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Linsly taking nothing for granted this season

WHEELING — In 2019, Linsly couldn’t have asked for a better start. After winning their first seven games, the Cadets finished the year with three tough losses to finish the year at 7-3. Although finishing the year on a three-game losing streak to Kiski, Western Reserve Academy and Steubenville, Cadets coach B.J. Depew felt like his team capped off the season on a positive tone.

“We had an excellent season in terms of making progress against tougher and tougher opponents,” Depew said. “We really stepped up in terms of matching some bigger schools and some traditionally great programs. Winning seven in a row and the seventh one at Point Pleasant was probably one of the more impressive games. I wouldn’t say we peaked right there, but that was our last victory and our kids really had to rise to the occasion in the second half. We finished with three tough ones, but even through those losses, those kids showed tremendous heart, never once gave up. I couldn’t have been prouder when it all ended up in Steubenville of the team they have become. I feel like we’re coming off a high note, despite the fact we’re coming off a three-game losing streak on paper.”

Like all other football teams across the country, Linsly had to make adjustments to practicing because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s really difficult to make long-term plans and long-term goals,” DePew said. “So, we’ve taken it one week at a time. As cliche as that sounds, it was necessary this summer. I feel like, as coaches, it was our job to prepare them physically in the event that this season takes place and I think we’ve done that. I think the kids have really answered that call and we’ve had our best summer that I can remember in terms of the number of kids participating and the work they put in.

“We didn’t have the three weeks where we competed in 7-on-7’s and got to do scheme and teaching. We set that aside knowing that we needed to be in shape and physically strong. Without a spring athletic season, a lot of the kids hadn’t done much for quite some time. I think getting back together as a group was probably as meaningful as what we did. We kept that going and the spirit has been great. It will be a condensed preseason now, and we’ll have to teach more football and get them ready faster than we have before. It will be a challenge, but I think these kids have proven they’ll answer and respond to that challenge.”

Although graduating 14 seniors from the 2019 squad, Linsly returns a strong core of skill players from last year’s squad, one of which is senior Hunter Kelley, who will be back under center for the Cadets.

Junior Collin Paull and freshmen Alex Taylor and Atley Cowan will also join that position group.

Depew said he will also utilize senior Kobe Hill in the position too in different packages from time to time.

At running back, senior Zachai Simmons, who only played in the first three games last year because of a fractured leg injury, will be looked at to lead the way. Classmate Spencer Knight will also be in the backfield. Knight was a wide receiver for the Cadets last year. Steve Felton will be at the fullback position. Depew also said there’s a lot of younger players by committing that will be able to fill in the blanks behind them.

At wide receiver, Hill will also see time there as he has the most experience at the slot for the Cadets. Junior Felix Reitter is being counted on to step up this season. Senior Nico Hoellwarth, who say most time on defense last year, will see time. Sophomores Luca DiLorenzo and Nathan Coleman also look to have great seasons at receiver.

While the skill positions return many veterans, the offensive line is a different story.

“Offensive line will be an area of rebuilding,” Depew said. “All five of our starters last year were seniors.”

Hayden Bozich, a junior, will be the guy that Depew will count on up front to be the leader. He started three times last year and was primed as the sixth man. Senior Marco Aprea will also be in the mix along with juniors Colton Cybulski, Alco Smith and sophomore Landin Blakely.

On the defensive line, Aprea is the only returning starter. Cybulski, Smith, Bozich also saw time last year, but one will have to earn a spot down the road.

Felton returns to the linebacking corp at middle linebacker. Senior Jake Stern will see time as well as juniors Adam Och and Brodie Selmon and senior Spencer Knight.

Kelley will return in the secondary, who has started since his freshman year. DiLorenzo also started all last year as a freshman. Hill, Reitter, Hoellwarth, Coleman and Simmons will also return.

“That group in particular, I regret that they didn’t have the 7-on-7 season,” Depew said. “Our defensive backs probably get more work and better reps in 7-on-7 than anything else we do. Not having that in June is going to slow this group’s development down some, but I think they can be really good.”

Joao Lima is the kicker and punter for Cadets, who Depew is all in on.

“He is as good as anyone we’ve had since I was the head coach. He has never stopped training, even when we were on shutdown. He has gone to as many kicking showcases and camps he could get to. He’s worked harder at his craft than anybody I’ve coached.”

Anthony Andy and Dylan Hill round out the senior class while Landin Blakely, Adam Dolata, Amir Hodzic, Liam Lyck and Florian Schorn are the juniors.

Eitan Cohen, Aiden Christ, Gioni Ferguson, Wyatt Haynes and Debu Yi are the sophomores.

The freshmen include Nate Berhalter, Cole Bloomfield, Roi Gerson, John Paul Jones, Lane Kendzerski, Raymond Kovalesky, Fisher Palian, Jack Selmon, Nathen Smith, Alex Taylor, Mikey Troullos, Tommy Turak and Luis Wade.

A handful of Linsly games they originally had scheduled are not happening, but Depew has been making some calls to other schools to fill the void.

“I think this year more than ever, goals are going to need to be short-termed,” Depew said. “That’s how we approached the summer. That’s how we will approach preseason, taking it day by day and week by week. We will be fortunate to play anywhere near the games we would like to and the one thing that I can guarantee that is any opportunity these kids have, they’re going to treat it like it is special. As coaches, we talk to players all the time about not taking things for granted and not overlooking any opportunity. Cherishing it because it goes to fast and nothing is ever promised. I think these kids had to learn that lesson the hard way seeing what happened in the spring and seeing the uncertainty in the fall.

“But I think right now they honestly cherish each day we work out in the summer and any game we get it will not be taken for granted. These kids will give it everything they have.”

Depew is assisted by James Wallace, Chris Kiedaisch, Brian Valentine, Gee Lofstead and Justin Hensley.

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