RAYLAND - Not many head coaches go through a rookie season the way Buckeye Local's Anthony Barsch went through his.
Barsch's first year saw his squad drop its first six decisions, a few of which could have easily gone his way. He finally gets his first victory, then a health issue arose and he was forced to go from the sidelines to the press box to watch the final three games of the 2010 season.
Well, Barsch is back on the field for his second season at the helm, healthy and ready to guide a Panthers team through what will be the school's 22nd football season.
Barsch, his staff, returning players and the fans have long forgotten those six straight losses. They are all more focused on the season-long improvement that culminated in an impressive stretch that saw Buckeye win three games in the last four weeks to finish at 3-7.
Buckeye saw graduation take some very talented players, including a record-setting quarterback in Brent Kirk. Despite the depletion, Barsch is hopeful the talent returning will push the Panthers back past .500 and possibly add a return trip to the postseason.
Along with Kirk, who set a Panthers passing record last season with a 323-yard effort against Bellaire, graduation also took hard-driving running back Thomas Palmer, slot backs Devon Campbell and Tim Brown, ultra-talented tight end Brandon Borkoski, and receivers Maverick DeCesare and Paul Worwa.
Despite injuries, Palmer rushed 46 times for 314 yards on offense and had 23 tackles, 21 assists and five tackles for losses on defense. The highly versatile Borkoski caught nine passes for 162 yards and had 35 totals tackles on defense.
Kirk's absence will be felt on both sides of the ball. A hard-hitter from the secondary, he finished with a team-high 68 tackles, including 51 solos.
Graduated linemen are Jake Boughan, Nick Davis, Jason Patton, Phillip Diab and David Powell. Also gone are defensive back Justin Aracich and foreign exchange kicker Bruno Deleffe.
If Barsch is looking for positives heading into the season, he needs to look no further than his experienced skilled players and his overall team speed.
''I can't remember the last time that we were very pleased with our team speed,'' he said. ''I'm sure there were some teams that had good team speed, but this team has a bunch of kids that can run, and I think that's going to be a very big plus for us this year.''
Barsch is also satisfied with his line. Although, graduation took away some girth and talent, that size factor may be the key in the trenches, as well.
''Everybody on this team has worked together. I know everyone wants to play and everyone wants to start, but there are only so many positions and so many people that can play at a time, and they have been very good about that,'' Barsch said. ''We haven't seen or heard any complaining or bitterness. They have worked very well as a team and we are very proud of them.
''A lot of them hang out together. They seem to like each other and they have become a very tight-knit group. Our team has great chemistry. The players like each other. The coaches like each other. This is how teams should be. Through camp and through practice, there has been a lot of positives.
''We got some momentum from the way we ended the season last year that should carry over into this season.''
At quarterback, Barsch will be starting senior letter-winner A.J. Barsch (6-foot-1, 165 pounds). The young Barsch saw time behind center in a backup role, but has shown that he is a capable replacement for Kirk. Junior Nate Kirk (5-10, 135) will be the primary backup for A.J. Barsch.
Also at QB is sophomore Chase Hopkins (5-11, 160).
While quarterback may be the centerpiece, Josten Dear (6-1, 190) will be the one setting the table from his tailback spot. One of the Ohio Valley's premier runners, Dear is back to terrorize defenses. As a sophomore he rushed for 895 on 123 carries and 10 scores, then last season, despite injuries, added 1,045 yards on 153 carries and 19 more scores. He also led the Panthers with 14 catches for 381 yards and five touchdowns. He is currently fourth all-time in career rushing at Buckeye and just a few hundred yards from second place.
Backing Dear is Austin Marshall (5-7, 150), a junior who saw considerable time in the backfield last season.
Andy Stock (5-11, 160) is a junior who proved to be a valuable asset to the Panthers. He will be starting in the slot back spot after rushing 80 times for 636 yards. Behind Stock is junior speedster Caleb Agnew (5-7, 160) and senior Ryan Durbin (5-6, 145).
With Corey Slaga and Dustin Marchbank moving to the line, Barsch will have a new fullback in Steubenville Catholic transfer Jordan Piergallini (6-1, 190), a senior. Sophomore Devon Pyciak (6-1, 190) is the top backup at the fullback spot.
''We have a lot of guys that can carry the ball, but unfortunately there is just one football to go around,'' Barsch said. ''We know that a lot of teams will focus on Josten, but we have a lot of other players that can run the ball and that will be one of our strengths this year.
''I think we have the ability to mix up our running game and throw the ball when we need to.
''We have to keep teams off-balance by moving the ball around. I think we are going to be more balanced this year.''
Buckeye's top receiver is veteran Justin Isinghood (6-1, 155). He hauled in 10 passes last season covering 266 yards and scored three times. Behind him is junior Shane Duncan (5-11, 160) and senior Tyler Gullo (5-8, 130).
Duncan will open the season as the starting tight end and will be backed up by junior Brian Zeroski (5-10, 175) and sophomore Josh Figurski (5-10, 175).
In the center of the offense line will be David Mains (6-1, 225), a senior. Junior Mitch Telek (5-9, 240) will back up Mains.
Barsch's offensive line also has standout senior Greg Ring (6-2, 315) at one tackle and junior Lucas Ostejich (5-11, 200) and senior Matt Marko (6-1, 210) at the other. Seniors Slaga (5-9, 190) and Marchbank (6-1, 200) will be at the guards.
''We are very pleased with our line thus far,'' Barsch said. ''Corey Slaga moved from fullback to one of the guards and that is a big addition.
''He got a lot of reps last year at fullback when Thomas Palmer went down with an injury, and he was going to be our starting fullback this year.
''Justin Marchbank is another guard who got reps at fullback last year before moving to the other guard this year. Both have a great attitude about the move. They know that if the line has success, then the team has success.''
Junior Logan Hall (6-3, 160), a split end, is out for the team for the first time.
Senior Josiah Hannen (6-1, 175) will handle the kicking duties with junior Christian Hopkins (6-4, 180) ready to fill in as needed. Hopkins could also see time on defense.
''Last year, I think barring a few key injuries we could have won a few of those games early, but we did start the year after losing a lot of good players from a very good playoff team. Those shoes are always hard to fill,'' Barsch said. ''We also lost some very good players from last year's team as well. We are going to miss those guys. Brent Kirk was one of the best players in the area.''
Defensively, Barsch has Ring, Ostejich, Mains and Telek filling the tackle spots. All are capable with Ring coming back as one of the top defensive players in the area. Slaga could be used as a down lineman on occasion, but will primarily be a linebacker.
The defensive end spot has junior Luke Hoaglund (6-1, 180) opening on one side and Marko on the other. Pyciak and Mains will see duty end as well.
Piergallini and Zeroski will man the middle linebacker spots with Slaga and Marchbank as key subs and Duncan and junior Dakota Flaherty (5-8, 140) manning the outside linebacker posts. Durbin, junior Cody Linn (5-7, 150) and junior Eric Bell (5-9, 165) will see duty there as well.
Senior Nathan Kujawa (6-1, 225), a versatile lineman, will action on both sides of the ball.
Isinghood is a talented defensive player as well and will be starting at safety. Nate Kirk is the primary bac-up.
Buckeye's corners are Marchbank and Stock with senior Chad Wiltshire (5-10, 140), Agnew and Gullo expected to see duty there as well.
Barsch is expecting to see ample support on both sides of the ball from junior receiver-DB Cody Crawford (5-11, 160), senior tight end-outside backer Alex Vanezalos (5-10, 160), junior tailback-DB Trevor Sebring (5-10, 140), senior two-way lineman Tony Marques (5-7, 150), sophomore two-way lineman Dominic Rose (5-9, 185), sophomore linebacker D.J. Czuchran (5-8, 170), junior two-way lineman Chad Durbin (5-8, 180), sophomore two-way lineman Austin Flaherty (5-8, 158), junior two-way lineman Landon Partelli (5-10, 265), sophomore two-way lineman J.D. Glasgow (5-10, 250) and junior receiver-DB Johnny Bumgardner (5-6, 125).
''This is my second year and a lot of the guys we have back got the opportunity to play a lot more than expected a year ago,'' Barsch said. ''With the injuries and the holes we had to fill, we had a lot of young guys that stepped up and developed on the field. I think that is going to help us a lot this year.''
Barsch again has a veteran staff to work with, and it includes assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Phil Pest, who stepped in as the acting head coach when Barsch was unable to coach last season; offensive coordinator Nate Skrzypek, quarterback-defensive back coach Kevin Turnbull, running back-defensive back coach Mario Debias, receiver-outside linebacker coach Tom O'Connell Jr., linebacker-offensive line coach Mike Wilt. Two notable additions are former Buckeye Local and Capital University great Chuck Watson, and former St. Clairsville gridder Caleb Myer.
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