The Buckeye 8 will be in its first “official” football season in 2007. For those that may not be familiar with this new conference, it will consist of Bellaire, Cadiz Harrison Central, Belmont Union Local, Richmond Edison, Martins Ferry, Rayland Buckeye Local, St.Clairsville, and Wintersville Indian Creek. Eastern District contributor Kurt Stubbs offers previews and precitions on the Buckeye 8 season.
The Buckeye 8 will be in its first “official” football season in 2007. A season ago, there were still some teams that didn’t have the full Buckeye 8 schedule.
For those that may not be familiar with this new conference, it will consist of eight teams. The teams will all be from the state of Ohio and consist of Division III and Division IV squads. All members are also schools of the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference.
The teams are as follows: Bellaire, Cadiz Harrison Central, Belmont Union Local, Richmond Edison, Martins Ferry, Rayland Buckeye Local, St.Clairsville, and Wintersville Indian Creek.
The inaugural season appears to have a lot of parody, which should make for some entertaining action. As always, there will be a few teams that stand out above the rest.
Who will win it? Who will be the players to watch? What are the big games? Read on and I’ll tell you what you need to know. Hopefully my predictions and analyses will stand correct at season’s end.
How they will finish in 2007 (2006 record in parenthesis)
1. Martins Ferry (9-1)
2. St.Clairsville (7-3)
3. Union Local (4-6)
4. Indian Creek (5-5)
5. Harrison Central (3-7)
6. Bellaire (13-1)
7. Buckeye Local (2-8)
8. Edison (2-8)
All-State players returning:
Michael Smith (Indian Creek/DB)- Honorable Mention
Jeremy Murray (Martins Ferry/TB)- 2nd Team All-State
Zach Gust (Union Local/WR)- Honorable Mention
Carl Perkins (Union Local/LB)- Honorable Mention
John Earliwine (St.Clairsville/DT)- Honorable Mention
Dustin Hynes (St.Clairsville/DB)- Honorable Mention
Offensive Player of the Year for 2007: Jeremy Murray- Martins Ferry
Defensive Player of the Year for 2007: Carl Perkins- Union Local
A Look at the Teams:
The Purple Riders will be a headache for all opposing teams. Martins Ferry, who will be celebrating its 100th year of football, doesn’t seem to have many weaknesses which is why they are my preseason favorite. As I scan the schedule, I can’t see a game they won’t be favored.
The Riders have a home run hitter in Jeremy Murray both running and catching the ball. This kid is capable of 2,500 yards of rushing and receiving, but I do look for his rushing yards to be down slightly this season with the emergence of junior Rawn Driver and sophomore, stud Patrick Allen getting carries. The most explosive player in the conference is also dangerous on kickoffs and punt returns. He put on a good bit of muscle in the off season, which has made him much more explosive through would-be tacklers.
The Purple has two capable quarterbacks in senior starter Derek Edwards and junior Cheyne Forte. Edwards may not have to beat too many teams with his arm on the regular season schedule, as they should be able to run over most teams.
The wide receivers will be reliable options when forced to put it in the air. Seniors Fred Owens, Mike Hammerquist, and Chase Tucker along with a few others should be more than adequate. On most third downs, look for Murray to be split out. He is the closest thing to a Reggie Bush or Stephen Jackson type player that the OVAC has to offer.
The line should be a strength with seniors Ben Hores, Trevor Jackson, and Lance Rossini back. Juniors Steve Woodford and Danny Rhodes will complete the best offensive line in the conference. Trust me, they have several other kids that could step in and play.
The tight ends will be senior Steve McIntosh along with 6-foot-5 and 250-pound sophomore Jordan Burress.
The defense should be very good as well. They have a lot of speed and quite a few playmakers. The 2004 defense was great, and I think this squad has a definite chance to rival that one.
Jackson and Hores will be two of the best defensive tackles in the conference. Forte and Hammerquist will be the defensive ends.
The linebackers are very good especially on the inside. Shreve and Woodford are as good as they get. Yes, they are only juniors.
The secondary will feature Murray, Tucker, and Edwards. This is where Murray will most likely line up in college.
Also, remember the name, Brandon Leonard. The kid is a junior who didn’t play last season due to fall baseball. I can’t see this kid being left of the field. He will play a big part in some capacity.
The kicking game will certainly be in good hands will foreign exchange student, senior Hermon Timmersjo (6-5/210).
If one is looking for games that the Riders may be challenged look at weeks eight and nine. The Riders travel to St.Clairsville in week seven, but will last year’s pouncing be in the back of the Red Devils mind. St.Clairsville has the athletes to compete, but how will they be mentally. Week eight the Riders host John Glenn. The ‘Lil Muskies have a very big and strong offensive line led by division I recruit Joe Pachuta (6’7/285) that may be able to hold the line of scrimmage against the Riders. They were also throttled by Ferry in 2006. In back-to-back weeks the Riders defeated St.Clairsville (47-7) and John Glenn (47-6), so take that for what it’s worth.
In addition, week five against Union Local should be interesting. It all depends on Union Local’s record at the time. They have the speed to match up in some respects.
The Red Devils made the playoffs for the first time since 1989 last year, but it was an unhappy ending as they were taken apart by the Bellaire Big Reds (49-21) in week 11.
St.Clairsville certainly has the skilled players to reach the bonus round once again. I wasn’t certain before the summer of where this squad would finish in the conference, but I have a good feeling about them at number two here in August.
They have a couple question marks. Can they stop the run on a consistent basis and how good is the interior line?
The offense will feature a two-quarterback system with the versatile senior Anthony Vincent and junior Adam Shanks. Personally, I like Shanks at quarterback because it lets Vincent be more versatile. He is a very good wide receiver who can also step in the backfield if need be. As for Shanks, he is a very accurate passer who stays in the pocket longer than most high school quarterbacks.
The running backs will be senior Kurtis Cullen and senior John Earliwine. Cullen is the type of runner who will chew up the field at the five, six, and seven yard pace. Earliwine will be a bruising fullback. He is still trying to shake a preseason knee problem.
The receivers are definitely the strength of the offense. Senior Dustin Hynes returns as one of the valley’s best players. He is the best around at using his body when the ball is in the air. He may not be the biggest guy on the field or able to jump the highest, but you can almost bet he is coming down with the ball. Vincent will play at the other spot if not quarterbacking. He is dangerous as he has a great ability to just make plays. It doesn’t hurt that he comes from very good bloodlines. His father, Joey, led St.Clairsville to their first playoff spot in 1983 while his uncle Shawn led the Devils to the state semi-finals in 1986 before going on to Akron then the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The other receivers will be juniors Kaz Pata, Brody Call, and even Shanks.
The tight ends will be senior Layne Mehl and junior Ryan Jarvie. Mehl is the youngest son of former all-pro linebacker with the New York Jets, Lance Mehl.
The offensive line is a strength and question mark. What do I mean? The two tackle spots are held down by the best pair in the conference in seniors Jake Antolak and Anthony Skrabak. Antolak is 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds while Skrabak checks in at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds. The interior line is green, but they like sophomore Trenton Soukup at center.
The defense is lost a lot from last year, but a lot of kids have been stepping up in the preseason.
The defensive line is a question mark. In both scrimmages, the linebackers were doing most of the tackling against the run. That is not a good thing.
The Devils moved Earliwine to linebacker this season away from his defensive tackle spot. This has created a hole up front. Earliwine is still making a ton of tackles, but its six and seven yards down field.
The defense is led up front by junior defensive end Zane Butler. The junior had a solid sophomore campaign. His weight is a little down, but he is starting to come back around.
The linebackers are solid with Cullen and Earliwine leading the way. St.Clairsville is hoping they don’t have to make all the tackles.
The secondary may be the strongest spot on this team. They have two play makers in Vincent and Hynes while Pata and Call have also been solid in the two scrimmages. Hynes is the best free safety in the conference, while Vincent is right up there with Murray on the corner. They both have that special knack to anticipate.
The kicking game should be in good hands with senior JC Thrash. He drove home a 33-yard field goal in their last scrimmage.
Their first test will come in week three against Union Local. This game may tell the tale for both teams and how their seasons will play out. Obviously, week four is big with a trip to Nelson Field to take on the Big Reds of Bellaire. The Devils haven’t beaten Bellaire in 16 tries (that includes last year’s playoff game). Yes, George Bush was President, but I mean the dad.
On paper, Union Local has as many skilled people returning as anybody in the conference. Here is the catch, will they be able to block and tackle up front. The time is now for Union Local as this is the senior class they have been waiting for to go along with some skilled juniors.
The Jets are a team that usually plays on the previous week. If they can get confidence early then seven or eight wins is a definite possibility for this team. The first five games will tell the story. If they are over .500 at the half way point then they can win out if not they will be looking at four or five wins. Again, confidence means everything with this team.
Union Local will run two quarterbacks in Coach Cisar’s spread offense. Junior Jordan Barbina and senior Cory Carpenter are the names. Barbina started the first three games of the year before suffering a season ending injury in week three. Carpenter filled in better than any back up I’ve seen in a long time. Both have showed good signs and bad signs in the two scrimmages. Barbina gives more options, but sometimes goes for the home run too often. He is dangerous when he gets out of the pocket with his running ability He will line up at receiver if not at quarterback. Carpenter, on the other hand, usually takes what the defense gives him. He is a very accurate thrower.
The running game, which wasn’t used much in the scrimmages, will feature seniors Zach Azallion, Carl Perkins, and fullback Lewis Dunn. Azallion will be a three-year starter and even got quite a few carries his freshman season. He is also dangerous catching the ball. He can make plays. Perkins is the type of back that just refuses to go down. He is a punishing runner at just 176 pounds.
The receivers have great potential, and the key word is potential. Senior Zach Gust led the Jets in receptions and yards a year ago. He is far and away the fastest kid in the conference and the whole OVAC for that matter. He is one of those kids who is as fast or faster in pads than he is on the track. His hands are a question mark, but have improved. He has the ability to score from anywhere on the field, which includes kick returns. Junior Kyle Blackman has unlimited potential at 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds. He catches the ball very well with his hands, and also has the ability to score each time he touches it. He is deceivingly fast with extremely long strides. The other receivers will be seniors Robbie Kyer (sure-handed) and Sam Nardo and sophomore Brandon Nicholes.
The offensive line is a question mark. Seven kids are trying to fill the five spots. Seniors Zach Heslop (center), Adam Macy (Guard), Adam Miller, Jesse Kyer (tackle), and Jake Davis (guard) and juniors Jacob Keen (tackle) and Bo Olexo (guard). Macy and Davis have both started in the past while Olexo is a converted fullback. Keen has unlimited potential if he can find the fire. He is 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds.
The defense will have a lot of new faces, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The defensive line is up in the air much like the offensive line.
Seniors Doug Stephens and Nate Gossett will be back at defensive tackle. Macy can also play in that role. Dunn will move from linebacker to defensive end this season.
The linebackers should be strong with all-everything Carl Perkins back at middle linebacker. Perkins recorded an astounding 144 tackles last season. He will be a four-year letterman. Perkins just has a nose for the ball and delivers big time hits. He is one of the best-kept secrets in the valley. He doesn’t disappoint.
The other backers will be Blackman, Olexo, and junior Richard Shebovsky. Olexo and Blackman started at least one game as sophomores. Blackman looked good against Steubenville Catholic in their last scrimmage. Shebovsky could be a surprise, as he didn’t play last year. He is a big, strong kid who likes contact.
The secondary has had trouble covering the pass in the scrimmages, and throughout the school’s history for that matter. Azallion and Gust will be at corners while Barbina will be at free safety. Barbina is very valuable in the secondary. He is much like Hynes of St.Clairsville he has great anticipation with a little better speed.
The kicking duties will go to freshman Adam Kyer. The punter will be one of the best around in senior Nathan Hicks. This will be his fourth year.
The key to Union Local’s season will be weeks two through five. The match up with St.Clairsville in week three will be huge for confidence. On paper, this team can compete with anybody but games aren’t won on paper.
The Redskins lost almost all of their skilled players, but the return of three starters on the offensive line who will all be three-year starters should be a nice crutch.
Indian Creek has a good offensive line as I stated which is good enough for me to put them in the four spot. I think spots four through six could fall in a variety of ways, but the experienced offensive line gave them the edge over Harrison and Bellaire.
The Redskins will be best tested right out of the gates against back-to-back state champions Steubenville Big Red and a Centerburg team that is banking on big things. They play Oak Glen week three before entering the Buckeye 8 portion of the schedule.
The Creek was 5-5 last year, but losses were all to playoff teams (New Philadelphia, St.Clairsville, Bellaire, Martins Ferry, and Waverly).
Senior Mike Wilson who has spent his last two seasons at tight end will take the quarterback spot. He is untested, but the line should help out by being able to run the football for him to gain confidence.
The backfield will feature sophomore Doren Thomas. He has the potential to be a great one before it’s all said and done. He was electrifying when he touched the ball as a freshman. He also was very productive on the track.
The fullback will be junior Matt Stone. He is 215 pounds. The other back in the wing-T will be senior Christian Kirsch.
The receivers are seniors R.J. Roberts and Michael Smith and junior Daniel Dunlevy. Smith is very talented on both sides of the ball. He is a lanky kid at 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds. He was a state qualifier in the 300-meter hurdles last spring. Dunlevy is the son of Indian Creek boy’s basketball coach, Joe Dunlevy.
Junior Jay Calhoun will be the tight end.
As mentioned, the strength of this team will be the offensive line. They may have to rely on them until the skilled players get their feet wet. Senior tackle Jarrett Mossor and senior guards Jonathan Figel and Ryan Galvin will be three-year starters. The other tackle will be senior Matt Wood and the center job will go to senior Brad Ensell.
Indian Creek is known for a powerful offensive line and a power running game. They have the first part, but will the second part fall into place.
The Creek defense will be good. How good will only be told with time.
The defensive line should be another strong suit. Mossor will be back at defensive end along with Figel at a tackle. Junior Randol Barnhart and senior Shane Hines should man down the other two spots.
The linebackers are strong, but have to replace the graduated Joe Pulver. Wilson and Kirsch are back at outside backers and Stone and senior Jonathan Price will be on the inside.
The secondary will be outstanding with Smith and Dunlevy at the corners with sophomore Gavin Smith at free safety. Smith is a lock down corner who can take away the opposing team’s best receiver.
The Redskins have the making of a very nice team. They have some question marks that could make them a 5-5 or 6-4 instead of 7-3 or 8-2. They are young in terms of experience at quarterback and in the backfield, but the line should ease some of those growing pains.
The schedule is very demanding, but Creek likes it that way. This is a team that could finish anywhere from number two or all the way down to six.
One year away is the statement heard when speaking of the Harrison Central Huskies. I think that is a fair assessment with a team stock piled with juniors and sophomores.
Also, they have moved out of Division IV, Region 13 with Youngstown Mooney, but their reward was Division III, Region 11. This is one of the toughest in the state with the likes of: West Branch, Cambridge, Canton South, Dover, Beaver Local, New Philadelphia, Licking Valley, Poland, and John Glenn.
Harrison has a ton of young skilled players along with a junior laden offensive and defensive line. Oh yeah, there is a four-year starter at quarterback returning as well in Robbie Davia.
Davia had an outstanding sophomore year while surrounded with a lot of weapons. His numbers faded last year with a very young and inexperienced team around him.
The Huskies are going to score points this year, but will they be able to keep the opponent out of the end zone. The Huskies put up quite a few points in their final scrimmage against Linsly (WV).
Harrison will rely on its strong numbers in the junior class (26). These juniors have been successful all the way up through the ranks. Last year, however, they were forced into Friday night action.
The Huskies backfield will feature junior speedster Wes Skinner and junior Taylor Banks. Skinner is a versatile back being just as dangerous at receiver. Banks is more old-school.. He has good feet attributed to his being a wrestler.
Juniors Zach Karto andTravis Butler and sophomore Justin Valentine will be leading the way for Skinner and Banks.
The aforementioned Davia will have some nice targets to look for in juniors Ty Kenny, C.J. Moon, James Custer and Chad Coffman. Kenny is a quarterback by nature, but is a pretty good receiver. Skinner can also get it done at receiver.
Senior tight end Ryan Davenport will also be a big target along with junior Jordan Barker.
Three players to remember are sophomores Ben Palmer and Jake Mallernee, and freshman Alex Brooks. Palmer is well kept secret at wide receiver and Brooks is going to be outstanding in years to come at running back. This year he will be returning kicks and possibly playing some receiver. Mallernee is going to be a stud on the offensive and defensive lines in the future.
The line is still very young with four juniors starting along with senior Kurt Smith. Harrison has been rotating 10 lineman in and out and nine of those will return next year.
The four juniors are tackles Curtis Harris and Ivan Woodward along with center Ian Watt and guard Matt Huffman.
This line is going to get better and better. The kids up front are the final piece to a very dangerous team. Is Harrison ready for week eleven this season? I’m not sure at this point, but this is a team that will make serious noise in the future.
The defense has a lot of returnees from last year, but they are still relatively young.
The defensive line returns ends Harris and Davenport with Huffman at a down tackle.
The linebackers will be Karto, Butler, Woodward, and Banks. They are all juniors.
The secondary is the same as last year with Skinner and Moon at corners with Kenny at free safety.
Taking a look at the offense and defense for the Huskies one thing stands out in a big way. Harrsion will be loaded in 2008. The Huskies will return eight offensive starters and 10 defensive starters with a plethora of other kids with experience. That is why people are saying one year away, but maybe this team is ready now.
The Big Reds are coming off of back-to-back state semi-finals appearances, but not much remains of those two squads.
Bellaire was hit hard by graduation. The list of impact graduates is almost too long to list. A lot of people are going to say they lost a lot of people two years ago, but they actually didn’t. They returned their whole offensive line, defensive line, and a ton of skilled players. The only surprise was quarterback Nick Rocchio (to some).
Bellaire never likes to use the term rebuild but that is exactly what they are going to be doing this season. There are just too many pieces to replace.
The Big Reds will be under new head coach, Greg Bonar. The new boss had been the offensive coordinator at Bellaire since 1997.
The offense will be in the hands of junior quarterback, Tyler Rose. He isn’t Nate Davis or Nick Rocchio, but he is coming along nicely. Rose has a baseball throw like release that hurts him some by allowing the defensive backs extra time to break on the ball.
Against Barnesville, a week ago, the Big Reds offense didn’t appear to be in sync just yet. They have a lot of new faces, which means it’s going to take time. Timing is everything in this offense, and that takes a while to develop.
Junior Erik Canter will take over the running back position. He undersized but uses his size to an advantage. He often slips behind the offensive line and is five yards deep before the defense spots him. Sophomore Trevor Bobka should also see carries.
It appeared the wide receiver spot would be a strong suit for the Reds and it very well might be but it hasn’t been seen yet. They have dropped some balls in the scrimmages, but I’m sure they will produce when it counts.
Senior Nick Liberati returns with juniors Ty Tobiczyk and Anthony Hocker. Also senior Kevin Dobson and sophomore Levi Crozier should see a lot of action.
The offensive line returns seniors Tyler Robinson and Bobby Mansfield. They both stepped in last year when the Big Reds were suffering through injuries on the line. Zack Clegg and Eli Gillespie should fill two other spots. Remember the name, sophomore Bobby Bennett, as he should step in before season’s end.
The key will be how much time they give Rose. He is going to need some time early to get his feet wet, or it could be a rough start.
Mansfield will anchor the defensive line with seniors Zach Materkoski and Anthony Fry back at ends.
The linebackers will have to find a way to account for loss of Jordan Traylinek. The West Liberty College freshman was one of the best in school history.
Tyler Robinson will be in the middle with senior Mike Reed and junior Dylan Garloch on the outside with Aaron Porter and Billy Vitale looking for time as well.
The defensive backs are all new with Dobson, Tobiczyk, Liberati, Crozier and Hocker all in the mix.
Senior Blake Roseberry will handle the kicking duties.
The Big Reds are going to be tested early and often. They come out of the gates against a very big and powerful Wheeling Park (WV) outfit. The key for this team is to get some confidence early to get that Bellaire swagger.
Realistically, this team could finish four or five in the conference, and I wouldn’t be surprised. However, I think this team is going to struggle to stop the run which was seen against a young Barnesville team in their last scrimmage, and they are going to struggle to score points.
They are a dangerous team that could keep someone out of the playoffs, but I don’t see them as a week 11 team.
The Panthers are a team of mystery. They don’t return a whole lot of skilled players, but the offensive line appears formidable. This team has been talked about highly after its scrimmages, but I will have to see it to believe it.
They have a nice sophomore class along with a couple stud seniors in Isaac Omaits and Shane Bishop.
The Panthers will be changing the offense this season from the I-back formation to a wing-T style. The quaterback in the offense will be junior Bobby Supanik.
The trio making up the new offensive backfield will be junior Kevin Calhoun at tailback, senior Steven Kovach at fullback, and the aforementioned Omaits at the wing back. The three together combined for almost nothing on the ground a year ago. Omaits was the team’s leading receiver last year at tight end with 375 yards and four scores.
The split end will be junior Richie Vince. Don’t look for the Panthers to air it out much, so Vince will be more of an extra lineman.
The tight end will be a converted tackle in senior Cory Shumard. He is 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds.
The offensive line should be a strength. The Panthers have quite a few guys who saw some time in 2006. Leading the way will be the 6-foot-2 and 220-pound Bishop. He is one of the best in the conference at guard. The center will be senior Doug Vinci while the other guard is junior Josh Verhovec. The tackles will be senior Joe Kubat and junior Cody Michalo.
In my opinion, this is a pretty good line. They are different than most teams in the conference where their question mark lies with the skilled positions.
If one is looking for a couple of young kids who could make an impact don’t look any further than sophomores J.D. Sokolowski and Brandon Bartrug. These two backs are going to have productive careers.
The defense will be led by the two inside linebackers in Bishop and the 6-foot-3 and 225-pound Omaits. I would put them just behind Shreve and Woodford of Ferry as the best inside combination in the conference.
The outside backers will be senior John Starr and junior Derek Supanik.
The defensive line should be a lot better with Shumard, junior Chris Worwa, junior Nathan Schaal, and sophomore Rylan Pyciak.
The secondary will be tested early and often with Martins Ferry, St.Clairsville, Bellaire, and John Marshall in the first four weeks. All of those teams will put the ball in the air. Sophomore Bobby Spence will be at one corner spot with senior Spencer McKim at the other. Sophomore Joe Stuart will be at free safety.
Buckeye Local has one of the hardest schedules right out of the gate of anybody in the conference. They start two sophomores in the secondary, which usually spells trouble. The Panthers first five games will be brutal with Indian Creek being the fifth game. I just think that is too much to ask of such a young team.
The Edison Wildcats are just looking for some stability. Second year Coach Mike McKenzie is just what the doctor ordered.
Edison is a team that may not be as bad at people think. Yes, quarterback Andy Stine didn’t come out for the team, but the Wildcats have quite of few kids who have played for one or two years.
However, they do open up with St.Clairsville and Martins Ferry in weeks one and two which won’t be a check mark in the confidence column.
Edison is looking at two quarterbacks in juniors Drew Powley and Josh Smith. I would say Powley will win this job unless they elect to go with the dreaded two-quarterback system.
The backs will be seniors Nick Stine and Kyle Scott along with junior Dustin Byers. Look for Stine to have a big year in his third year on the job.
The receivers should be strong in McKenzie’s air it out offense with senior Chris Brancker and junior Zeke Blake and Ryan Sronce.
The offensive line has a good bit of experience back and should be a lot bigger than last season. Senior Cory Johnson will be back at center with junior Vance McConnell returning at guard with tackle Cyrus Kellermier (Sr.) back as well.
Obviously, the offense will need to score more points this season as they only averaged 10.6 a game in 2006, which included being shutout three times.
The defense will be better, but by how much. The Wildcat defense gave up 29.7 points per contest last season.
Junior Jared Carter and Dustin Byers along with senior Tyler Knowles (6’3/315) will be back on the defensive line. Byers is going to be a good one.
The linebackers will feature Johnson and senior Chris Decker on the inside along with senior Blake Webber and junior Nick Bickar on the outside.
The secondary has Stine and Powley at corners with Brancker at free safety.
These kids were all on the field last season in some capacity, so inexperience won’t be an excuse. I look for this team to play some much closer games this season, which may not result in anymore wins but the program will show its going in the right direction. Legitimately, one or two wins may be all this team can muster. However, I believe the future is bright.
Keep on huddling, as I will preview games and have predictions each week for all Buckeye 8 conference games under my Eastern District column.