The Westerville Central High School football team will look to build on its banner season from a year ago. Despite losing several key players to graduation, the Warhawks return several standout players from a team that earned the program’s first OCC title.
Central finished atop the OCC-Central standings at 5-0, a game ahead of second-place Marysville. The Warhawks were 6-4 overall, but fell short in its bid for its first playoff berth in the school’s four-year history.
Central will open the season Friday at Dublin Jerome.
“It’s a new year, a new season, nothing is proven,” Central coach Bob Fresch said. “They have to go ahead and work hard and earn their keep this year.”
Senior quarterback Keegan Varner (6-0, 190), who earned his first varsity start at quarterback in a dramatic 14-7 win over Marysville, returns. Varner’s 57-yard touchdown strike to graduated standout Reid Preisser with 1:17 remaining lifted the Warhawks to the win.
Senior Ryan Smith (5-10, 207) led the team in rushing last season with 703 yards on 150 carries for a 4.7 average. He scored eight touchdowns. For his efforts, Smith was named to the OCC-Central first team.
Other contributors in the backfield should be seniors Onesiaum Glass (tailback, 5-10, 207) and Jerome Ray (fullback, 5-7, 218), and sophomore Taqwaun Council (tailback, 5-11, 202).
Senior Ja’Quan Lawson (5-10, 155) is the most experienced returning wide receiver. Other receivers are seniors Randy LaGair (6-0, 170), Tyler Stevenson (6-1, 195) and Taylor Miller (6-4, 210), and sophomore Luke Meissner (5-10, 145).
Central did lose a key player, however, as junior wide receiver/safety Grant Fresch, the coach’s son, was lost for the season after suffering a broken neck in a scrimmage against Beechcroft last Friday. The injury occurred while he was making a tackle in the second quarter. Fresch noted his son is expected to make a full recovery.
Seniors Jake Shepherd (guard, 5-9, 235), Ben Zoky (guard, 6-0, 180), Tyler Cochran (center, 6-4, 225), D.J. Loy (tackle, 6-4, 260), Adam Veddern (guard, 5-11, 245), Matt Johns (tackle, 6-3, 215) and Doug McNabb (tackle, 6-3, 245), and junior Corey Williams (tackle, 6-0, 250) should anchor the offensive line.
Senior Ben Buchanan, an Ohio State recruit, provides the Warhawks with a solid weapon as kicker.
Buchanan, who also serves as the team’s punter, booted a 60-yard field goal in a scrimmage at Granville on Aug. 11.
Buchanan recorded the longest field goal in Ohio last season with a 54-yarder in a 7-6 loss to Big Walnut.
He added field goals of 47, 44 and 40 yards, and was 6-of-10 on efforts inside 55 yards. Buchanan was perfect on 14 extra point conversions. For his efforts, he was first-team punter and kicker in the division.
Defensive coordinator Dave Sheely is pleased with the progress of his unit.
Returning players include senior Bret Dixon at middle linebacker (6-0, 200), Ray at defensive tackle, Smith at outside linebacker, Varner at safety and Lawson at cornerback.
Other contributors are expected to be seniors Sam Baird (end, 6-0, 195), Stevenson (end), Shepherd (tackle), and Ryan Schroeder (outside linebacker, 5-10, 170), junior Michael Giresi (safety, 5-11, 160), and Meissner (cornerback).
Varner, Buchanan, Ray and Dixon will serve as captains.
“Our defense is definitely a strong point of our team,” said Dixon, who missed part of last season with a broken fibula and calf injury. “We always have 11 guys who are excited, working hard and flying to the ball. One area we really think we’ve improved on our defense this year is our speed. We’re excited.”
Central has its sights on another OCC-Central title, along with its first playoff berth.
“I think that’s a big goal, especially for the seniors and our captains,” Buchanan said of a post-season bid. “That’s something that we’re really looking forward to. Last year was a great year winning the OCC title and we look to defend that, but we definitely want to take it deeper this year.”
Last season, the Warhawks finished ahead of Marysville (4-1), Pickerington North (2-3), Delaware (2-3), Thomas Worthington (1-4) and Central Crossing (1-4).
“We have to keep improving and add to the depth,” Fresch said. “The toughest thing is setting the goal after winning the league title last year and going 6-4, but we lost a lot of four-year starters. We have some big shoes to fill. We’re waiting to see if some of these younger guys or some of the seniors can step it up and take over the challenge.”