How good are the Jets? Well, if they belong among the elite in Division
IV this season they are going to be able to make a good case during the
regular season. Belmont Union Local will stare down Martins Ferry on Sept. 25 and then embark
on a second half of the season that includes three away games against
D-III opponents. The ledger also includes an early road test at
* Players To Watch – WR/CB Brandon Nichols (5-11, 170, Sr.); C Amos Leach (5-10, 215, Jr.); TB/OLB Kyle Jarrett (5-10, 190, Sr.); MLB Tyler Arigoni (5-9, 165, Sr.); OLB Tyler Grant (6-1, 200, Jr.); CB/WR Darby Walker (6-0, 160, Sr.); QB Kyle Copland (6-1, 205, Jr.).
* Outlook – How good are the Jets? Well, if they belong among the elite in Division IV this season they are going to be able to make a good case during the regular season.
Belmont Union Local will stare down one of the high-quality teams in the division when it hosts Martins Ferry on Sept. 25 and then embarks on a second half of the season that includes three away games against Division III opponents in Richmond Edison (Oct. 2), Rayland Buckeye Local (Oct. 16) and Cadiz Harrison Central (Oct. 23).
If that is not enough, the ledger also includes an early road test at St. Clairsville (Sept. 11), a team that posted a healthy 7-4 record last season.
UL found out where it stood in the Region 15 playoffs last year as the Jets dumped St. Clairsville at home 25-6 in the 4-5 game but was then torched by Martins Ferry 49-14 in Steubenville in the second round of the regional tournament. Interestingly, all three of those schools were shifted into Region 13 for this season and are among the top contenders again despite the location change.
“There were some key teams in that Region who are gone now but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy if we get to the playoffs again,” head coach Mark Cisar said. “There are still a lot of good teams in the way.”
The biggest obstacle appears to be Martins Ferry, which is loaded with returning talent and figures to have a psychological advantage against Belmont Union Local after the Purple Riders won both contests last season.
UL still managed to go 6-1 in Ohio Valley Athletic Conference action to tie for the Buckeye 8 title. Plus, fourth-year head coach Mark Cisar has some key personnel back, including seven on the defensive side of the ball.
One of those defenders is Arigoni, who was a tackle machine last year.
“He’s just a hard guy to block,” Cisar said. “He makes great reads and he just has a nose for the ball. He’s not going to tear anybody’s head off but he’s a gamer and very reliable.”
The Jets lived up to their nickname last season, burning defenses with five-wide alignments and missiles from the arm of quarterback Jordan Barbina, who threw for about 3,200 yards last season and added a whopping 980 rushing to completely torment foes.
Barbina is off to Lake Erie College and in his place will be Copland, a fine athlete who prospered at wideout last season. Copland will be one of seven new starters on offense, although the Jets return Nichols and three offensive lineman.
“Our most important thing will be to know that the strength of our team is now the defense,” Cisar said. “Those guys have played and played in a lot of big games.
“Offensively, we’ve got some weapons and we’ve got some kids who can run. A lot hinges on Kyle Copland stepping in and performing well and giving us some leadership. It depends on how far he wants to take us.”
Cisar isn’t sure if this year’s team will throw as often – 386 times – as in 2008, but the concept will be the same.
“We’re a team that depends on big plays – on both sides of the ball,” he said. “As much as we throw it, we’re going to turn it over some. That’s why it’s nice to have guys to rely on on the defensive side of the ball.”
The most dependable defender is Arigoni, who was made to play linebacker despite his diminutive stature. He produced more than 180 tackles last season and also pounced on nine fumbles, many of them at very key times in games.
Arigoni, Jarrett and Grant all will be challenged to keep up their production, however, because of the loss of all-conference defensive ends Bo Olexo and Eric Williams.
“We lose two studs there,” said Cisar, who returns seven starters to the defensive side of the ball.
The standout on offense is Nichols, a track star – he qualified for the state meet with a time of 49.5 seconds in the 400 – who is fearless in the open field. A legitimate Division I prospect with 4.5 speed, Nichols hauled in 77 catches last season for more than 1,100 yards.
Cisar knows he is facing another tough road but he’s certainly taking Belmont Union Local to new heights recently. The Jets qualified for the playoffs for the first time in 2007 with a 9-1 regular season, but they stumbled in that appearance with a loss to Waverly.
The win over St. Clairsville was another key. Now it’s a matter of going further into the postseason – and maybe avoiding Martins Ferry.
Aug. 27 – Byesville Meadowbrook
Sept. 4 – at Sugarcreek Garaway
Sept. 11 – at St. Clairsville
Sept. 18 – Wintersville Indian Creek
Sept. 25 – Martins Ferry
Oct. 2 – at Richmond Edison
Oct. 9 – Bellaire
Oct. 16 – at Rayland Buckeye Local
Oct. 23 – at Cadiz Harrison Central
Oct. 30 – Barnesville