MIDVALE -- After winning four out of their last five games and earning a second place finish in the Principals Athletic Conference last season, Indian Valley will look to build off it's late-season success this fall.
The Braves did not start the 2016 campaign the way 11th year head coach Matt Lancaster had planned, falling to 1-4 after the first five weeks, but they sure did finish on a strong note.
"We faced a lot of adversity last season," admitted Lancaster, whose career coaching record stands at 58-48 after last season's 5-5 mark, "such as injuries and youth, but we did not overcome it very well."
"In Week 6, I started to see a change in their attitudes," he continued. "Some of the younger players were able to adjust to the varsity speed and we were able to finish the year healthy so that really helped us in the second half of the season. We expect our veterans to lead us to overcome adversity better this year."
In order to rectify their slow start from last season, Lancaster has made this year's team motto "No Excuses." as they switch leagues and join the expanded Inter-Valley Conference.
"With all the adversity we faced, we started to make excuses," said the Indian Valley mentor. "No matter what was happening, or something wasn't going our way, we started making excuses for everything, so this year our motto is 'no excuses' and our attitudes are great."
Indian Valley will be without eight of last year's seniors due to graduation, headed by Cory Carlisle, Brennon O'Connor and Wyatt Garabrant.
Carlisle paced the Braves' ground attack as the starting running back the past two seasons and finished his career with 2,263 career rushing yards, good for third best in school history. Last season, Carlisle ran for a team-best 916 yards while scoring 11 times and earned second team all-East District D-IV and first team all-PAC.
"We will be without our starting running back from last year," said Lancaster, "but we feel we have four kids who have been working hard and waiting in the wings to take over that role."
O'Connor started the past two campaigns for the Braves at fullback, tight end and inside linebacker and contributed with 89 tackles while Garabrant was a two-year starter at wide receiver and outside linebacker, reeling in 28 receptions for 318 yards and two TDs while recording 73 tackles and snagging two interceptions on defense.
Other graduation losses for the Braves included Brandon Leggett, Joshua Thornton, Hunter Baker, Caden Rostad and Zac Truex.
Despite those departures, Indian Valley is still an experienced team as it returns 10 seniors as well as 16 juniors.
Slated to start for the senior class will be a quartet of two-year letterwinners including senior captain Dylan Fantin (6-3, 230), Matt Love (6-0, 170), Nick Love (6-0, 205), Jarrett Swinderman (5-11, 175) and Mason McKeown (5-10, 165).
Fantin is a two-year starter on the offensive and defensive line, ranking at the top of the offensive lineman while recording 56 tackles (16 for losses, 6 QB sacks) and forcing a pair of fumbles. Fantin earned second team all-East District honors as well as first team all-PAC.
McKeown did most of his damage defensively as he led the team in tackles although missing three games, but was able to contribute on the other side of the ball as well rushing for 200 yards and a touchdown. Like Fantin, McKeown was awarded second team all-East District and first team all-PAC.
Other seniors who will be looking to contribute include one-year lettermen Bailey Hickenbottom (6-4, 175), Wyatt Lawrence (6-1, 280), two-year letterwinner Therron Stocker (6-0, 165) and Jamison Herman (5-10, 170) and Austin Vickers (5-10, 160).
Leading the way for the junior class will be returning quarterback and two-year letterman Cade Williams (6-1, 185).
Williams completed 52-of-126 passes for 714 yards with five touchdowns and six interceptions, but was also dangerous on the ground carrying the ball 86 times for 410 yards and a pair of TDs. Williams earned first team all-PAC and special mention all-East District honors.
"We are glad to have our starting quarterback return from last year," said the IV coach. "He is coming off a solid sophomore season."
Also projected to start for the Braves are juniors and two-year lettermen Karson Hartrick (6-2, 195), Braeden Lehigh (5-10, 160), and Devin Stinard (5-9, 150) along with one-year letterwinners Caden Hostetler (5-9, 145), Caleb Hostetler (5-9, 145), Tanner Myers (6-1, 170), Braden Rostad (6-1, 190), Keiron O'Connor (6-0, 270) and Brady Parsons (6-1, 200).
Hartrick contributed both ways last season as he recorded 215 rushing yards and five TDs while racking up 105 tackles and four sacks, second best on the team.
Lehigh had his 2016 campaign come to a halt in Week 4 with an injury, but was able to snatch a pair of interceptions early.
Rounding out the Braves' junior class are Daniel Adams (6-2, 230), Jonathan Campbell (5-9, 230), Collin Daft (5-9, 155), Kyle Enos (5-9, 160), Robert Evans (5-8, 140) and Logan Morrison (5-10, 140).
A pair of sophomores are slated for starting roles - Zach Love (5-9, 160) at outside linebacker and Lane Rennard (6-3, 300) at tackle.
Other sophomores battling for playing time include Joe Brown (5-4, 110), Solomon Cox (6-1, 155), Matthew Evans (5-9, 160), Kolby Hartrick (5-9, 255), Caden Keathley (5-9, 150), Ty Myers (6-0, 140), Owen Quillin (5-9, 225), Kayden Bolon (5-11, 175), Alex Tice (5-10, 165) and Noah Wells (6-1, 195).
Rounding out the Indian Valley roster are freshmen Alex Ajanel (6-2, 290), Carter Baker (5-10, 185), Landon Beckley (5-9, 140), Andrix Bowersock (5-8, 135), Niles Crank (5-11, 145), Noble Jeandervin (5-7, 130), JD Lancaster (5-9, 175), Blake Lehigh (5-9, 250), Mason Love (5-8, 135), Jarrett Poletti (5-8, 185), Carter Quillin (5-8, 150), Rocco Romeo (5-8, 130), Jacob Russell (5-9, 165), David Sabol (6-0, 220), Kent Schupbach (5-8, 170) and Logan Songer (6-1, 230).
Coach Lancaster believes the younger players received vital varsity experience last season and has high expectations for them as well as his defense.
"We are expecting the young guys to build on the quality experience from last season," said the Braves' boss. "We are returning eight defensive starters, so we are expecting our defense to be the strength of this team."
Offensively, he believes the offensive line will be a great anchor and has improved from the year before.
"We expect to be stronger at every position on the field on both sides of ball," Lancaster stated. "We expect to be much improved up front on the offensive line from 2016 and should have more depth and experience at all positions. We are looking for our offensive line to improve with every rep."
Indian Valley will play its first season in the Inter-Valley Conference and will have five new opponents on this year's schedule.
The Braves will play road games at Coshocton, Minerva and Buckeye Trail and will host Ridgewood and Newcomerstown in IVC battles.
Removed from last year's schedule are Fairless, Tuslaw, Orrville, Cuyahoga CVCA and Triway.
"Our kids and coaches are excited to start the new league," offered Lancaster. "We are looking forward to the challenge of a totally revamped schedule. The IVC is a tough league with a lot of great football programs."
Overall, Lancaster expects many improvements from last season and a solid start to his first year in the IVC.
"As always, we want to see execution on both sides of the ball and to improve week to week." Lancaster concluded. " We have some very good competitions for varsity positions going on now, so hopefully that will lead to developing some quality depth."
Assisting Lancaster are Jeremy Bolon, Matt Carroll, Aaron Haney, Aaron Hreha, Chad Peterman, Jamie Herman, Brian Ridgway and Brett Wilcox.
For additional information on Barnesville including the roster and schedule, see page 33.