A new head coach and a team full of young players can often lead to a
tough football season, but Wheelersburg was
able to overcome those hurdles and then some on route to a very
successful 2008 campaign. This season the Pirates return 14 starters – and expectations are high as ever.
* Players To Watch – QB/SS Tyler Lang (6-1, 295, Sr.), QB/DB Brandon Schankweiler (5-11, 170, Jr.; 108 carries, 639 yards), RB/DE Tyler Craigmiles (6-1, 195, Sr.; 41 carries, 359 yards, 57 tackles), CB Chase Holbrook (5-9, 165, Sr.; 39 tackles, 4 INT), C/DE Zach Frowine (5-10, 255, Sr.), RB/DL Scott Walker (5-10, 175; 36 carries, 305 yards)
* Outlook – A new head coach and a team full of young players can often lead to a tough football season for many teams, but the Wheelersburg Pirates were able to overcome those hurdles and then some on route to a very successful 2008 campaign.
“We were really tickled with last year’s group,” head coach Rob Woodward said. “We only had seven seniors going into the year, and to finish 10-2 on the year was tremendous. The two ball games we lost were by a combined total of 14 points — seven each game. So we battled in every ball game and had a good record, a record that we were pleased with. After suffering some adversity at the beginning of the season where we lost our starting quarterback in the fourth quarter of the opening game, the backup stepped in and did a tremendous job winning that ball game and the next eight games for us. For the conference championship, we played against an undefeated Portsmouth West team on a rain-soaked field on just a great, great night of football, and unfortunately we came out on the losing end of that battle, 14-7. They had a tremendous team.
“We were able to go on the next week and win our first playoff game and then lost to Liberty Union in the second round of the playoffs in a game where we left it all out on the field but had some missed opportunities in the red zone that we would like to have back. That helps to make our kids hungry for this next season.”
With 14 starters returning (six offense, eight defense), Wheelersburg’s hopes are high for this year. The team learned many valuable lessons last season, but Woodward stresses that things will need to be taken up a notch this year.
“One thing that last year was a definite example of was we always set our expectations high, but in having a small group in terms of senior leadership, some people on the outside’s expectations weren’t as high for us,” Woodward said. “They kind of had a cloud of doubt over how well we would be, as well too as a first year head coach, there’s always a cloud of doubt over that as well. We were able to really work hard; I thought we were as prepared of a team as we’ve been in terms of physical and mental play each and every contest that we went into last year. The kids really saw how that type of preparation and that type of work, even in the months of June and July, can lead to successful ballgames and successful outcomes. That’s something that we hope to carry over and I think the kids will carry over into the start of this season.
“At the same time, with having success, we return a lot of individuals on both sides of the ball. With already having success, they need to understand that the work ethic and level of work and intensity needs to be raised. They can’t maintain the same work ethic from last year or things will turn out basically the same as last year. They need to now raise that level to another level to extend their season and to be able to continue on into the future.”
Woodward will be calling on this year’s seniors to step up and lead the way in raising the bar.
“Each and every year, you’ve got a new group of seniors that steps in, and they need to focus on the fact that somebody needs to step up and become a leader,” he said. “We had some juniors that made some tremendous plays last year and we had some sophomores that made some tremendous plays last year. Those individuals need to understand that they now not only will be leaders in terms of their caliber of play, but they need to be leaders in terms of their enthusiasm and their work ethic. They need to be the voice leaders. They need to be the ones that are getting all the other players to play for them out there on the field. Our seniors did a great job last year of convincing the rest of them to buy into their idea of what they’re playing for and what they want to do.”
In the early going, all signs were positive for the Pirates as the athletes worked hard to improve during the offseason.
“The offseason’s been tremendous,” Woodward said. “We’re a small school with 150 boys through grades 10 through 12 that can participate in varsity football. We have a lot of kids that play other sports. Many of them were wrapped up in a successful basketball season until mid-March, but those that weren’t in basketball were in the weight room. They started there in the first of January and lifted. We were able to go to a few weightlifting competitions this offseason, and some kids got some experience with that and learned a few things there. Then we had a number of kids who also play baseball and run track, and we worked some things out with the track coach and they were able to work out in the weight room during part of the track season. So they’ve been getting stronger and faster each and every time.”
The team will need to work on certain aspects of their game before opening night, however.
“We need to improve on our passing game,” Woodward said. “We were basically a run team last year being that we had a backup quarterback that stepped in and he just hadn’t had as much experience seeing the field as a junior or a senior quarterback would have. So we need to work on it, and obviously after last year he gained plenty of experience, but we need to improve on that. And we need to find a place for all of our athletes to be able to take part in the game and to be able to get touches and to make yards and to be successful, because we have a number of talented individuals. We just have to find ways for them to be able to add to the success of our team.”
Overall though, the expectations for the 2009 season are running high in Wheelersburg.
“There’s definitely been some buzz that I’ve had to try to kind of silence and keep suppressed a little bit to remind individuals that each year’s a new year and brings new challenges and that if the work level is not raised to that next level, raised for higher expectations, then those higher levels and higher expectations won’t be achieved if we don’t work to a new standard,” Woodward said. “That’s one of my jobs is to try to motivate and to get those individuals understanding that and ready to go next fall.”
The Pirates’ schedule contains several challenging opponents, including one unique non-conference game matching up programs on opposite ends of the state.
“We open up every year with Ironton, who’s a powerhouse in Southern Ohio and has been a tremendous battle over the years,” Woodward said. “We’ve been on the fortunate end of coming out with a ‘W’ in the last two contests. This year we travel back to Ironton, so that’s always a great opening game. They’ll be just as tough as ever next year. That’s a good test for us at the beginning of the year; we need to be hitting on all cylinders when we head down to Tank Stadium. Then we follow up with South Point, who gave us some fits last year in terms of their running game. That was a 28-20 game, and they’ll be much improved. We’ve got them back at home, so that’ll be a good contest. Portsmouth will be another team that always has talent and a good contest. Then in Week 4, Villa Angela-St. Joseph is coming down from Cleveland. That’ll be a Saturday night game, and there will be a lot of excitement. Being a Saturday evening game, a lot of area teams will be able to come and watch us play, and we’re excited about that opportunity and to get to play a team of that caliber out of the area with some fresh faces and new individuals to come down to Ed Miller Stadium and kind of see Southern Ohio football. So we have to come out and do well in that contest.
“Then we have Rock Hill after that, and then we get into our conference play. Our conference is going to be as tough as ever with Minford and (Portsmouth) West returning a number of players. (Lucasville) Valley was a young team last year; they’ll be good as well. (McDermott) Northwest — Scott Thompson’s doing a nice job there improving that program all the time. Waverly has some very talented individuals coming back for them. So each contest will be one that will be a challenge for us, and we’ll be excited about it.”
Indeed, Woodward’s first year as head coach at Wheelersburg was a big success. He gives much credit to the support and tradition surrounding the program.
“I’ve always been overwhelemed since my years here at Wheelersburg — going on my seventh this year — by all of the support and help that is received in terms of I guess just things that a coach doesn’t have to worry about because the tradition is already instilled in the athletes,” he said. “I’m taken aback by that all the time on just little things that you don’t have to as a coach address as much because the athletes already know what’s expected. It’s my job to make sure that’s maintained and continued for years to come so that there’s not a level that’s dropped off in the future. So I guess just the instinct of how hard one needs to work and work ethic that is expected is surprising in a good way. It’s great to see.”
8/28 @ IRONTON
9/4 SOUTH POINT
9/11 @ PORTSMOUTH
9/19 VILLA ANGELA-ST JOSEPH (CLEVELAND)
9/25 @ ROCK HILL (IRONTON)
10/2 @ MINFORD
10/9 @ NORTHWEST (MC DERMOTT)
10/23 VALLEY (LUCASVILLE)
10/30 PORTSMOUTH WEST