Expectations on the rise in Barnesville
By SETH STASKEY
Times Leader Sports Editor
BARNESVILLE — In many ways, the 2017 Barnesville football season was a learning experience.
Head coach Blake Allen — who experienced his fair share of learning last season — is now looking for his team to take what it learned and apply it to the upcoming season.
How quickly they’re able to do that may just go a long way in determining the amount of success the Shamrocks can enjoy as they bid to rebound from an uncharacteristic 3-7 campaign.
“Our kids maintained a good attitude and got better each week last year,” Allen said. “Obviously, we were disappointed in the end result and wanted to win more games, but we also knew we had a young team. We gained a lot of reps and experience, which is leading to hopefully more opportunities this season.”
Allen didn’t shy away from the amount of learning he did as he ventured into his first head-coaching assignment.
“Everything in that first (season) goes so fast that you really can’t prepare for it no matter how much people tell you about it beforehand,” Allen continued. “There’s so much stuff you don’t even realize that you have to handle beyond practice, football and the Xs and Os. All of that stuff has slowed down and we’re much more prepared, which is a big thing.”
It didn’t take long for Allen and his coaching staff to realize just how much learning — and maturing — the Shamrocks enjoyed.
“We look like a different team,” Allen offered. “We had so many freshmen and sophomores in there playing last year and now that’s paying off some because guys really were able to hit the ground running. The kids know the system and the younger guys worked hard in the weight room. We just look like a much more confident team.”
The growth and physical maturation process has been greatly enhanced through the newly built fieldhouse at Shamrock Stadium. The facility is loacted on the north end of the stadium and sits between the game field and practice field.
“Having that fieldhouse has been a game changer,” Allen said. “Everything is customized and the kids love it. It’s a good atmosphere about it with our banners and tradition on display in there. Plus, having a weight room on site has been huge because prior we had to go across town (to the school) if we wanted to life before or after practice. It’s just been and going to continue to be a huge benefit.”
With more experienced players and improved facilities have come higher expectations. Allen isn’t immune to that belief. Actually, he welcomes it.
“I tell the kids all the time that I won’t get into record predictions, but we do have high hopes,” Allen said. “We feel like we should be improved, but we must continue to take it one week at a time. I think we’re a hungry football team and these kids know what it takes.”
Avoiding the injury bug is key for basically every team and the Shamrocks are no different. They were hit hard in that department last season, which led to some shuffling of positions and going much deeper on the depth chart than originally expected.
Graduation losses from last season include: Jacob Gallaway, Zane Huntsman, Braydn Strous, Logan Crumbaker, Brayden Reynolds, Cade Stephen, Jacob Clift and Austin Taylor.
Allen’s club might be in a little bit better position to deal with injury this season with a roster of 43 players set to take the field Friday against Newcomerstown.
“That’s a pretty good number for us,” Allen said. “We had 36 last year, so we’re growing. We had some kids come back out who hadn’t played. I just think it’s all part of the excitement that’s there.”
Though the expectations are higher, they may even increase in the not-so-distant future since 28 of the 43 players are in the lower two grades.
“Almost half of our roster is sophomores,” Allen said. “We have 17 in that class, so even though we’re more experienced, we’re playing with younger guys still.”
Allen realizes that even though several key cogs have gained valuable playing time there will still be additional maturation to sift through and it’s been addressed throughout camp.
“We have to be ready to play four quarters every week,” Allen said. “During the course of a game or season, things are going to go wrong and go against us, so we have to be able to handle adversity. We want to brush it off quickly and get to the next play. We can’t afford to hang our heads and feel sorry for ourselves.”
The Shamrocks will continue to be an I-formation, pro-style team for the most part, but Allen is high enough on his team’s speed and skill that he didn’t close the door on emplying some spread formations, too.
“We have some speed, so we can spread guys out some,” Allen said. “We’ve got some kids who are going to move back to their natural positions, which will allow us to be even more dangerous on offense.”
Along with the the solid skill positions personnel, Allen also spoke highly of his lines — on both sides of the ball.
“We feel much better about our size,” Allen said. “Last year, we averaged between 175 and 180 pounds on the line, but now we’re well over 200 pounds, so our kids’ work in the weightroom is recognizable.”
A season ago, the Shamrocks lost their top two quarterbacks early in the campaign and shifted Cade Hannahs (5-9, 145) to that position.
One of those injured last season — Tate Dowler (6-0, 165) is back and looking to make up for lost time.
“Tate got hurt in the preseason and missed the entire year,” Allen said. “It really bugged him to not be out there and he worked hard all offseason and has come back even stronger. I’ve not noticed him moving any differently now than he did before the season.”
His top backup will be sophomore Ayden Hannahs (5-9, 170), while freshman Chase Conner (5-10, 140) will supply depth.
Sophomore Gage Hannahs (6-0, 165) is expected to serve as the primary tailback. Senior Harley Raines (6-0, 185) is penciled in at fullback.
Junior Owen Oliver (5-9, 165) and classmate Caden Lake (5-10, 195) should also see time at fullback.
Supplying depth are sophomores Cameron Woods (5-11, 155), Jacob Starr (5-11, 140), freshmen Griffin Stewoods (5-11, 155), Jacob Starr (5-11, 140), freshmen Griffin Stephen (5-5, 101) and Owyn Wise (5-10, 145).
Cade Hazannahs will lead a deep receiving corps, but he will also see time in the backfield, too. After all, he rushed for 515 yards and 5 touchowns. He passed for 661 yards and 9 touchdowns.
“Cade’s speed and agility make him the ideal slot receiver,” Allen said. “We want to get him the ball in space.”
Senior Brylan Clouse (6-1, 180) is back out for the team after not coming out a year ago. He’ll be in a wide receiver role, too.
Junior Uryan Meade (5-9, 170) is a returning starter and has, according to his head coach, “the best hands on the team.”
Others working their way into playing time if the Shamrocks go to a multiple-receiver set are sophomores Isaac Thompson (5-9, 145), A.J. Detling (5-6, 120), senior Brandon Bunfill (6-0, 140) and senior Remmy Boyd (6-0, 160).
Additional wide receiver depth is provided by sophomores A.J. Francis (5-7, 125), Cole McCammon (5-9, 140) and freshman Spencer Bliss (5-6, 120).
Tight end is a position of legitimate depth for the Shamrocks. There are eight players listed at that spot on the roster. However, the job is firmly sewed up by junior Alex Meade (6-1, 175).
“We’re excited about what Alex can do at tight end,” Allen said. “He’s the ideal tight end with his size and he moves and blocks well.”
Junior Ryan Lucas (6-0, 175) is the top backup, while additional depth is supplied by sophomores Logan Eddy (5-11, 150), Jacob Boulet (5-9, 155), Connor Johnson (5-10, 150), freshmen Austin Mayhugh (5-4, 130), Orion Smith (6-0, 145) and Ethan Spangenburg (5-9, 160).
Up font, not only are the Shamrocks bigger, but they’re also relatively experienced with three starters back.
“We think with our line, we should be able to establish the run and then kind of look at how the defense adjusts,” Allen said. “We like the guys and where they are, but we have to get the guys into the right spots.”
Senior Zack Meade (5-10, 240) leads the unit and will line up at guard.
Either junior Trey Warner (5-9, 185) or sophomore Justin Jackson (6-0, 225) will serve as the center. The other will man the other guard spot.
The left tackle job is in good hands. Senior Isaiah White (6-1, 260) transferred to western Belmont County from Harrison Central.
“We’re excited to have Isaiah,” Allen said. “He’s an excellent player who has really fit in well.”
The other spot up front has been a battle between junior Justis Weiss (6-2, 205), senior Drake Porco (5-10, 245), sophomore Luke Schultz (5-10, 180) and Lucas is also getting a look there.
“We like our line and we like the depth we have there,” Allen said. “We want the best five on the field at all times. We probably have between seven and eight guys who could play without much drop off, so we’ll be able to give some guys a break if needed.”
Additional linemen vying for action are sophomores Lucas Clark (5-7, 180), Tal Johnson (6-0, 235), Ethan Pack (6-1, 330), freshmen Gavin Carpenter (5-6, 215), Bobby-Ray Wilson (5-1, 175), Avery Clouse (6-1, 220) and Jadyn Lucas (5-10, 305).
Avery Clouse (6-1, 220) and Jadyn Lucas (5-10, 305).
On the defensive side, Allen knows his team must improve in seemingly every capacity, but it’s in the tackling department where the Shamrocks really lacked.
“We were undersized and we had some kids who were like deer in headlights,” Allen offered. “We made improvements and we must continue to get better. We’ve shown some signs, but still work to do.”
The defensive front is expected to serve as the anchor on that side of that ball. The defensive end spots will be maintained by a combination of either Raines, Lucas, Jackson and Weiss.
White and Uryan Meade have the inside track on the defensive tackle spots, while Porco and Schultz are able to spell either spot.
Clouse, despite being slowed by an injury during camp, is expected to be the middle linebacker, while Lake and Boulet are the backups.
Alex Meade and Oliver are both returning starters at outside linebacker.
The defensive backfield will be heavy in Hannahses. Ayden and Gage are ticketed for corner, while Cade is the free safety and “quarterback of the defense,” according to Allen.
The strong safety spot is maintained by Woods, who Allen said is “one of the best tacklers” on the team.”
Dowler could slip into some secondary work if the situation warrants, but Allen would prefer to avoid using his quarterback on that side of the ball.
Ayden Hannahs has assumed the role of placekicker, while Raines will handle the punting duties.
“We have the raw talent, athleticism and size to be a winning team and achieve some of our goals,” Allen said. “But, there are a lot of variables, so we have to come ready to play every week or we could lose any game on our schedule.”
Speaking of the Shamrocks schedule, it includes the identical 10 teams as a year ago only with the venues flipped.
“Half of the teams on our schedule made the playoffs last year and Monroe Central just missed,” Allen said. “A lot of teams are in the same boat as us with young guys expecting to be better.
“We can’t overlook anyone.”
Two of the three Shamrocks’ wins from a season ago came against teams which failed to win a game in Newcomerstown and River View. The other was over Caldwell.
Allen’s coaching staff has underwent some minor changes. Matt Johnson has stepped away to focus on his duties as head basketball coach.
The varsity staff now inclues D.J. Butler, Bryce Allen, Dylan Rogers, Tony Starr, Brady Treherne and former head coach Luke Johnsn is back on board working with the line.
At the junior high level, Chris Hannahs, Sean McCrate and Jayson Stephen are spearheading the program.