Although decimated by graduation, all hope is not lost for West Branch

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Beloit West Branch Warriors

West Branch made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 last year falling to eventual state runner-up Newark Licking Valley in the Region 11 semifinals. But the Warriors could potentially be crippled by graduation this year after losing a wealth of lettermen.

However, head coach Bob Altenhof sure doesn’t think so.


Beloit West Branch 2007 Record: 9-3

PLAYERS TO WATCH

WR/DB Eric Bates (6-0, 170, Sr.), OL/DL Brent Beckett (6-0, 225, Sr.), WR/DB Chad Butcher (6-2, 170, Sr.), OL/DL Brad Ferguson (6-5, 255, Jr.), OL/DL Brandon Ferguson (6-7, 240, Soph.), OL/DL Brad Finnegan (6-1, 250, Jr.), OL/DL Brandon Fisher (5-10, 230, Jr.), OL/DL Nathan Gambone (6-3, 240, Jr.), RB/G/LB Seth Guy (5-11, 245, Jr.), OL/DL Chad Hawk (5-11, 200, Sr.), C/DL Zach Leniger (5-8, 255, Jr.), QB/DB Mike Smith (5-11, 170, Jr.), OL/DL T.J. Snyder (6-4, 305, Sr.), WR/DB Jase Uyselt (5-10, 175, Sr.), OL/LB Jon Wilson (6-0, 225, Jr.).

SEASON OUTLOOK

West Branch made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 last year falling to eventual state runner-up Newark Licking Valley in the Region 11 semifinals.

But the Warriors could potentially be crippled by graduation this year after losing a wealth of lettermen.

However, head coach Bob Altenhof sure doesn’t think so.

“I am excited about this team,” he said. “I like the way they’ve worked and I like the way they are serious about the game. They are optimistic and expect to accomplish a lot this year. For most of them, it is their first year playing but they are not intimidated by that. They are looking forward to it.”

West Branch returns six starters – three on each side of the ball – including leading receivers Bates, Butcher and Uyselt in the Warriors spread offense.

Bates reeled in 33 catches for 352 yards and a touchdown last year and also tallied 27 carries for 147 yards and two touchdowns. On defense, he had 39 tackles.

Over the past two seasons, Butcher has 69 receptions for 960 yards and nine touchdowns.

Both Bates and Butcher are three-year starters.

Uyselt is a two-way starter and was named Honorable Mention All-Northeastern Buckeye Conference and Honorable Mention Northeast District with 44 catches for 720 yards and 10 touchdowns on offense and 20 tackles and two interceptions on defense.

“We’re really excited about the numbers those three guys put up last year and the numbers they’ve put up throughout their careers,” Altenhof said. “We’re looking for them to have an even bigger senior year. They have all had impressive careers to this point and we’re looking for them to add to that as seniors.”

But with the departure of quarterback Steve McNeely, West Branch is in need of a signal caller to get the ball to Bates, Butcher and Uyselt in the aerial-oriented offense.

Smith is the leading candidate to take over under center.

“He was our J.V. quarterback last year and has the most quarterbacking experience on our roster,” Altenhof said of the potential first-year starter. “He has been doing a nice job for us all summer leading in 7-on-7’s and so forth, so it looks like he is going to be the quarterback.

“Anybody that runs a spread will tell you it is built around the quarterback and Mike Smith is a good player to start with.”

Butcher and Bates both have quarterbacking experience and have taken some snaps over the summer. Altenhof said both add some different dimensions to the position.

The offensive line has been devastated by graduation as well with every starter from last year gone.

Snyder was the starting nose guard on defense last year and could potentially see time on offense. Gambone saw enough time to letter and Leniger, who Altenhof claims is the strongest player on his team, has the early nod at the center position.

Brad Ferguson recently clocked a 5.0 40-time and has the potential to be a major college prospect.

“He is a really gifted athlete and we’re looking forward to him starting for us on the offensive line,” he said.

His younger brother Brandon is a physical specimen and Altenhof is excited about his potential.

“They’re going to be young but we’re really excited about the talent we’re going to have on the offensive line,” said Altenhof. “Most of the guys are juniors but they are probably going to make up the majority of our line play this year.”

West Branch has scrimmages set with traditional powers Canton Central Catholic and Steubenville and opens the season with Ravenna Southeast, Libson Beaver and Salem out of conference before facing an absolutely stacked NBC schedule.

Louisville was Division II state runner-up last year, Canal Fulton Northwest was a Region 11 finalist and Canton South returns a solid group from last year’s playoff team. Alliance, Carrollton and Marlington are all expected to be improved teams this fall.

“We feel our schedule is very competitive so we try to go out and get some very competitive scrimmages,” Altenhof said. “We have a tough schedule in a tough conference. You look at our conference and there is never a time where you can take a week off. I think all that will help develop us into a pretty good football team by the end of the year.”  

SCHEDULE

8/22 Ravenna Southeast

8/29 Lisbon beaver

9/5 at Salem

9/12 Alliance

9/19 at Louisville

9/26 Canton South

10/3 at Minerva

10/10 Canal Fulton Northwest

10/17 at Carrollton

10/24 Alliance Marlington

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