River hopes to take the next step
HANNIBAL — If the OHSAA is going ahead with a season starting on time with the COVID-19 pandemic hovering over all fall sports, River High head coach Mike Flannery isn’t masking his expectations for his veteran squad.
The Pilots’ 42-man roster, one of the biggest in recent memory at the Hannibal-based school, is stocked with 19 lettermen, including two-time first-team All-Ohio linebacker Carter Dennis (5-10, 195) and special mention All-Ohio jack-of-all-trades Michael Johnson (-5-10, 160), among the eight seniors.
Flannery’s crew, 18th at his alma mater, debuts Saturday at Bellaire and with no scrimmages allowed this summer, he’s counting on his squad’s experience to gel quickly once the whistle blows.
Dennis, one of seven players Flannery said, “won’t come of the field,” is one of the top linebackers in the OVAC and the talented 3-year starter ran for 14 TDs and 731 yards from his fullback slot, but his defensive prowess is where he shines. Johnson, Flannery adds, “is one of the top special teamers around and a veteran presence at cornerback. Johnson rushed 88 times for 963 yards and 9 TDs last fall when the Pilots went 6-4 and just missed the D7 playoffs. The speedster added 18 catches for 270 yards.
Letterman Chase Lawrence (6-1, 195) returns and is in a three-way quarterback battle, but can also be utilized as a receiver as he had 10 catches for 237 and a TD. Another letter-winner Flannery is high on is senior Jake Rose (5-11, 165), who pulled in 22 catches for 348 and 3 TDs.
Rounding out the senior list are returnees Nate Bowers (6-1, 250) and Tyson Randall (5-9, 210) in the trenches, while classmate Kobe Zola (5-9, 255) will be counted on to fill in one of the guard slots as Parker Blue, Jonah Schmidt and second-team all-Ohio Heath Rosen graduated.
Nine juniors are led by backfield flash Avery Creamer (5-11, 185), who rushed for 274 yards and 4 TDs, while he caught seven aerials for 115. Brody Longwell (6-2, 180) provides a nice target at tight end/cornerback.
Chase Siburt (5-10, 206) and Austin Creamer (5-11, 175) will look for playing time along the lines, as will Trent Binegar (5-9, 165) and Nick Macheca (5-10, 175). Chris Heavener (5-9, 135) is a backfield candidate, while Kylie Miller (5-5, 101) is a receiver.
An integral part for the Pilots is the kicking game, which improved by leaps and bounds last season with the emergence of junior Zac Hocutt (5-10, 155). “(Zac’s) worked hard all summer,” noted Flannery. “He’s improved and it’s important to him to have success from the start.”
A dozen Pilot sophomores gained a lot of varsity experience as frosh, incuding Brody Lollathin (5-10, 155), who is battling for quarterback time, and Ty Long (6-2, 215), who had 22 catches for 348 yards and 3 TDs.
Lollathin, who’ll slide into one of the receiving spots when not at QB, threw for 94 yards last season.
There’s good size among the 10th graders, including Marshall Bier (5-9, 270), who saw significant time last year, Jake Huffman (6-0, 235), Brayden Strawn (5-9, 220), who’s penciled in a starting center, Travis Childress (5-11, 220), and Mason Randall (5-11, 210).
Matt Baker (5-11, 160) is a line candidate, as is River Thompson (6-2, 175), while Eligha Wayt (5-9, 150), Clee Mitchell (5-8, 140), and Gage Lyman (5-10, 130) complete the sophomores.
“We lost three offensive line starters, but Strawnn, Zola, Bier, and possibly Randall can fill those holes,” added the Pilot mentor, who has eight playoff appearances to his credit. “And there’s nice competition for QB between Lawrence, Lollathin and freshman Kabel Isaly (5-8, 135). Each one has a different skill level and does things better than the other two.”
Flannery was pleased with his freshmen turnout of 14. “It’s a real good class and some will play their way onto the field should they continue to impress in practices.”
Among the linemen are Zeke Zola (5-9, 245), Cooper Cordery (5-9, 240), Hunter Nething (5-9, 230) and Matthew Gregory (5-11, 230). Also pushing for varsity time are Chase Hoskinson (5-7, 185), Brendan Hanlin (5-9, 175), Austin Baughman (6-1, 155) and Dominic Asturi (5-4, 170).
Backs include Talon Ady (5-9, 175), Finn Bowers (5-9, 175), Maddox Mozena (5-10, 155), Kaleb Headley (5-6, 130) and Isaly. Will Blake (5-7, 140) is a receiver.
Flannery’s varsity assistants include returnees Eric James, Chris Wisvari, Joey Asturi, former RHS mentor Terry Snively, and newcomer Andrew Harper.
River’s backfield looks strong with Dennis, Johnson, Creamer and Long. “These kids aren’t only talented, but smart, and Rose and Lollathin have speed at wideouts.”
Nine starters return on defense. “Our inner six or seven defenders are back,” said Flannery, with ends Lawrence and Long, Bowers at nose, and Bier at tackle, backed by Dennis and both Creamers at linebackers.
Originally, the River schedule underwent just two changes. Those included a Week 7 visit to Belpre and a Week 9 trip to Castalia Margaretta, but when the OHSAA announced its revised football format, which includes six regular-season games and everyone qualifying for the playoffs, Flannery and Athletics Director Mark Romick were in search of additional games. Southern Local is off the slate and a road trip to Harding Stadium to meet Steubenville Catholic Central is now on the docket.