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Oak Glen coming off season to remember

NEW MANCHESTER — When Ted Arneault became the head football coach at Oak Glen four years ago, he began a culture change.

The results of the seeds that he planted began to blossom last year when Arneault’s Golden Bears went undefeated through the regular season, finished with the sixth ranking and reached the semifinals of the state Class AA playoffs. Getting beat 38-7 by eventual state champion Bridgeport was a disappointment for sure, but that team can take pride in having the first undefeated regular season and the best overall record of 12-1 in school history.

While there are challenges, the 2020 Golden Bears head into the season with 15 tournament-tested and seasoned lettermen, so expectations at the northern most high school in West Virginia are high.

The coronavirus pandemic, perhaps, is the biggest challenge. There are many health safeguards and protocols that Oak Glen and all high school sports teams must comply with, making a new normal that is vastly different from ways coaches and players did things up until now. Arneault is confident his veteran club, with the new culture now established, can get through the COVID-19 challenge.

The on-field challenges of replacing the inside linebacker corps that departed through graduation and a shortage of depth that might be needed to make it through a 10-game regular season also are obstacles. That includes the addition of five Class AAA teams, along with a perennial power in AA.

The Golden Bears had one of the top defenses in the area. A trio of inside linebackers gone in Preston Brown, Seth Mozingo and Connor Adams could be a challenge. The defense yielded only 1,595 yards. Mozingo and Adams also were key figures in the offense at tight end and guard.

Perhaps the bigger shoes to fill belong to Michael Lemly, the first-team all-state defensive back, whose outstanding play earned him the Cecil Lee Award as the best defensive back in the state.

Arneault also is looking to replace Zach Taylor, who was a stalwart the past three years as a receiver. In his senior season, he snared 26 passes for 556 yards. He also will have to find a kicker to replace the departed Matt Wright.

The Golden Bears had the second-best offense in the area based on the 4,373 yards gained. With most of the skill players returning this year, along with a veteran offensive line, Arneault feels his team is as good as any in the state’s AA ranks.

“We’ll have to stay relatively injury free,” he said. “We don’t have the depth I’d like to have in some positions.”

He’ll put the ball into the hands of senior and four-year starter Nick Chaney.

The talented quarterback returned this year in the best shape of his career after leading the Golden Bear offense to lofty heights as a junior when he completed 97 of 159 passes for 1,690 yards, 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions.

“He is leaner this year, and we’re looking for him to be more agile and able to run with the ball in certain situations,” said Arneault of his talented signal-caller, who has 5,045 total passing yards during the past three seasons. “He’s also much wiser, and we trust him with reading the opposing defenses and making changes to plays at the line of scrimmage.”

The Patterson cousins, Hunter and Gage, again will be counted upon to do a lot of the running and receiving in Arneault’s offense. Hunter Patterson gained first-team all-state recognition as a dual threat last year. He was Oak Glen’s leading receiver with 38 catches for 633 yards and seven touchdowns, and he also was the leading ball carrier with 89 rushes for 981 yards and 16 touchdowns. Gage Patterson caught 27 of Chaney’s tosses for 501 yards and eight scores.

Rounding out the backfield is Paxton Shuman at fullback. Called upon by Arneault to get the short yardage with his power running, the 250-pounder paced the Golden Bears with 794 yards on the ground on 119 carries last season. He reached pay dirt 13 times.

“We don’t have real big linemen, but what we have are athletic linemen,” Arneault said. “We probably average about 210 pounds in our offensive line.”

The veteran all-senior offensive line is led by 185-pound guard Kyler O’Connor, who earned all-state honors last year. The other guard returning is Danny Bealles, who gained a lot of experience rotating into the position off the bench. Matt Malick returns as a three-year starter at center. He was second-team all-state in 2019. Jeremy Taylor and Ethan Hooker also are three-year starters at tackle. Taylor is the biggest of the linemen at 236 pounds.

“These guys saw a lot of action last year, but we have some talented guys right behind them battling for playing time in juniors Gage Logston and Jordon Morris and sophomore Josh Blake,” Arneault said. “I told everyone when we began summer camp that as far as I was concerned, all positions were open. Just because they were starters last year doesn’t mean someone might beat them out.

“That’s part of our culture. We want everyone fighting for playing time.”

The defense has plenty of talent returning, too. Gage Patterson returns at outside linebacker. At 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds, he was the leading tackler for the Bears last year with 120.

“He is very physical, quick and hits hard,” Arneault said. “He’s also our punter.”

Senior Brayden Mineard returns at cornerback, where his nine interceptions garnered him second-team all-state laurels last year. Evan Geisse, a senior letterman at cornerback, has been impressive in early practices.

Arenault said those battling for playing time on the defensive side are juniors Dylan Conley and Jordan Morris, along with sophomores Kholton Goodlin, Mat Greenlief and Tristen McCauley.

The Oak Glen coaching staff remains basically unchanged. Chris Hill is the defensive coordinator, Arneault coordinates the offense, Pat Chaney is the “offensive boss man” and offensive line coach Brian Cunningham is the first assistant. Ted Arneault Sr. is special teams coordinator, Tyler Ossman coaches defensive backs, Ethan Delekta the inside linebackers and running backs, Vance Miller the defensive line, Jason Wiley is quarterbacks coach and Scott Pryor coaches the outside linebackers.

Arneault summed up his 52-man squad this way: “This team has playoff experience and proven capacity to win. They raised the bar last year bringing more expectations to this year, along with higher goals. I think the biggest change here has been in the culture and relationships between the players among themselves and also with the coaches and players. That has brought a sense of trust and accountability within all of us.”

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