).
“He has good size and is another very athletic kid,” Allen noted.
Others in the mix include junior Austin Mayhugh (5-7, 180); sophomore Bryce Hall (5-5, 152); and freshmen Hayden Jurco (5-7, 166), Karson Milhoan (5-4, 120), Jaxon Wiley (5-5, 142) and Elye Wise (5-8, 162).
Allen and his staff are excited about the wide receivers where senior Gage Hannahs (5-9, 161) returns.
“Gage had a big year last season for us,” Allen recalled. “He does a lot for us and is a great athlete. He’s going to get the ball a lot.”
Junior Spencer Bliss (5-9, 150) is another player that has drawn Allen’s attention during camp.
“He has really emerged this season. He’s grown some and looks a lot more confident in himself this season,” Allen allowed. “We expect big things from him.”
Seniors A.J. Detling (5-7, 140) and Isaac Thompson (5-8, 143) will also be a prime targets.
“He’s a steady player that will give you everything he has,” Allen said. “Isaac will also see a lot of time.”
Also listed as wideouts are sophomores Corbin Wise (5-10, 145) and Bryce Castle (5-9, 141); and freshmen Taison Starr (5-7, 137), Skylar King (5-9, 128), Luke Detling (5-4, 114) and Jason Castello (5-4, 120).
The tight ends are juniors Ethan Spangenburg (6-0, 228) and Chase Conner (5-11, 162).
“Ethan has nice size and blocks well, while Chase is a tall, lanky type.”
Also listed are sophomores Jordon Smith (5-9, 142) and Robby Nixon (5-6, 150).
The offensive line is where Allen says the strength of his team lies.
“We’ve got four starters back on the offensive line and that’s a great feeling. This is the strength of our team,” Allen raved. “We feel good about this group. This is the strongest group of offensive linemen that I’ve coached. We average about 230 across the line and for a school our size that’s pretty big. There’s been years when we’ve averaged under 200, so they’re big and they’re strong. They take it seriously in the weight room.”
Those returnees include seniors Justin Jackson (5-10, 198) at center and Luke Schultz (5-10, 199) at right tackle. The left guard is junior Gavin Carpenter (5-8, 268) while classmate Jadyn Lucas (6-0, 299) lines up next to him at tackle.
“Those four guys are our studs up front. They’ve all played quite a few games already in the careers and we are really looking for good things from them,” Allen said.
Battling for the right guard spot are senior Jacob Starr (5-11, 158) and juniors Avery Clouse (6-0, 220), Logan Shepherd (5-7, 232) and Orion Smith (6-0, 189).
The remainder of the offensive linemen are senior Connor Johnson (6-0, 175); sophomores Hunter Phillips (5-3, 162) and Quinten Leasure (5-11, 337); and freshmen Hank Johnson (5-9, 188), Coy Flynn (5-7, 173), Jacob Smith (5-7, 189), Kaidon Jefferies (54, 138), Kyle West (5-9, 178) and Chase Riley (5-9, 280).
The Shamrocks will deploy a 4-4 defense.
“The same as we ran last year,” he said of the alignment. “We might make some adjustments from game to game depending on what the opponents do.”
The down four are Jacob Starr and Schultz at the ends and Carpenter, Shepherd and Lucas at the tackles.
Backups at the ends are Spangenburg and Orion Smith, while Clouse, Leasure and Riley are backup tackles. Listed as defensive linemen are Hank Johnson, Flynn, Jacob Smith, Jefferis, Connor Johnson and Kyle West.
Boulet will move from outside linebacker to the middle this season.
“He will do a great job in there,” Allen said.”
Also getting looks at the other inside ‘backer are Jackson, Spangenburg and Jones.
Woods returns at one outside linebacker while Owyn Wise and Conner are battling for the other. Hall is also in the mix for playing time.
Rounding out the outside linebackers are Taison Starr, Jordon Smith, King, Mayhugh, Jurco, Milhoan, Wiley, Nixon, Elye Wise and Phillips.
Gage Hannahs is back at one corner with Bliss emerging for playing time at the other. Ayden Hannahs will be the safety. A.J. Detling can play any of those positions, as can Thompson.
Backups are C.J. Hannahs, Van Horn, Luke Detling, Castello, Corbin Wise and Castle.
Special teams should also be a strength.
“Gage Hannahs is a really good punter for us and he returns, as does Gavin (Carpenter) as the placekicker. Ayden Hannahs can kick off and our return guys have some speed,” Allen said.
The Shamrocks schedule has undergone some changes due to the Ohio High School Athletic Association cutting the season to six games. They will play at Buckeye Local on Thursday, Aug. 27 before returning to Shamrock Stadium to host Beaver Local (Friday, Sept. 4), Edison (Friday, Sept. 11) and Shenandoah (Friday, Sept. 18). A road trip to Hannibal to meet River (Friday, Sept. 25) precedes a road contest at home with rival Union Local (Friday, Oct. 2).
“It’s tough,” Allen said of the schedule. “The winning percentage of the five teams we lost to last year was around 80 percent,” he said. “We’re going to play quality opponents who are well-coached. That’s what we want. We want to play good teams and we accept the challenge each and every week.
“When we are playing smart, efficient football, we feel like we can play with anybody.”
The same names as last year comprise the coaching staff, with the addition of former head coach Matt Johnson who has returned after a few years off.
“He’s just another intelligent mind on the staff,” Allen said of Johnson who stepped down from the boys head basketball job following last season. “It’s great to have him back.”
Blake Allen will call the offensive plays and his brother, Bryce, will be the defensive coordinator this year. D.J. Butler will help with the offense. Dylan Rodgers, Tony Starr and Luke Johnson round out the staff.
“Luke coached me so that gives us two former head coaches and a couple of guys who have served as coordinators in their careers,” Allen said of his veteran staff. “Continuity is a big thing, especially at the high school level. The kids know what to expect from the coaches and the coaches know what to expect from the kids.”
In addition to Meade, who was an all-Ohio performer last fall, and Lake, also lost to graduation were Uryan Meade, Austin Holskey, Ryan Lucas, Owen Oliver, Trey Warner and Justis Weiss.