Entering a new season, the numbers are up at Newcomerstown High with the Trojans having a total of 40 players out for football which head coach Eric Brock hopes leads to more success on the football field this season.
"Numbers are good this year," said Brock, entering his fifth season at the NHS helm. "Our goal is to have 40 players and right now we are right at that number. Hopefully, we can keep everyone out and healthy for the upcoming season."
Coming off a 3-7 season, the Orange and Black return a total of 23 lettermen as they look to improve on their won-loss mark.
"We're excited to have a lot of guys back this year," Brock said. "We still have just six seniors, but we have a lot of guys who saw a lot of playing time last year which will be a huge plus. Also a lot of the guys are bigger and stronger after an offseason of hard work."
Leading the Trojans' returning veterans will be senior Chandler Shryock (6-2, 177), who is a three-year letterman who reeled in third team all-Ohio honors last year, as well as first team all-Inter-Valley Conference honors.
From his receiver slot, Shryock hauled in 49 receptions for 750 yards with four TD catches, and he will see double-duty once again for NHS by playing free safety on defense.
"Chandler is one of the top receivers in the area," Brock said. "He's as good as anyone in the IVC. Just a real hard worker and a great student. He carries a 3.7 GPA and is everything you would want in a high school football player."
Brock will also lean heavily on Shryock in the leadership department for his Trojans' squad.
"He's definitely a leader for us," Brock said, "but he's more of a leader by example. He's not a real vocal kid, but he has the respect of all his teammates by putting in the hard work and then getting the job done on the field."
Another key offensive returnee for the Trojans will be sophomore QB Austin Zufelt (6-1, 156), who saw extensive duty last year as a freshman signal-caller. Zufelt put up decent numbers during his freshman campaign, hitting on 74-of-182 passing attempts for 1,204 yards with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions.
"We're real excited to have Austin back at QB," Brock said. "He had a solid season for a freshman. He started out wide-eyed as you would expect with being a freshman, but as the year went on, he got more comfortable and made great strides."
Zufelt put in a lot of work over the summer and has been impressive in camp for the Trojans.
"Austin worked hard all summer. He worked on his throwing and put on some weight," Brock said. "I fully expect him to take on more of a leadership role despite being just a sophomore and I've already seen that here in camp. He has the respect of his teammates and you can see he has much more confidence with what he is doing out there on the field."
With the graduation of last year's leading rusher in Trae Garlando (74 attempts/ 462 yards), the Trojans will rely of a pair of running backs to carry the rushing workload this season.
The top returning back will be junior Cody Hall (5-8, 158), who churned out 281 yards on 71 carries last year. Sophomore Jibril Dansby (5-9, 188), who was the featured back on the junior varsity team last year, will be counted
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on to share the workload.
"Cody will be one of our backs. He did a nice job last year for us," Brock said. "He has good feet and is a quick kid and has improved on his strength and he will get a lot of carries for us this year.
"We will also go with Jibril to take some of the load off Cody," Brock said. "He was our JV tailback last year and did some nice things.
"With having two kids to rotate in the backfield, we can keep them both fresh," the Trojans' coach said. "So far both have been doing a good job and hopefully the plan works out just like we anticipate."
When the Trojans go to a two-back set, filling the fullback slot will be senior David Marburger (6-1, 202).
An added bonus for the Trojans will be the return of the offensive line from a year ago that will look to make things run smoothly for the Newcomerstown skill position players.
Junior Mitchell Meeks (6-1, 191) will anchor the line at center, with sophomore Darnell Crider-Harris (6-1, 235) at left guard and senior Coy Johns (6-2, 253) at right guard. Junior Tristen Durr (5-11, 263) will play right tackle, while waging a battle for the starting left tackle slot are senior Jordan Wharff (6-2, 196), who is coming back following a car acciden,t and sophomore Cole Hinton (6-2, 214).
"I'm confident our offensive line will be much-improved," Brock said. "We have everyone back, which is a key, and they are all bigger, stronger and have made some significant improvement after getting a lot of playing time last year."
In summing up his hopes for his offense, Brock pointed to having an improved ground game to take some pressure off his still-young QB.
"We really struggled to run the ball consistently last year," Brock said. "We were forced into a lot of throwing situations, and with a freshman quarterback it was tough at times to execute. He threw for 1,200 yards, but we need to improve our rushing attack and take some pressure off him. Plus an improved ground game will help to open up the passing game for us."
On the defensive side of the ball, Brock hopes to see a vast improvement in two key areas -- tackling and getting off the field on third down.
"Last year we really struggled in third down situations," he said. "We would have a team in a tough spot and couldn't prevent them from getting a first down. A lot of the problems stemmed from another problem area which was tackling... getting a runner on the ground. Hopefully, if we can improve our tackling, that will also go a long way towards improving our play on third down and forcing our opponents into punting situations."
Brock plans on rotating players in along the defensive line and linebacker spots in hopes of keeping players more rested.
Players slated for double-duty with spots on the defensive line include Johns, Crider-Harris, Durr, Hinton and Wharff, while junior Jason Garlando (5-9, 157) will hold down the nose-guard slot
Others who could see some snaps on the D-line include juniors William Barry (5-10, 205), Stephen Wright (6-4, 277), Shane Gaskill (6-0, 302) and sophomores Dustin Stringer (5-10, 223), Marcus McVey (6-5, 292).
Wright is a transfer from Madison-Plains and Brock says has a real chance of getting some playing time for the Orange and Black this season.
"We're still getting to know what Stephen can do," he said, "but he is a big kid who has shown some real potential thus far. I could definitely see him getting some reps for us."
Two-way performers at linebacker for the Trojans will be Meeks, Hall, Dansy and Marburger along with sophomores Austin Stringer (5-8, 151), Kyle Pritchard (5-9, 154).
Leading the Newcomerstown secondary will be senior Cole McVey (5-9, 136) at a cornerback slot, along with Shryock who will patrol from his free safety position.
"We're still looking at the secondary and moving some guys around," said Brock. "Cole (McVey) is one guy who will be back at cornerback this year who we're counting on to be a stabilizing force back there. We have some talented guys, so we just need to find the right spots for them."
Battling for some "PT" in the defensive backfield are juniors Austin King (6-1, 187), and Logan Lehman (5-8, 146) along with sophomore Chase Eggleston (5-11, 158).
In sizing up the race in the Inter-Valley Conference, Brock identified the favorites as Garaway and Ridgewood.
"Based on last year, Garaway should be very strong," Brock said. "They return a good group of skilled players on offense and until someone knocks them off, Ridgewood is always the team to beat in the IVC.
"Malvern could also be up there battling for spot in the top of the league," he continued. Then you have us, Sandy Valley and Strasburg pretty even in talent. We're just all trying to put it all together to get up in the top of the standings."
"We're going to prepare to win every week," Brock said. "We want our kids to expect to win every time they step onto the field. You really need to have that mind-set to give yourself a chance to be successful."
Newcomerstown hosts Caldwell on Friday to open the new season.