Heasley takes over at Paden City

PADEN CITY — Zach Heasley cares deeply about the Paden City community.

His focus on team chemistry and family, along with his knowledge of football could be exactly what the Wildcats need for their football program.

Heasley takes over as head coach at his alma mater after 20-year head coach Brent Croasmun stepped down following the 2018 campaign.

Although practices just started up, Heasley is already loving every minute of it.

“It’s incredible,” the first-year coach said. “It’s almost like everything is hitting me now. It’s football season and I’m a head coach.”

For Heasley, the importance of creating one unit — or family — off the field is crucial to becoming one unit on it, as well.

“Paden City is a tight-knit community,” Heasley said. “It’s all about pride and family here. We have to be one big family if we want to reach one big end goal.

“We’ve had a Madden tournament and a talent show where each group has a coach they can make fun of. It’s the one time they can make fun of us. It’s just the team bonding and chemistry that gets those guys together, so they’ll go out on the field and battle for each other. That’s what we’re trying to install.”

After a 2-8 record a season ago, Heasley is ready to get after it with the help of seven seniors.

“We have seven quality seniors,” Heasley said. “I think this year is going to be a special year. What I like about this group of seniors is that they are all leaders.

“Everyone has bought in and everyone here is saying ‘we’re going to turn this thing around and win some games.’ That’s who I want to have in my locker room.

“I couldn’t have stepped into a better situation. We have good kids coming from good families and you can’t beat that.”

Despite returning seven seniors, the Wildcats will need to fill the void left by nine graduates from last year’s team.

Jacob Greene, Michael Schreves, Alex McCoy, Connor Shepherd, Dustin Clegg, Cameron Shepherd and Anthony Newman picked up diplomas, along with standout wide receiver Matt Saxon and OVAC All-Star tailback Ryan Cross.

Taking over at running back will be senior powerhouse Clayton Thomas.

“He’s an absolute freak,” Heasley said of Thomas. “The kid’s offseason has been incredible. He squats over 400 pounds, benches over 300 and deadlifts over 500.

“He has the strength aspect, he has the speed, quickness and lateral movement to cut on a dime and go but we have to work on when he needs to cut.

“We’re still working on that but once he gets that light on when it’s second nature for him, he’s going to be very dangerous for us.”

Ryan Cross’ brother, senior Ethan Cross, will handle the quarterback duties and Heasley believes he couldn’t ask for a better signalcaller.

“Ethan’s been incredible,” Heasley said. “He had to battle through some adversity but he’s been in the weight room all summer long.

“There are two types of leaders — a vocal leader and a leader by example — and he is both. He makes sure everyone is in the right place and is just a good athlete.”

Finding a replacement for Saxon won’t be easy, either, but the Wildcats feature plenty of athleticism that could be dangerous in the passing game.

“Our outside guys are both sophomores,” Heasley said. “Shane Anderson and Parker Higgins have been performing well and running good routes.

“Our one true slot guy is freshman Zane Yeater, who will be a good receiver for us. We have a couple of H-backs in seniors Bryant McKay and Jason Anderson.

“McKay is the starting H-back and Jason Anderson is almost like Rob Gronkowski. He’s a big kid and his hands are amazing. He can run the ball and can block for us.

“I think our skill guys are our strength but I wouldn’t be surprised if by the end of the season it’s our linemen.”

Senior Brad Baker will take on center responsibilities with senior Jeff Billiter lining up at tackle. Sophomores Joey Smith and Gavin Lewis, along with freshmen Hunter Fulks and Caleb Postlethwait will also be in the mix for time on the offensive line.

“Our offensive line is working hard and is very physical,” Heasley said. “If they can pass block and hold guys off for three seconds and if they can run block and get in front of someone, we love it.

“Brad Baker has been snapping the ball since he was a freshman and Jeff Billiter is not very vocal, but he is a good leader by example. All summer long and during the spring Jeff was in the weight room.

“You don’t really expect him to be a lineman because he’s around 180 pounds but he’s fundamentally sound and he’s a really good lineman.

“Big Joe Smith is about 6-foot-1, 320 pounds and can move well for his size, while Gavin Lewis is a tall, lankier kid and Hunter Fulks and Caleb Postlethwait will just get better by the practice because they bought into the system.”

The defensive line also looks to be a strong point for Paden City with Baker, Jason Anderson and Billiter seeing time at defensive end.

Fulks will also be a viable weapon on the line.

“I’m really looking forward to Hunter Fulks,” Heasley said. “His lateral movement in his hips and his hands are unbelievable. The way he gets quick off the ball, there won’t be too many guys stopping him.”

Junior Logan Fluharty and Postlethwait, along with Smith will be in a battle for reps at nose guard, while sophomores Devin Walton and Caleb Young are also candidates to make an impact on the line.

Senior Jake Amos will anchor the linebackers, which will also consist of Thomas, Higgins and McKay.

“Amos is the only kid who will just play one side of the ball,” Heasley said. “He can move laterally, he has speed and is going to be a force at middle linebacker.”

Freshman Zane Yeager and Shane Anderson and sophomore Thomas Spruill will fill cornerback spots and Ethan Cross will take on safety responsibilities.

“I’d rather have a quarterback playing safety,” Heasley said.

“That way he can read the quarterback and know exactly what he is thinking because he’s thinking the same thing.”

Joining Heasley on the sideline during his first year at the helm will be assistant coaches Rob Price, Ron Castro, Josh Fulks and Mike Schreves.