Expectations are high at Newcomerstown High for the upcoming gridiron season, with the Trojans welcoming back a solid core along the offensive line this season.
Newcomerstown will welcome back 15 letterman from last year's 4-6 team, which also compiled a 2-4 mark in the Inter-Valley Conference under the guidance of sixth-year head coach Eric Brock.
"We have four lineman back on offense, with three of them being seniors which is always a good thing," Brock said. "That always gives a coach a good feeling to know you have the 'horses' up front to open up some lanes for your offense."
Leading that veteran offensive line group in the trenches will be senior Mitchell Meeks (5-10, 185), a three-year starter for NHS who will hold down one of the starting guard spots and play linebacker on defense.
"Mitchell is our leader....he was a captain last year and will be again this season," Brock said. "That just shows the respect his teammates have for him."
Also back in the trenches for the Trojans on the O-line are seniors Tristan Durr (5-11, 250) at tackle and William Barry (5-11, 225) at the center spot. Barry is making a return from a knee injury suffered in the preseason last year.
Junior Darnell Crider-Harris (6-2, 225) returns at guard along with Marcus McVey (6-6, 320) at the other tackle spot.
Adding depth along the offensive line are senior Timothy Birch (5-10, 185); juniors Lance Green (6-1, 210), Dustin Stringer (5-10, 225) and Justice Thornsley (5-11, 250); and sophomores Nick Osborne (5-11, 160) and Keleal Tarrance (5-8, 250).
"William has worked hard to get back out on the field," Brock said. "We are thrilled to get him back and I feel he could really have a big impact for us this year."
Hoping to take advantage of that veteran offensive line up front will be a pair of talented returning running backs. Senior Cody Hall (5-9, 165), a three-year letterman, and two-year junior letterman Jibril Dansby (5-9, 190) each rushed for more than 800 yards last season.
"We feel real good about out running backs with Cody and Jibril both back," Brock said. "They give us the ability to keep a fresh back in there and give teams different looks at the same time.
"I'm excited to see what Cody can do this year," Brock said, "and Jibril gives us another hard running back which makes us feature a strong running game."
Another weapon in the running game for the Trojans will be senior letterman Jason Garlando
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(5-8, 160), who got some carries last year while adding depth are sophomore Jason Garland (5-10, 155) and junior letterman Jarred Weaver (5-8, 160).
Calling signals for the Orange and Black again this year will be two-year letterman junior Austin Zufelt (6-1, 180), who returns for his third year as the Trojans' QB.
"Austin has come a long way since his freshman year," Brock offered. "We hope he continues to develop in all phases of the game, but he has already made great strides and I'm confident he will continue to get better."
Graduation dealt the Newcomerstown receiving group a key loss with the departure of four-year letterman Chandler Shryock, who was a second team all-Ohio, first team all-Eastern District and first team all-Inter-Valley Conference performer.
Shryock has moved to the next level at Marietta College along with teammate Coy Johns who is now at Malone College and that makes the losses easier to take for Brock.
"Anytime you get one of your players to get to that next level it makes you feel good," Brock explained. "It makes you feel like you do a good job of training them and it's great to see them achieve that goal. We wish them nothing but the best and I'll be keeping tabs on how they are doing."
Stepping in the lead role at receiver for the Trojans is senior Austin King (6-2, 195) who saw extended playing time last year. King will also handle the placekicking duties for the Trojans this season.
"Austin did a nice job for us last year catching the football," Brock said, "but this year he will probably the focus of our opponents without Chandler not there."
Others who could see time at the receiver position include sophomores Dylan Little (5-9, 130), Devin Croft (6-1, 150), JC Maddox (5-8, 145) and Walker McMullen (5-9, 165).
Senior two-year letterman Dylan Anderson (6-1, 190) will draw the starting slot at tight end, with juniors Chase Eggleston (6-1, 180) and Zachary Waggoner (5-9, 200) also in the mix for playing time. Waggoner will also open the season as the Trojans' punter.
"We would like to be balanced on offense ideally," Brock said. "If you can accomplish that, it keeps the other team on their toes but I feel we have some strong running backs and we hope to be able to run the football effectively most of the time."
On the defensive side of the football, Brock feels very good about the depth his Trojans will have, especially along the defensive line.
"We look like we will have a lot of depth on the D-line and should be able to rotate a lot of kids in there," Brock said. "That will allow us to keep fresh guys on the field more. We are going back to more of a four-man front on defense this year in large part because of the depth we have."
Anderson, Durr, Berry, Garlando, Crider-Harris and McVey figure to all see time at either defensive tackle of defensive end this year for the Orange and Black.
At the linebacker position, the Trojans return the main core from a year ago with Meeks, Dansby and Hall all back. Junior letterman Kyle Pritchard (5-10, 175) and Weaver will also see time at one of the linebacker spots.
Zufelt and King will hold down the cornerback spots in the secondary, while Little and Chase Eggleston are battling to grab the safety position but both will see playing time, according to Brock.
"I hope our defense is going to be a strong point for us this year," Brock said. "We had some low points last year, but we showed flashes also of what we could become. I just hope we are more consistent this year and that's what I expect."
Rounding out the Trojans' roster are freshmen George Brode (5-11, 150), Brandon Septer (5-3, 110), Brandon Moore (5-8, 170), Rudy Russell (5-1, 115), Chris Lengyel (5-9, 160), Daniel Meeks (5-8, 175), Joel Ebersbach (5-11, 225), Dale Lyons (6-0, 260) and Andrew Johnson (5-7, 200).
In the always-strong Inter-Valley Conference, Brock feels a trio of teams should be the ones to watch out for this season.
"The IVC is very tough from top to bottom every year," Brock said, "but I feel going in you have to give the edge to Ridgewood, Garaway and Malvern. They are each traditionally strong year-in and year-out with such strong programs."
"Our goal is to get into the top portion of the league," Brock added. "If we can get into the top two of the IVC we will probably be going to the playoffs."
Assistant coaches for the Trojans include Nathan Smith, Greg Marsh and Steven Pritchard along with volunteer coaches Steve Durbin, Logan Sheptock, Matt Davis and Jericoe Jones. Junior high coaches are Donnie Stevens and Clayton McAfee.
"This is probably the most experienced group we have had," Brock said of the 2013 Trojans. "Most of these guys have now been playing for a few years and worked hard. They are now juniors and seniors and I feel good about this group and its time to prove what they have learned."
Newcomerstown helps launch the season Thursday with a road game against Caldwell at the Noble County Fairgrounds.