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Martins Ferry returns quality nucleus

MARTINS FERRY — After starting 1-3 last fall, Martins Ferry reeled off five victories over the final six games to finish 6-4. However, the Purple Riders fell just shy of making the Division V, Region 17 playoff field, finishing ninth just 0.8364 points behind Sandy Valley.

Watching the playoffs unfold without them didn’t sit well with the 47 players, coaching staff, student body and the community.

Well guess what, folks!

The Purple Riders are back and they are looking to make some noise in the abbreviated six-game schedule recently introduced by the Ohio High School Athletic Association due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. They have 16 lettermen returning for another season, including 10 on the defensive side of the football.

Martins Ferry will debut on Friday when Shadyside travels north on Ohio 7 to the Dave Bruney Football Complex. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

“We return a lot of guys that played on both sides of the ball last year. I don’t whether it’s because of the COVID-19 stuff or the fact that everybody has been cooped up, but the kids have been excited about practicing,” third-year Purple Rider head coach Chas Yoder said. “It’s been different … our routine has been different, but the kids are excited to be out here practicing.”

He said the team and staff have done whatever has set forth.

“We’ve been following the advice and guidelines of the Ohio High School Athletic Association, the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association and the government in Ohio. We’ve been doing everything they’ve asked,” he added. “It took some time because you get in a routine that you are used to and then it changes. Now our kids are used to it. We’re making the best of a crappy situation.”

As far as shortening the schedule goes, Yoder just wants the kids to have the opportunity to take the field.

“Anything that gives us a chance to play I’m for,” he stressed. “The kids understand that. We just want to play. It seems that things have been changing daily … weekly, but we’ll roll with the punches. Just give us the opportunity to play. That’s all we’re asking for.”

Another change this season will be the color of the helmet the players strap on. Instead of the traditional white helmet with a purple horseshoe on each side, the colors will be reversed. It will be the first time Martins Ferry has wore purple helmets since former head coach Dave Bruney’s senior season of 1968.

“I kind of like the purple helmet, but I left it up to the kids,” Yoder noted. “It’s a change of pace. I brought it up and the seniors made the ultimate decision. The kids love it.”

Martins Ferry lost 11 seniors including Jake Probst who was a 4-year starter at quarterback and standout wide receiver Dasyn Hores. Also picking up their diplomas were Chase Ward, Jarrett Bolinger, the Olson twins — Caleb and Cody, Richard McFarland, Pedro Nunes Bastos, Gage Kwiatkowski, Jervon Thompson and Donte Lewis.

The Purple Riders will once again line up in the pro-style offense with senior Logan Smith (6-5, 195) calling the signals at quarterback. He has played wide receiver the past three seasons.

“Logan is a dual threat guy. He may be in his first season as the starting quarterback but he will be starting on defense for us for his fourth year. There’s not too many kids that have done that, so football-wise I don’t look at him as a new starter because he has started in other places. He understands football. He has a high football IQ which will help him immensely.

“He has good size and great arm strength. The ball just pops out of his hand.”

Senior Jack Weir (6-0, 150) is now settled in after transferring from Linsly prior to last season.

“It has taken Jack a couple of weeks to get used to our offense because it’s different than he was used to at Linsly,” Yoder said. “He’s been making big strides and don’t be surprised if you see him in the game, as well.”

Freshman Baron Lucey (5-8, 135) is in the wings. He could also play wide receiver.

“Baron is picking up the offense really well. He’s going to be a good player for us down the road,” Yoder said.

The backfield returns in tact as seniors Chase Goff (5-9, 165) and Trevor Hanson (5-11, 170) lead a talented trio at tailback that also includes promising sophomore George Hulsey (5-9, 165) who saw quality time as a freshman.

“All three of those kids run hard,” Yoder allowed. “They are also hard-nosed kids.”

Senior Evan Carpenter (6-2, 215) will be the fullback. He played there the final five games last year and was a spark to the team’s turnaround.

Others in the mix at tailback are junior Quamari Lacy (5-6, 145); sophomore Jackson Carte (5-11, 150); and freshmen Andrew Leifer (5-7, 145), Kaden Archer (5-8, 145) and Shayden Fogle (5-8, 155).

Junior Coltin Larkins (6-2, 205), who is the backup at fullback, is battling with classmate J.T. Hill (6-1, 160) for the tight end job. Senior William Bailer (6-1, 180) is also listed at tight end, as are junior Michael Davis (6-1, 175) and sophomore Johnny McFarland (5-10, 165).

The Purple Riders return four players who saw time at wide receiver last season, while another has decided to return to the sport after some time off.

Senior Alex Bennett (5-11, 145) headlines the returnees, along with classmate Cole Sztary (5-8, 165). Juniors Colton Redinger (5-7, 150) and David Skvarka (5-10, 170) also saw time last year and have shown promise in camp. Junior Jaizen Miles (6-3, 195) adds depth in his return.

“Alex and Cole saw a lot of time a year ago and both have good speed. Miles hasn’t played in a while but has good size and Skvarka has looked good so far,” Yoder continued. “Redinger played first five games last year after transferring.”

Also listed at wide receiver are juniors Tyler Donaher (5-9, 145) and Kolton Goddard (5-10, 145); sophomores Mason Caniff (5-10, 145), Dominick Shrodes (5-9, 145), Dylan Ward (5-7, 120), Domenick Tedeschi (5-10, 130), Matthew Fox (6-2, 140), Landyn Hores (6-2, 170) and Devon Green (6-1, 140); and freshmen Ryan Theaker (6-0, 130), Carter Bennett (5-10, 135) and Nathan Ferron (5-10, 145).

Martins Ferry returns four starters along the front line.

Senior Noah Duck (5-10, 200) will move from center to a guard slot this year. He will be joined there by junior Zeke Bruney (5-10, 275) who started on both sides of the football at times last fall. The tackles will be senior Preston Thaman (6-1, 280) and junior Peyton Hores (6-1, 240). The center is junior Zak Dobson (6-0, 220) who started at defensive end as a sophomore.

“We have good size and good athleticism. We are not huge across the board but we’ve got athletes on the line,” Yoder mentioned. “Larkins will see time at guard as will (sophomore) Matthew Collette (6-0, 230).

Yoder also said junior Jesse Nagel (6-3, 255) has been a pleasant surprise in camp.

“He’s a big boy. He has good feet.”

Senior Ryan Meeker (5-8, 260) is the backup center while junior Josh Dagan (5-6, 245) is listed as a guard. Tackle prospects are sophomore Alex Finsley (6-0, 255) and freshmen Camren Beasley (5-9, 190), Travis Trout (5-10, 235) and Stephen Cole (5-8, 225).

Defensively, the Purple Riders will run a 4-3 scheme with Carpenter roaming the middle of the field at linebacker. The returning first-team all-stater is a talent.

“The sky is the limit,” Yoder said of Carpenter’s potential. “He’s getting some (college) looks, but he should be getting offers. Not because I am biased, but all he needs is some school out there to take a chance on him because they are going to get a talented player. He loves contact and is emerging as one of our leaders, along with Logan.

Carpenter will be flanked by Hanson and Duck. Hanson will be starting for his fourth season.

Other linebackers are Hulsey, Lacy, Leifer, Archer, Landyn Hores, Hill and Ferron.

Dobson and Larkins will man the ends. Backups are Davis, McFarland, Fogle, Nagel, Collette and Bailer.

Thaman, Bruney and Peyton Hores will rotate at the down tackles. Others in the mix are Beasley, Trout, Finsley, Meeker, Dagan and Cole.

Bennett returns at one corner with Redinger and Miles battling for the other. Weir, Lucey, Shrodes, Skvarka, Carte, Ward, Carter Bennett, Donaher, Goddard, Tedeschi, Fox and Green are the other corners.

The safeties will be Smith and Sztary. Goff, Caniff and Theaker will also see time.

Special teams is an area that Yoder hadn’t settled on after losing veteran placekicker and kickoff specialist Cody Olson and punter Probst.

“We’ve got a couple of guys who can kick and a couple who can punt, but I can’t list anyone right now that is ahead of the others,” he admitted. “You don’t realize how valuable they (kickers/punters) are until they graduate.”

A big bonus is the Purple Riders return their entire coaching staff — high school and junior high. Another plus, most of them are all Martins Ferry graduates.

“It’s great because everybody knows what to expect from everyone. It’s a great staff. We all work hard together,” he praised. “I couldn’t be happier to have all of those guys back and we have all of our junior high staff returning, as well. That doesn’t happen very often. Most of them are alumni, playing at Ferry and some even played for me when I was an assistant coach here.”

The varsity staff includes Anthony Reasbeck (offensive coordinator), John Bennett, Gregg Bahen, Nick Stankovich, Taylor Yoder, Greg ware and Greg Kumse. Only Bahen and Kumse aren’t Purple alums. The junior high staff is comprised of Zack Coole, John McFarland, Lucas Agnew, Jon Bodkin, Hunter Bodkin, Robert Harris, Shane Krob and Drake Dobson.

In addition to the season-opener with Shadyside, the Purple Riders host Linsly (Friday, Sept. 4) and Union Local (Friday, Sept. 11). They hit the road to end the brief campaign with games at St. Clairsville (Friday, Sept. 25); Harrison Central (Friday, Sept. 25); and Weir (Friday, Oct. 2).

“It’s a tough schedule. We can’t overlook anybody. We just need to take it one week at a time,” Yoder said. “Right now with all the uncertainty and not being allowed to scrimmage, we’re just controlling what we can control. We’ll be ready for week 1. Right now it is Shadyside and that is who we are preparing for.”

He said the SPARKY rivalry game with long-time rival Bellaire is also an option with the new OHSAA rules.

“The possibility of playing Bellaire is good. You are allowed to play one extra week. The only way we wouldn’t play is if both teams make it five weeks deep into the playoffs,” he said.

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