NEW MARTINSVILLE - Expectations are always high at Magnolia.
So when the Blue Eagles - one year removed from a perfect state championship run - didn't reach the playoffs last fall, some viewed it as a disappointment. Veteran coach Mark Batton, however, saw the 5-5 campaign as a big step toward to returning to Wheeling Island Stadium on the first Friday night in December.
''It took those guys a while to catch up to the speed of the game,'' Batton said of his youthful 2011 squad. ''The first few games were a learning situation ... a work in progress.
''So, now, they're veteran guys and they definitely want to build on how they finished last year.''
Magnolia will have 15 letterwinners in uniform Saturday night when it opens, not ends, the season on the island against Linsly as part of the McDonald's OVAC Kickoff Weekend.
The Cadets are one of the new wrinkles on the Blue Eagles schedule - it's first in West Virginia Class A.
Aug. 25: at Linsly7:30 p.m.*
Aug. 31: Williamstown7:30 p.m.
Sept. 7: Tyler Consolidated7:30 p.m.
Sept. 14: at River7 p.m.**
Sept. 21: Weeling Central7:30 p.m.
Sept. 28: at Monroe Central7 p.m.
Oct. 5: at Weir7 p.m.
Oct. 19: Barnesville7:30 p.m.
Oct. 26: Steub. Catholic7:30 p.m.
Nov. 2: at Oak Glen7 p.m.
WIN 7, LOSE 3
It's a rugged slate, for sure. After opening with the defending OVAC Class 2A champs, Magnolia plays host to last year's Class A runner up in Williamstown. Then, in Week 5, defending champ Wheeling Central visits Alumni Field.
''You can't beat having experience,'' Batton said. ''These guys were thrown into the so-called fire last year and now they know what to expect. That first varsity game was an eye-opener for many of them and, this year, they have prepared themselves.
''And they better because it's a competitive and tough schedule.''
Steubenville Catholic also returns to the Blue Eagles schedule.
''Class A is full of good programs and great coaches,'' Batton said. ''Our schedule is tough and it's tougher than it's been in the past.''
And thanks to a large freshman class, the Blue Eagles will have more depth from which to tackle the tougher schedule.
''We've been able to expand what we did last year,'' Batton said. ''We've been excited with the way they've come out and worked in practice and are happy with where we're at. But will still have a long way to go.''
Magnolia's lone returning three-year letterwinner is a pretty good one in senior Stephen Rogalski (5-foot-11, 170 pounds).
A focal point for the Blue Eagles offense his entire career, the two-time all-state receiver caught 59 passes for 898 yards and six touchdowns last year.
''He's one of the premier receivers in the valley and the state,'' Batton said. ''He's just an electrifying player. He can catch, he can run ... he has all of those abilities.''
Rogalski is often double-teamed, so seniors Ryan Walton (6-foot, 180), Gage Deem (5-11, 165) and junior Grant Cain (6-0, 135) should get plenty of catches, along with promising freshman Jared Kacor (5-6, 120).
The chemistry between Rogalski and quarterback Tanner Hanna (6-1, 165) continues to develop.
''He and Stephen are classmates and they've played together a long time,'' Batton said.
Hanna, a senior, stepped into some pretty big shoes last fall, replacing all-stater Justin Fox. Hew threw for 1,587 yards and 15 touchdowns
''He stepped in and handled things really well,'' Batton said. ''He didn't let any of the hype bother him.''
Junior Jacob Brill (5-9, 175) will back up Hanna, with freshman Brandon Mason (5-7, 135) learning the ropes.
The biggest loss offensively for the Blue Eagles was running back Jayson Keller, the leading rusher in school history.
''We're going to be doing it kind of by committee,'' Batton said. ''Jayson was a special player, holy cow.''
Looking to carve their own niche in the school's record book will be juniors Kage Rhode (5-9, 180) and Drew Keller (5-10, 185), Jayson's brother.
Another junior, Yale Wetzel (5-9, 190), also figures to get plenty of reps.
Senior Zach Arrick (6-0, 190) will get plenty of work at fullback and tight end, where he'll replace Nick Blatt. Brill could also see time at tight end in an effort to get him on the field. Freshman Kyle Ritz is another option at TE/HB.
The offensive line will see some new faces after the graduation losses of Bentley Knight and Caleb Seckman.
Both guards return, however, in seniors Jared Wright (5-9, 190) and Sam Shreve (6-0, 190).
Junior Cole Seckman (6-1, 290), who played center last season, has moved to tackle. Replacing him at center is junior Logan Wright (5-8, 200).
Senior Robert Walker (6-1, 190) and junior Brandon Clegg (6-4, 240) are in a battle at right tackle.
Junior Stephen White (6-0, 175) is also in the mix at tackle and center.
Cole Seckman and Clegg will see most of the action at defensive tackle, with Jared Wright and Arrick at defensive end.
Rhode, Drew Keller and freshman Carter Seckman (6-0, 180) are names to watch at linebacker, along with Brill, who has moved from strong safety.
Walton moves into a strong safety slot. Others in the mix in the secondary are Rogalski, Hanna, Deem and Cain.
Batton, in his 14th season, is assisted by Bob Ripley, Moke Riggs, Dave Chapman, Eric Mason, John Smith and Brian Castilow.
Zach Arrick, Gage Deem, Tanner Hanna, Hunter McAdams, Stephen Rogalski, Sam Shreve, Robert Walker, Ryan Walton, Jared Wright.
Jacob Brill, Grant Cain, Brandon Clegg, Drew Keller, James Melott, Kage Rhode, Cole Seckman, Andrew Smith, Yale Wetzel, Stephen White, Logan Wright.
Brandon Fayad, Michael Stevens, Timmy Weekley.
Tyler Anderson, Hunter Brill, Zach Haught, Dylan Jackson, Jared Kacor, Todd Lemasters, Brandon Mason, Paden McConaughey, Mark McGill, Garrett Price, Kyle Ritz, Carter Seckman, Lane Whiteman, Brian WilsonAshton Wright, Jacob Young.