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Willis calling the shots at John Marshall

By SHAWN RINE

For The Times Leader

GLEN DALE — Jason Willis has been around the John Marshall program for decades, first as the team’s quarterback in the early 1990s and most recently as a longtime assistant coach. So when the head coach position came open with the retirement of Rick Goodrich, Willis knew it was time.

“My ultimate goal was to the be the head coach here,” Willis said. “I didn’t know it was going to be this soon — I didn’t know Goody was going to leave this soon.

“It’s been something that I have always wanted to do.”

Willis seems to have taken the job at just the right time. The Monarchs return a large core of players off a team that qualified for the playoffs for the first time in a decade, securing an opening-round victory on the road against Parkersburg before falling to eventual state champion Martinsburg. With that, the expectations at JM are higher than they have been in some time.

“I think these guys expect to win now,” Willis said. “We’ve had a gradual increases the past couple of years but having a successful season and making the playoffs, these guys now know what it takes.

“There’s pressure. We’ve got some really good guys back.”

When John Marshall opens its season at 7 on Friday night, it will do so in what is being referred to by locals as “the new Jungle.” Monarch Stadium was torn down during the offseason and replaced with a state-of-the-art facility that includes turf and an eight-lane track.

“The kids are excited to get out there on the new field,” Willis said. “Heck, I’m excited to be out there.”

While JM returns talent on both sides of the ball, its strength — literally and figuratively — will be up front. For the fourth consecutive season the Monarchs left the prestigious Shadyside Big Cat Challenge as team champion.

The defensive front figures to again create havoc for opposing offenses, led by first team All-Valley performer and senior Hunter Temple.

A couple of juniors in Colby Cubick and Hunter Purcell are back at defensive tackle. Temple and Devin Norris are the ends and “there will be a little bit of rotation there depending on down and situation,” according to Willis.

Linebacker-wise, Chas McCool is returning and figures to build on a big junior season.

“He’s been out with an injury but we hope to get him back,” Willis said in early August. “He’s out here going through drills and looks good, but he hasn’t been cleared for contact.”

Jace Boggs, who played a good bit last year is going to be the middle linebacker, while sophomore Dom Flowers is on the outside. Junior Izak Wiley is also in the mix at linebacker.

In the secondary, Justin Frohnapfel returns at free safety alongside Johnny Davis at strong safety. Alec Edge, who was injured in the first game of last season is back at a corner, and Roy Rayl “has been playing pretty well at that position right now,” the coach said. Kota Bonds, Ethan Gray and the younger Wiley, Reid are all looking for time in the defensive backfield. Jordan Wood can play free safety and Wyatt Hill has also been getting reps.

Offensively, Brady Williams returns as the center. Bradley Clark is the right guard while Gavin Lockhart will play left guard.

“We’re moving Shane Hercules to left tackle and right now Zach Birkett has been getting most of the reps at right tackle,” Willis said. “We’ve got some kids who can step in there.”

At tight end there is a rotation between Norris, Brandon Heath, Harry Galloway and Leach.

At receiver there will be a lot of rotating. Frohnapfel, Edge, Rayl, Bonds, Flowers, Gray and Reid Wiley.

Wood is the incumbent at quarterback, but he’s been pushed by Frohnapfel.

“Every position is open, is the way we are approaching it, but Jordan has played pretty well for us,” Willis said. “We haven’t even started hitting yet.”

At tailback, the Monarchs have to find a way to replace the considerable production of the graduated Dereck Hess. While it could be a by-committee scenario, Davis has established himself as the lead dog.

“McCool can play tailback and fullback,” Willis said. “Temple will be back there some at fullback and you’ve also got Jace Boggs who will get some reps at fullback.

“Then we’ll have Mikey Mason and Izak Wiley. We’ve got some guys who can step in.”

Gray will do the kicking. The punting and returners were subject to a camp battle.

So it’s obvious Goodrich didn’t leave the cupboard bare. His biggest contribution though, was probably in the weight room.

“The blueprint is there. The hard part is getting them in there, but when they do they are bought into the system,” Willis joked. “We’ve got a lot of guys who came in together, push each other and want to see who can bench the most … who can squat the most.

“It brings in a lot of competition in there. The key is getting them there, but we haven’t had a lot of problem doing that. It gets so crowded we almost need a bigger weight room.

The coaching staff consists of Nat Skrzypek (offensive line), Gerald Miller (defensive coordinator), Jason Merryman, Joel Sansone, Gino Polsinelli, Shane Neely and Justin Hensley. Lance Phillips returns but Ray Anderson and Mike Sforzsa have hung up their whistles.

The schedule remains the same with the exception of Preston replacing Weir.