NEWCOMERSTOWN -- Upon getting the news that he had been hired for his 'dream job' as the head football coach for his alma mater at Newcomerstown High, Dirk Gadd quickly settled on a key objective he wanted to accomplish in his new post.
"I want to get the football culture in the right direction here at Newcomerstown," said Gadd, who served the past two years as a volunteer assistant for former coach Josh Lahmers. "To do that, we need to get the players playing for each other, just like a family. We have been working on that with lots of team bonding activities and the kids are really responding."
Gadd, who graduated from NHS in 1998, was a key performer on some successful football teams under former head coach Jeff Cook. Gadd then attended Muskingum College and played football for four years under Jeff Heacock, graduating in 2003.
With that background, Gadd knows the importance the Trojans' gridiron program has on the Newcomerstown community.
"I want to give our community something to be proud of, on and off the football field," Gadd offered. "Back when I played here, Friday nights were special around this town and we want to get back to that feeling. We know we have a lot of work to do to accomplish that goal, but these kids are putting in the work to make that a reality."
Last season, the Orange and Black struggled to a 3-7 overall record, including a 2-5 mark in the Inter-Valley Conference. With the return of 11 lettermen, however, Gadd hopes to begin rebuilding the program to its past glory days and thus far, he is pleased with the efforts of his Trojans as the season opener draws near.
"I can honestly say we've gotten better each practice," Gadd stated. "That was a goal of mine and I feel we have done that so far and that's just a huge positive."
Job one for Gadd will be to break in a new signal-caller with the graduation loss of two-year starting quarterback George Brode. Brode, who earned All-Ohio Division VI special mention, East District D-VI first team and honorable mention All-IVC honors for his work last season. Brode completed 43-of-117 passes for 498 yards with seven TDs and nine interceptions last year.
Taking over at QB for the Trojans will be sophomore Gavin Weaver (5-8, 130), who lettered last year as a freshman.
"Gavin is a real smart kid," Gadd stated. "He's done a real good job of learning the offense and has control of the huddle. We're looking for some good things from him this year."
Weaver will also line up on the defensive side of the football in the NHS secondary.
Yet another huge graduation loss was last year's leading rusher in Chris Lengyel, who churned out 887 yards on the ground in 167 carries with eight TDs.
For his efforts, Lengyel was tabbed all-Ohio D-VI special mention along with Eastern District and IVC first team.
Gadd is planning to fill the void in the backfield with a trio of lettermen, starting with junior T Anthony Birch (5-8, 135).
"T Anthony got some experience carrying the ball last year and did a nice job," Gadd offered. "He's a real quick, up-tempo type of back and can get the corner quickly and head up field."
Birch will also help out on defense by filling a linebacker spot for the Trojans.
Also slated to see time toting the pigskin will be sophomore lettermen Wyatt Conner (6-1, 170) and Chase Bryant (6-0, 155), both also joining Birch in the NHS linebacker slots.
"Wyatt is a young man who started last year as a freshman at linebacker and earned the respect of his teammates with his play," Gadd offered. "He's got a real nose for the football and is a super tackler on defense. He will also get some carries at running back and will get those tough yards for us."
Connor reeled in all-Ohio special mention, Eastern District first teaam and honorable mention All-IVC recognition following last season.
"Chase is another kid we will count on to carry the football for us, he's one of our fastest players," Gadd said. "He will give us more of that big play threat when he touches the football."
With the talented depth at the tailback slot, Gadd feels he will be able to keep a fresh running back in the game which could pay huge dividends for the Trojans.
"We have some real quality depth at the tailback spot," Gadd commented. "Wyatt will get a lot of the workload, but we have several other options with Chase and T Anthony that will allow us to keep them all fresh."
Back to anchor what Gadd feels will be the strength of the NHS team at offensive line will be senior lettermen Clavin Ringer (6-4, 240) and Daniel Russell (6-1, 220), with both also playing on the defensive line.
"Calvin is one of our strongest kids," Gadd explained. "He will be a real key in the trenches on both sides of the ball."
"Daniel brings a lot of experience to both lines," the NHS coach said. "He's very dependable and you can count on his to carry out his assignments."
Rounding out the returning lettermen for the NHS are juniors Alex Barrington (6-1, 240) and Reno Hupp (5-10, 170); and sophomores Gavin Shalosky (6-2, 180), Gavin Little (5-9, 130) and Nick Lengyel (5-10, 175).
"Our O-line is the strength of our team, we have three seniors and two juniors," Gadd said. "It's a veteran group and we look for them to be the backbone of our team.
"It's exciting to have a talented offensive line," Gadd added. "After all, you are only as strong as you offensive and defensive lines. You need to win in the trenches to be successful."
Newcomers who Gadd feels could make an impact this season includes senior Jayce Cabot (6-1, 270), a transfer from neighboring Ridgewood who could see time on both the offensive and defensive lines.
"Jayce will play on both the offensive and defensive lines," Gadd said. "We're really happy to have him and he will contribute this year."
Yet another senior -- Anthony Sanders (6-1, 155) -- will be on the gridiron for the first time since junior high after running cross country in the past for the Trojans.
"Anthony had run cross country the last few years, but decided to play football this year," Gadd stated. "He's very athletic and has a great work ethic. Again, we are happy to have him."
Sanders is working at tight end on offense and linebacker on the defensive side of the ball.
Rounding out the Newcomerstown roster will be seniors Logan Zimmerman (5-7, 200), Austin McMullen (6-0, 265) and Caden Hughes (6-2, 175); juniors Dakota Craig (6-4, 220), Matthew Goff (5-10, 275) and Mitchell Stull (5-8, 135); sophomores Brenden Freeman (5-11, 140), Ross Hupp (5-7, 175), Anthony Hudnall (5-8, 180), Jared Holdsworth (6-2, 260) and Baylee Lower (6-0, 220); and freshmen Ryan Miller (5-8, 140), Samuel Stull (5-10, 185) and Jordan Sanders (6-1, 190).
Gadd's first coaching staff includes several former Trojan athletes which Gadd feels can be a real asset.
"I feel with me being a Trojan -- having played here -- gives myself and my coaches some creditability with these kids," Gadd explained. "The kids know we played here and we know what they are going through. I feel that makes our job easier because they know we've been there and we bleed Orange and Black just like them so to speak."
Former Trojans on the NHS staff include Steven Pritchard, Robb Hendershot and Jason Bryant on the varsity staff along with Allen Fish and Ryan Hendershot at the junior high level. Completing Gadd's staff are Tyler Kiner and Matt Davis.
In sizing up the race in the IVC, Gadd prefers to focus more on his own team them worrying about the opponents.
"I'm more focused on Game 1 with Barnesville and taking care of our business getting ready for the season," Gadd stated. "We can only control what we do and that's how we are approaching it."
With the expansion in the IVC this year, it will be exciting time for all teams, according to Gadd.
"We're looking forward to the challenge for sure," Gadd stated. "I feel the IVC was already a strong league and the new additions will just add to that, but that's what you want...to play in a good league and that's what the IVC has always been."
Half of the schedule is different this year due to the IVC expansion, with Buckeye Trail, Tusky Valley, Indian Valley, Claymont and non-league foe Berne Union on the Trojans' slate this year. Gone are league teams East Canton, Strasburg and Sandy Valley (they're in the opposite division) and none-league teams Fort Frye and Shenandoah.
Gadd has some clear defined objectives he hopes to attain during his first season guiding the Trojans football program.
"I want to give these kids the same positive football experience I had here playing at Newcomerstown," Gadd said. "I want them to have success on and off the field."