Shadyside celebrating 100th football season
SHADYSIDE — The level of excitement for Shadyside football is always high in August.
The level is even a bit higher than normal as this season approaches.
The 2019 campaign promises to be one to remember.
Shadyside is celebrating its 100th season of football and has a season’s worth of events planned with the main event slated for the Tigers’ annual showdown with River, which is slated for Oct. 4 when an all-class, football alumni reunion is planned.
And, oh by the way, Coach Mark Holenka has another team that appears to be primed and ready to make a run toward the school’s 21st playoff berth and challenge for its 15th OVAC title thanks to return of an impressive nucleus from a team that advanced to the Division VI, Region 23 championship game before falling to Fort Frye, 18-6.
Holenka has grown up on Shadyside football, literally. A life-long Shadyside resident and a Class of 71 alumnus, Holenka is looking forward to the 100th season for multiple reasons.
“(The anniversary) makes it exciting and it’s definitely nice to be a part of it,” Holenka said. “It means there’s a good chance that people, who in the past may have just read the newspaper or watched the news for the scores, may come to a game because they want to be a part of something special.”
As preparations have gone on throughout August, Holenka hasn’t had much trouble keeping his players dialed in on the tasks at hand, which begin Friday at Fleming Field when Martins Ferry comes calling.
“Actually, for these kids, the homecoming game is what really gets them excited,” Holenka said. “So, for me, there are more concerns that week, but I am sure there will be some goose bumps that night (against River) when the alumni form a tunnel for the kids to run through. It’s going to be really special.”
While the plans for the 100th season include the aforementioned all-class reunion, a ceremonial helmet decal, honorary captains and more, Holenka and company just hope the “extras” don’t prove to be extra motivation for the Tigers’ opponents.
“It’s certainly another reason for a team to be fired up to play us,” Holenka said. “I just hope we don’t disappoint anyone. It’s like another stone on the shoulder that we have to be aware of and if we’re not aware of it, it could become a brick on our shoulder.”
Holenka, who is embarking on his 11th season at the helm, didn’t expect to be the head coach for the 100th season. Actually, he didn’t expect to be at the helm for as many seasons as he’s been when he accepted the job to replace Ty Fleming.
“I was hoping I’d get through my own daughters in high school,” Holenka admitted. “Originally, I thought four years. But, it’s been enjoyable, we’ve done well and being around the kids and coaches really keeps you going.”
Expectations are once again high for the Tigers, who did lose 13 quality seniors from last season.
“That’s quite a bit for a school our size,” Holenka cautioned. “We have some gaps in our foundation that we have to get plugged up quickly.”
Because of the large number of graduates and just seven incoming freshmen, Shadyside’s numbers are down slightly. The Tigers have 37 on the roster.
“I really think it’s an odd roster for us,” Holenka admitted. “We’re youthful, but we’re experienced. We have some kids who have a decent amount of experience because they had to grow up fast last year due to injuries and such. Obviously, those hurt a little bit when they happen, but they can benefit you for the following seasons.”
However, injury holes might not be plugged up quite as well this season should they occur. The fewer numbers have taken what was a puzzle for the Tigers last season and turned them into “a game of dominoes.”
“We can put a good nucleus of guys on the field, but we had more pieces last year,” Holenka said. “If a guy gets hurt this season, we have to start moving some pieces and like in dominoes, you knock one over, the whole thing could go down quickly. That’s the vision I have if we get guys hurt. I am hopeful it doesn’t come down to quantity over quality for us because we have some quality.”
With so much valuable experience back, the Tigers have spent more time this preseason working to increase their depth to help close the gap between the first unit and what’s behind them.
“I think we can put a formidable team, at all positions, on the field,” Holenka said. “But, our 1A guys have to feel as good as the ones. We’ve been working to develop people to help solidify the starters.”
Despite his concern about the depth, Holenka firmly believes his team can be in the thick of the playoff chase again. But, a tough schedule must be navigated.
“I think we can be formidable in the postseason if we’re able to qualify,” Holenka said. “The toughest part for us might be getting there because I’m not sure we’ve played a tougher schedule even since I was a kid here.”
Shadyside has been able to adapt its offensive and defensive identities well to fit its personnel. Holenka believes his team will do that once again. A few years back, Shadyside was strictly a ground team, whereas last season, now graduated quarterback Anthony Coggins passed for 2,483 yards and 23 touchdowns en route to first-team all-Ohio accolades.
“Since we’re breaking in a new quarterback, I think we’ll need to set up the pass with the run a little bit more,” Holenka said. “As a coaching staff, we need to help take the pressure off the new kid on the block who is running the ship. Plus, our running game is quite capable.”
Slated to take over for Coggins at quarterback is sophomore Rhys Francis (6-0, 160). To hear Holenka tell it, Francis is quite talented, but obviously avoiding the first-year mistakes will be crucial.
“We don’t need Rhys to try to win games by himself,” Holenka cautioned. “He has the ability and talent. But, he just needs to continue to develop the confidence and make positive things happen.”
The only other quarterback listed on the roster is freshman Garrett Grover (5-10, 155), making this a position that could see some of the domino effect.
Set to take over the tailback duties, which were held by OVAC All-Star Game selection Connor Banco last season, is sophomore Wyatt Rieman. He burst onto the scene in a big way last season, carrying 50 times for 280 yards and 6 touchdowns. He also caught 9 passes for 184 yards.
“Wyatt is a very talented football player,” Holenka said. “He’s one of the headiest players I’ve ever coached. He just gets it. My only concern is I don’t want him or any of these young kids to get complacent.”
Joining Rieman is junior Jacob Visnic, who has become a mainstay. He rushed for 370 yards and 7 touchdowns last season. He also caught 17 passes for 257 yards and 2 more scores. Should Francis go down, Visnic would get a look at quarterback.
The third back is senior Jakob Klug (5-11, 178). He’s coming off a trip to the state track meet in June.
Other running backs looking to get into the rotation are sophomore Ethan Stanley (5-9, 143),
freshmen Andrew Brown (5-5, 147) and Josh Harris (5-3, 125).
Holenka wants to throw the ball because he feels like the wide receivers are the strength of his team.
“We really like our receivers,” Holenka said.
Leading the way is senior standout Kelly Hendershot. The all-Ohioan put forth a brilliant 2018 season. He caught 48 passes for 772 yards and 9 touchdowns. He also had 233 yards rushing and 3 more scores. He, too, would be an option at quarterback.
Junior Jordan Joseph (5-10, 164) is expected to take on an expanded role. He caught five balls last season in limited opportunities.
Sophomore Mason Vannest (6-0, 156) is another who will see viable action on the perimeter.
Junior Alec Shepherd (6-1, 157) has emerged as another solid target.
Other receivers working for action are freshmen Kooper Chimley (5-10, 125), Grant Miller (5-5, 116) and Matthew Kempter (5-5, 116).
Shadyside also won’t hesitate to throw the ball to the tight end with senior Sam Merryman (6-3, 190) back in the fold. He caught 37 passes for 539 yards and 5 touchdowns last season.
Sophomore Ryan Florence (6-0, 173) is also expected to see time at tight end. Sophomore Devon Robinson (5-8, 157) is also in the mix. Klug could see time here, too.
Shadyside’s line isn’t totally green, but it’s not its most experienced area either. Replacing OVAC All-Star center Andrew Jobe is the first order of business.
“If there ever was a puzzle on our team, it’s up front,” Holenka said. “We have seven to nine guys really pushing for spots there. But, we could be forced to move some people around to make sure we get the best people on the field.”
Senior Ryan Cain (5-7, 200) is back as a guard, but he’s one who could move to the center spot. Sophomore Logan Crozier (5-10, 285) is drawing a hard look at center, too. If Crozier wins the job, Cain would remain at guard.
Senior Caleb Davis (5-11, 237) is ticketed for one tackle spot, while junior Mason Geraud (6-3, 310) is the other tackle. Senior Matt Lucey (6-0, 193) is the top backup at the tackle spots.
The other guard job has been a battle between junior Cam Brown (6-1, 206) and sophomore Gage Joseph (5-11, 210).
The Brothers Honeywell — junior Jalob (5-11, 238) and senior Caleb (6-4, 297) are also in the mix and are versatile to be able to work into any of the line spots.
“It’s really a good group,” Holenka said. “They’re capable run and pass blockers. We’re going to need some of these kids to grow up quickly, but the ability is there.”
The balance of the offensive line candidates include: junior Ethan Olack (5-10, 208), sophomores Hunter Minney (5-7, 167), Robert Klopp (5-11, 227), Billy Baker (5-9, 141), Kris Tsoras (5-9, 233), Zach Heslep (6-1, 258) and freshman Jacob Brown (5-5, 173).
The Tigers also boast an experienced placekicker with junior Angel Veasquez (5-3, 125) handling the PATs and field goals.
Shadyside’s defensive unit is solid as well. No fewer than eight players with some starting experience return on that side.
“I think we got better and better defensively as the season went on last year,” Holenka said. “We have nice speed on defense and our experience has allowed us to grasp things a lot quicker. Similar to the offense, we just can’t get bitten by injury bug to the point where it cracks the foundation.”
The Tigers will employ an “amoeba” defense. They will be a four-front team, but beyond that the scheme could vary week to week.
A battle for the defensive end spots has been ongoing between Merryman, Lucey and Florence.
At defensive tackle, Gage Joseph is a returning starter. Cam Brown and Ryan Cain are also in the mix. Davis and Geraud could also see time there, too.
The linebacking group is solid despite the loss of Banco, who was an all-Ohioan. Visnic logged 97 tackles last season, including nine for loss. Reiman, who collected 76 stops is set to be a full-time linebacker. Klug finished with 70 tackles.
“We have to be able to plug that hole left by Banco,” Holenka said. “We played a couple of games without him last year and while that was terrible at the time, we’re happy about it now.”
The secondary’s lone loss was Collin Holmes at corner. Jordan Joseph emerged into a lock-down guy as the season went on and into the tournament. Francis and Shepherd are battling for the other spot.
At safety, Hendershot hasbeen a mainstay. He had 51 tackles and led the team with three interceptions. Vannest is the other safety.
“We think our defense is a good, intelligent group,” Holenka said. “We think we have the speed to get to the ball, but we think we could also slug it out if we have to.
Hendershot is expected to once again handle the punting duties and Merryman is back as the long snapper.
Along with Coggins, Banco, Jobe and Holmes, nine other Tigers who collected their diplomas were Wyatt Schrader, Austin Price, Zeke Merryman, Trey Porter, Richard Contraguerro, Zak Merryman, Evan Meadows, Ian Falcione and Seth Nardo.
The challenging schedule that Holenka spoke of includes five opponents that qualified for their respective state’s postseason.
Though no coach openly looks beyond the opponent in front of them, which for the Tigers is a date with Martins Ferry, Holenka has examined the first month of the season, which is a gauntlet.
“We have the ‘Killer Ms’ to open with Martins Ferry, Mogadore and Magnolia,” Holenka said. “And you come back and round that off with the defending West Virginia (Class A) state champions, who have a lot back. If we come out of that 0-4, we’re in big trouble.”
Overall, Holenka firmly believes the Tigers may be lining up against one of the toughest slates they’ve had in school history. He’s almost certain it’s the toughest during his tenure.
“I am questioning the smarts of the staff for putting this schedule together,” Holenka joked. “People think you can just line up and clone the guys you had or go into the (transfer) portal and pick someone up. It doesn’t work that way. I will say though, if we’re able to navigate the schedule and find a way into the playoffs, then I think we will be a tough out because of who we’ve played.”
Shadyside and Martins Ferry have met in the final scrimmage of the summer the last several seasons, but they’ll be meeting in the regular season for the first time since 1929. Shadyside has not only never beaten Ferry, but the Tigers have yet to score.
In Week Two, Shadyside will meet Mogadore on a Saturday evening at New Philadelphia’s Quaker Stadium.
“It was Mogadore’s idea to play at New Philadelphia,” Holenka pointed out. “They really didn’t want to come all the way down here and we really didn’t want to go all the way up there. Obviously, Mogadore is a perennial power.”
Another lengthy road trip is slated for Oct. 11 when Shadyside boards up for a near three-hour road trip to McArthur to take on Vinton County.
For the first time in many, many years, Monroe Central has moved from the week two spot and it’s become the regular-season finale. Dates with Shenandoah, Bellaire, Bridgeport and the aforementioned River game are the balance of the schedule.
Gone from last year’s slate are East Liverpool, Meadowbrook and Beallsville.
Holenka welcomes back a large and quality coaching staff. The only two departures from the staff were Billy Johnson, who enlisted in the United States Marines, and Stevie Kernik.
Sean Grinch and Michael Kernik will serve as the respective defensive and offensive coordinators once again.
Other coaches at the varsity level are Chase Grinch, John Grinch, Michael Coyne, B.A. Holloway, Chase Kinemond, James Edwards and Jeff Campbell.
“It’s a tremendous staff,” Holenka said. “I don’t really have to do much coaching this year because these guys are so good and passionate about what they’re doing. I feel fortunate to have all of these guys.”
At the junior high level, Randy Merryman and Kameron Kubancik are leading the eighth grade, while Jayson Johnson and Nick Ongley are the seventh grade coaches.
Tom Duncan and Adam Groves are serving as the equipment managers.