Last year’s graduation cost head coach Rusty Wright’s Waverly Tigers 14
starters that over the past two years had recorded a two-year, regular
season record of 19-1 as well as a pair of playoff wins. That fine
senior class was led by all-Ohio quarterback Trevor Walls and a host of
others which now leaves several question marks in northern Pike County
for the upcoming season.
Last year’s graduation cost head coach Rusty Wright’s Waverly Tigers 14 starters that over the past two years had recorded a two-year, regular season record of 19-1 as well as a pair of playoff wins. That fine senior class was led by all-Ohio quarterback Trevor Walls and a host of others which now leaves several question marks in northern Pike County for the upcoming season.
The first answer of optimism comes from the trust in the recent tradition that Waverly has established over the past two seasons. Waverly fans must remember that last year’s senior class won only two games in their two junior high football seasons, and then obviously grew into some great success over the next four years.
“When you deal with great people, it makes it easier to deal with these types of situations,” said Coach Wright when asked how difficult he felt it would be to replace over half of his starting lineup. “We have great assistant coaches here, we have very coachable kids, and we have a community that has really gotten behind our football program and embraced these kids.”
A major piece of the Waverly offensive puzzle this season will be found under center. Derek Roback takes over an offense that still has several weapons. Roback, a 6-3, 211-pound junior with great speed and a rocket for an arm, is an incredible athlete that can attack defenses in a variety ways. One of Roback’s top targets will be senior Ryan Robertson. Coach Wright described Robertson has being a hard-nosed kid that brings some great leadership to the team, and he will be joined on the outside by senior Caleb Rowland and junior Shane Price.
“Derek is obviously an extremely gifted athlete, but what makes him such a special player is how well he accepts coaching,” said Coach Wright of Roback who also returns as Waverly’s punter after averaging just less than 40 yards per punt last season. “Derek is a 4.0 student in the classroom while playing three sports, and is such a great leader on and off the field.”
The Tigers will look to junior tailback Kevin Malone to provide the core of their running game. Malone enjoyed a fine sophomore campaign a year ago before injury set in during week nine and never allowed him to be healthy through the remainder of Waverly’s twelve-week season.
Waverly’s offensive line will be anchored by its lone returning starter in senior Caleb Downing. The Tigers do have several question marks up front simply because most of the potential starters are not “game-tested;” however, Waverly appears as if it will be a little bigger and stronger on the offensive line than a year ago.
A major intangible the Tigers lost to graduation is the right foot of Mason Good. Good was not only a 6-4 target at wide receiver, but he was also Waverly’s place-kicker. The Tiger kicking game is currently “in search of” according to Coach Wright.
The most underrated part of Waverly’s fine team over the past few years is its defensive unit. Often overshadowed by the high-scoring offense, the Waverly defense lost major pieces such as Ramone Conley, Ian Colegrove, Casey Williams, Dalton Scott, and several others as well. Many of the offensive leaders like Roback, Robertson, Rowland, Price, and Malone will play significant defensive roles as well, and the Tigers will look to a trio of juniors in nose tackle Mike Friend and defensive ends Nick Seymour and Brian Evans to help win the battle up front. Waverly will also look to Shane Murray to sure up its linebacker play.
Coach Wright also mentioned several players that are pushing for some time on both sides of the ball. Joey Kuntz, Kyle Phillips, D.J. Howard, and Levi Underwood are fine athletes that should give the Tigers some much needed depth that they lacked a year ago.
“As talented as we were last year, we were really thin at several positions,” said Coach Wright who enters his fifth season at Waverly where he as accumulated a 32-12 record in his first four seasons. “I really feel this year’s team will be a little deeper. Several kids are lacking game experience, but many of these kids have gone head-to-head with many all-conference and even all-Ohio players in practice the past two seasons.
“Two years ago we had great depth so when we did face injuries we were fine because we were two and three deep at several positions,” the Waverly coach continued in describing the improved depth from this year’s team compared to last year’s team. “Last season we just didn’t’ have that depth and it really caught up to us in weeks nine through twelve. This year I think we will have a little more depth which should help us continue to get better throughout the season.”
Waverly’s non-league schedule will start with a short bus ride to cross county rival Piketon. The Tigers will then host Jackson before spending weeks three and four on the road against a duo of Tri Valley Conference teams in Vinton County and Wellston. The orange and black will then host Franklin Heights in week five before entering Southern Ohio Conference II which includes Minford, Portsmouth West, Lucasville Valley, Wheelersburg, and McDermott Northwest.
“Our schedule presents us with a great challenge this season,” said Coach Wright. “Our non-conference will hopefully prepare us for what should be a very balanced league top to bottom. At this point, we are not getting caught up in winning a certain amount of games. We are just trying to get kids to approach things one game at a time.
“We have stressed to this team that it is not about what the teams before you have accomplished – it is about what you accomplish,” the Waverly coach continued. “We want these kids to make their own legacy, and so far these kids have really worked hard to prepare for the upcoming season.”