West Jefferson aims to maintain its status as one of Ohio’s top small school programs


West Jefferson Roughriders

The good times continued for the West Jefferson football team in 2008.
The Roughriders continued their winning ways by returning to the
regional finals for the third straight season. With another solid group returning, expect West Jeff to be right back in the thick of things in Region 20.

West Jefferson (10-3)

* Players To Watch – OL/LB Kyle Ferguson (6-1, 225, Sr.), OL/DL Jake Williams (6-2, 235, Sr.), TB/LB Corey Cocher (6-1, 175, Sr.), OL/DL Josh Chenault (5-10, 215, Sr.), QB/DB D.J. Mendenhall (6-4, 175, Sr.)

* Outlook –
The good times continued for the West Jefferson football team in 2008. The Roughriders continued their winning ways by returning to the regional finals for the third straight season.

“Obviously we were able to make somewhat of a deep run of getting into the playoffs and getting to the regional championship,” head coach Shawn Buescher said. “As a program, we definitely had a goal to get over that hump last year, but we weren’t able to do so. But all in all, we were able to win another league championship and advance deep in the playoffs, so it was another successful season.”

With another solid group returning, expect the Roughriders to be right back in the thick of things in Region 20 this season.

“We feel like we return a good core again,” Buescher said. “Anytime we’ve been able to make the runs we have the past three years, obviously each one of years we had a good graduating senior class. (It was) no exception last year. Those kids have moved on now, and we’ve done everything we can to continue to build depth in our program. We feel very good about this year’s senior group and the leaders that we have there in terms of hopefully continuing to move this program forward in the right direction.”

The strength of this year’s team will be up front, along with a returning all-state quarterback in D.J. Mendenhall (118-206, 2,061 yards, 22 TDs, 12 INTs; 338 yards rushing on 127 attempts for 5 touchdowns).

“We feel very good about our offensive and defensive lines,” Buescher said. “We return the core of our players in those two areas. We feel that’s kind of where you start at any level in football, especially at the high school level. The wealth of experience that we have there is something that we feel will be very beneficial to us. We do have to work hard at replacing a lot of our skill positions on both sides. We had a tremendous senior class that graduated that was blessed with a lot of athletic kids, so we’re going to have to work hard to replace those young men. We return our quarterback on the offensive side, so we feel pretty good about him as well.”

Buescher expects Mendenhall’s experience to be a big plus for his team this year.

“I think when you look at any position, obviously the more experience they have, the better off you’ll be,” Buescher said. “D.J. was kind of thrown into the fire as sophomore due to an injury we had at the beginning of that year with our starting quarterback, so he’s been able to start for the last two years for us. Anytime that you get that many snaps over a two-year period under center, it’s going to be better off. We’re able to do a lot of things in some different aspects on the offensive side of the football based on his wealth of experience and the fact that he’s an intelligent young man, so it definitely helps us.”

Schedule-wise, what’s in store for the Roughriders will be… well, rough. Three regional finalists are among the hurdles on this year’s slate.

“We feel very, very good about our schedule,” Buescher said. “Our league, we feel, is a very, very good league. Last year, Liberty Union shared the league title with us, and they were able to win their region. Two years ago, Licking Heights made the playoffs and won a game within the playoffs, so we feel very good about the people in our league. In our non-league schedule, we open up with Mechanicsburg, who is a regional runner-up last year, and also we play Bishop Ready in Week 3, who was also a regional runner-up and two years ago won their region.

“We feel like we prepare ourselves in the regular season for the possibility of a decent postseason run. It’s not something necessarily we talk about with our kids all the time — the postseason that is — but what we do is try to gear ourselves to play some tough competition so that’ll ready us for what we want to do down the road.”

West Jefferson’s recent success has been particularly rewarding for everyone involved as the Roughriders have elevated from an 0-10 team in 2002 to one of Division V’s top programs. Buescher singles out his assistants and his players for the program’s winning ways.

“I’m very blessed,” Buescher said. “I’m surrounded by a tremendous coaching staff. I say it all the time whenever I speak in the area — I have assistants on my staff that could very easily be successful head coaches. If we flipped roles, I honestly believe this program would continue to march on in the manner that is has. I know that is something that may be unique, and I feel very fortunate from that standpoint.

“Also, we have great kids who are committed to excellence. They do everything that we ask them to do, not only in-season but out-of-season. The program that we have in place is very demanding, and the kids have bought in. That not only started with our recent success in terms of on-the-field wins, but that started well back in our tenure year. We had kids buy in when it wasn’t as easy to do that, when we weren’t as successful on the field. Since those early teams bought in, they’ve been able to sell that tradition and that mindset on each and every year. It’s kind of set the tone for the rest of the teams that we’ve had in our tenure here. So we’ve come along way, and we’re very proud of that. We talk to our current teams about where we were at one point in time and when we started to rebuild this great program, and we take a lot of pride in continuing to try to add to this great tradition that we have here.”

Needless to say, the excitement hasn’t waned at all for this year’s Roughriders squad.

“Anytime that you’re a football player or a coach in a community such as this, obviously when you talk about the game of football, you think about the upcoming season,” Buescher said. “There’s always that excitement. Our kids look forward to taking the field each and every Friday night. The expectations here are very high, and we welcome those. As a staff and a football team, we wouldn’t want to be in any other situation than for our fans to expect greatness out of us, and we do everything we can to try and provide that for them. We’ll continue to try to do that each and every year, but the one thing we really keep in mind is the past is just that — the past. Each team has its own identity and its own set of goals, and we try to do everything we can to improve that particular team and move forward.”



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