ST. CLAIRSVILLE - The memories of the 2012 season may forever resonate in the minds of St. Clairsville players and fans.
However, as Red Devils coach Brett McLean points out, they're just memories as the 2013 season opens Friday at Claymont.
"Obviously last season was quite a ride for everyone, but we're totally focused on the tasks that lie ahead for this team," McLean said. "We're focused on being the best team we can be this season and preparing like we know how to get ready for Claymont."
St. Clairsville experienced its finest campaign in school history, winning 14 consecutive games, advancing to the Division IV state championship game for the first time in its history last season. The Red Devils came up short in the title game, falling, 46-36, to Clarksville Clinton-Massie.
"It was a great game, but unfortunately we didn't play very well in the first quarter," McLean said. "That put us behind the 8-ball and we had to chase all night long."
Along the way, the Devils captured the OVAC Class 4A, Buckeye 8 and Region 15 titles. They also knocked out then-defending state champion Creston Norwayne in the state semifinals at Massillon's Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.
"This season got here quicker than any other I've coached," McLean said. "We didn't waste any time getting to work, but the extension of last season carrying into this season just made everything seem like it happened that much faster."
Like many teams that experience success similar to the Red Devils, seniors played a huge role.
Included are seven players who are currently playing at the collegiate level in Dan Monteroso (Purdue), Jerrid Marhefka (Ohio), Matt Kinnick (West Virginia State), Luke Smith (Mt. Union), Jay Gossett (Waynesburg), Corey Ernest (West Liberty) and Cole Stephen (West Liberty).
Also lost to graduation were Derek Shunk, Tom Parker, Haylee Skukan, Justin Callarik, Dalton Nolte, Titus Lepic and Brandon Westlake.
"That group changed our program to where we can set our sights high," McLean said. "They were the ultimate group of kids that a coach would dream about."
While the bar has been raised, McLean has been stressing to this senior class that nothing in the past, except for game experience, will matter this season.
"This returning senior group has its own identity and they know they have to earn every inch that they want on their own," McLean said. "The good news is they got to spend that time with last year's group, so they had good people demonstrating how to do that."
When McLean talks about identity, it has nothing to do with Xs and Os.
"The identity I am talking about deals with our team chemistry, what kind of people these kids are on and off the field ... what kind of students they are and how tight they are as a group," McLean said. "The chemistry is the biggest thing I'm looking for, and it's growing, but I want it to grow faster."
On top of identity, McLean and his staff have stressed almost daily about not becoming complacent or having a sense of entitlement because of past success.
"We have to have the thought that we've not done anything in the back of our mind," McLean said. "We're zero and zero. We have just as good a shot as anyone to win or lose a game if we don't come to practice and get prepared like we should."
McLean has been as excited as ever during camp and summer drills because of the level of unknown around his team.
"I get a lot of doom and gloom from people, but we're chomping at the bit to get going," McLean said. "I can't wait. We've had some of the wildest doubles I've ever had because there's an energy to get going. One of the coolest things about this camp has been all of the competitions that have been going on."
The past success has led to a big increase in numbers. The Devils will dress nearly 80 players this season.
"That's awesome for us," McLean said. "It's really exciting because our depth will be able to build as the season goes along. There are jobs that are going to be won right down to the last minute."
While the likes of Kinnick, Monteroso and Marhefka are gone, McLean doesn't plan on altering the approach on offense too much.
"We ran the ball more than maybe most people realized," McLean said. "We adapt our offensive schemes to our personnel. I'm never going to sit here and say we're strictly a run or strictly a passing team. We want to be balanced as much as possible and try to utilize our talents and skills the best we can."
One of the many battles during camp was to see who will replace Kinnick at quarterback. The All-Ohioan passed for more than 6,000 yards and 70 touchdowns in his two seasons at the helm.
"Matt was one of the most underrated players on our team," McLean said. "We're lucky because the kids who are now competing for that job are holding themselves to that standard and they know they've got to be that kind of coach on the field within our system and lead."
The competition to be the quarterback has been a three-way battle between junior Michael Monteroso (6-foot, 150 pounds), sophomore Brendan Ferns (6-3, 205) and freshman Zach Bigelow (5-6, 160).
"We're not in any controversy because they all know they're going to be called on at some point, in some way, shape or form, to go in there during the season and take snaps," McLean said. "We've literally played rock, paper, scissors to see who's going to take each snap during the passing scrimmage or at the start of practice. We'll be evaluating those guys the entire season."
Helping to ease the growth of the quarterbacks is the return senior leaders Jaylon Brown (5-8, 160) and Michael Ferns (6-3, 235) to the backfield.
"We're going to lean on both Jaylon and Michael quite a bit, but that's not any surprise to them," McLean said. "We want them to be a big part of the offense, but if we don't achieve balance we'll be backing ourselves into a corner."
Brown, who committed to Youngstown State just a few days before doubles began, is coming off a huge junior campaign in which he ran for 1,834 yards and 34 touchdowns as the feature tailback.
Ferns, who has been committed to the University of Michigan for more than a year, will line up as a fullback. He saw time at tight end as well last season. All told, Ferns accumulated better than 500 yards of offense and scored eight touchdowns.
Senior Ben Coleman (5-10, 165) is another option and McLean foresees him playing a bigger role this fall.
Junior Isiah Sears (6-0, 160), who transferred from Martins Ferry, is another who McLean feels could make a significant contribution as a running back.
Junior Jake Orr (5-8, 150) is also trying to get into the rotation.
Sophomore running backs looking to make an impact are Daniel Trouten (5-7, 135), Brandon Ducker (5-9, 175), Logan Thompson (5-9, 165), Mikey Berardi (5-6, 165), Cole Skaggs (6-0, 165), Brandon Carrothers (5-11, 150) and Tyler Blomquist (5-5, 145).
The Red Devils will be seeking new playmakers with Monteroso and Marhefka gone. More than 2,000 yards receiving and nearly 30 touchdowns combined from last season went with them.
"Dan and Jerrid were really talented and we've been stressing to our (receivers) that we're not holding them to a standard of Dan or Jerrid," McLean said. "I want them to be who they are and play the way they're capable of."
Junior J.C. Coleman (6-1, 155) saw action at receiver in all 15 games last season and senior Tanner Nemeti (5-8, 135), who McLean said "had an outstanding camp," will be the mainstays in the receiving corps.
Junior Malik Gummer (5-9, 150) shifts to the outside after playing as a running back during the first two seasons of his prep career.
Senior Brandon Bosworth (6-1, 185) and junior Daulton Freeman (5-7, 150) are also working into the mix
"We've got about five or six guys who we feel comfortable with at receiver," McLean said. "The group is deep, but we need to find that 'step-up-guy' who can make the play. That's what we've challenged those kids to do. Who's going to be the guy who wants his number called when it's crunch time?"
The depth at receiver is supplied by senior C.J. Harding (5-5, 120), juniors Dakota Bacon (5-7, 145) and Zack Denoble (5-7, 145), and sophomores Isiah Green (5-5, 110), Christian Witchey (6-0, 150), Blake Peroni (6-1, 150), Shane Peroni (5-8, 140), Dylan Ketter (5-7, 135) and Grant Cameron (5-6, 135).
With Gossett's departure, the job at tight end has also been a battle. In the mix have been junior Michael Jacob (5-9, 160), sophomore Jake Stewart (6-1, 185), junior Zach Dopkiss (5-9, 180) and junior Jake Miller (5-9, 135).
For the first time in a few seasons, the Red Devils also have holes along the offensive line.
However, the cupboard isn't totally bare as seniors Joel Giffin (6-2, 230), Colby Lindsey (6-3, 225) and Nick VanVoltenburg (5-9, 240) all return after starting or playing a lot last year.
"We like to have seven linemen and we may actually have eight," McLean said. "We'll rotate guys, but those main three are very vocal, have been in the system for a long time and I think they're elevating the level of play of the younger guys."
Senior John Bland (5-8, 220) is penciled in as the center. Senior Abbey Maroon (5-8, 175) is also vying for action at center. He missed much of last season with injury. Sophomore Brad LeCron (6-0, 185) is also in the mix.
Giffin has shifted to left tackle from right guard. Lindsey will serve as the left tackle while Van Voltenburg will remain as a guard.
McLean is high on sophomore linemen Haydn Lewis (6-2, 240), Michael Furbee (5-10, 235) and Carson Ernest (6-1, 315).
Others hoping to get into the mix and supply depth are seniors Evan Elliott (6-0, 240), Daniel Elerick (6-0, 245), Bryce Burnett (5-10, 180), juniors Austin Rine (5-6, 165), Matt Carnes (5-5, 190), sophomores Tanner Heath (5-8, 165), Troy Powell (6-0, 185), Kyle Moulder (5-7, 175) and Ty Hawley (6-0, 240).
If the Red Devils had any weakness last season it was on the defensive side of the ball. McLean pointed directly at the need to tackle better to help improve the productivity.
"We have to be more sound tacklers," McLean said. "To be a good tackler, you have to want to tackle. So we've worked hard on that in camp. I've been looking for aggression. I've been promoting that and we've tried to stress that the 11 kids who will hit and tackle will get the opportunity to play."
The Red Devils will again employ a 4-4 format.
The leader of the unit will be Michael Ferns, who is coming off a first team All-Ohio season in which he recorded more than 130 tackles from his linebacker post.
"Michael's a four-year starter, a leader on and off the field and we're looking for him to step up and take command of the defensive unit," McLean said. "He's earned it, he deserves it. He's such a respectful kid that I think he's waited in the wings out of respect of those in front of him to be that vocal guy out there. Things come so easily to Michael now because he's played so much."
While Ferns returns, Smith and Stephens are gone. Both recorded more than 100 tackles from their respective linebacker posts.
Ben Coleman is a returning starter at outside linebacker and will be counted on to take on a bigger role.
Stewart, who lettered as a freshman, will be looked to at linebacker. Abbey Maroon and Jacob are also vying for time.
At the outside backer spot, Brendan Ferns, Sears, Thompson and Skaggs are all vying for playing time alongside Ben Coleman.
On the defensive line, Lindsey had a big season at defensive end and will maintain one of those spots.
The defensive tackle and other end jobs have been "one of the biggest battles in camp," according to McLean.
Battling for the jobs are Giffin, Ernest, Furbee, VanVoltenburg, Bland and Elliott.
The secondary is led by Brown, who returns at a cornerback. Gummer, Nemeti, J.C. Coleman and Freeman are all being looked at in the secondary.
"I'm not saying we'll platoon, but we're considering sliding the kids who aren't at receiver into the secondary," McLean said. "Keeping kids fresh and as many bodies playing as we can is important."
Special teams should be a strength for the Red Devils.
Senior placekicker Zach Musilli (5-7, 145) returns to handle the majority of the kicking duties. He's coming off a junior campaign when he blossomed with 72 PATs and four field goals.
"Having Moose is a luxury," McLean said. "He's had ice in his veins for us. He's a very valuable asset to our team. He can kick extra points and field goals. He's worked hard in the offseason."
That hard work allows McLean to feel comfortable sending out the field-goal unit from possibly beyond 40 yards.
"That's a weapon and we plan to use it," McLean said.
Musilli is also expected to handle more of the kickoff duties, but Giffin will also see time there as he did a season ago.
Monteroso, Freeman and Nemeti are all in the mix to serve as the holder. Abbey Maroon and Bland are both possible long snappers.
The punting duties are expected to be handled by Lindsay, who saw some time in that role as a sophomore.
Once again, McLean and athletics director Kelly Rine had a tough time filling their 10-game schedule.
The Red Devils, who will play in Division V, Region 17 in the new OHSAA seven-division format, inked a home-and-home series with Claymont extremely early in the process, but were in limbo into the spring before signing home games with new OHSAA member Whitney Young from Cleveland and Renaissance Christian Academy in Pittsburgh.
Whitney Young will visit Red Devil Stadium in Week 2 on a Saturday night, and the Pittsburgh-based squad will make the first of its three trips to the Ohio Valley the following Friday.
"I wish people knew how tough scheduling can be," McLean said. "In the grand scheme of things, you have to do what's best for you."
The Devils open Buckeye 8 play on the road at Martins Ferry. They then go up against Indian Creek, Harrison Central and Bellaire.
The Devils will end their regular season with rival Union Local visiting. The Jets are now coached by Bruce Stiles, who spent the last several seasons on the Devils staff as the defensive coordinator.
Outside of Stiles, McLean's coaching staff returns basically intact. That consistency in coaches has turned into a huge luxury.
"I love my coaches to death," McLean said. "They're young, energetic and work their butts off."
Ben Frye will now oversee the defensive unit, while Donnie Giffin is back as the offensive coordinator. Kevin Sacco works with the line, Mike "Chops" Jacob oversees the special teams and McLean's brother, Mac, works with the offense.
Ryan Clifford and Eric Gay will oversee the freshman program.
McLean is also assisted by former Brooke mentor Paul "Bud" Billiard and Vern Ridgeway.
At the junior high level, Josh Johnson and former Muskingum University standout Jake Antolak, who has returned to his alma mater for his first season of coaching, will lead the seventh grade.
Casey Callarik and Steven Hicks are in charge of the eighth grade unit.
Chris Patrone and Gary Hull serve as the equipment managers.
John Bland, Brandon Bosworth, Jaylon Brown, Bryce Burnett, Ben Coleman, Daniel Elerick, Evan Elliott, Michael Ferns, Joel Giffin, C.J. Harding, Colby Lindsey, Abbey Maroon, Zach Musilli, Tanner Nemeti, Nick VanVoltenburg.
Dakota Bacon, Matt Carnes, J.C. Coleman, Zack Denoble, Zach Dopkiss, Daulton Freeman, Malik Gummer, Michael Jacob, Jake Miller, Michael Monteroso, Jake Orr, Austin Rine, Isiah Sears.
Mikey Berardi, Chris Blackwell, Tyler Blomquist, Grant Cameron, Brandon Carrothers, Brandon Ducker, Carson Ernest, Brendan Ferns, Mike Furbee, Isiah Green, Ty Hawley, Tanner Heath, Dylan Ketter, Brad LeCron, Haydn Lewis, Kyle Moulder, Blake Peroni, Shane Peroni, Troy Powell, Cole Skaggs, Jake Stewart, Logan Thompson, Daniel Trouten, Christian Witchey.
Zach Bigelow, Zack Clark, Gage Cuiksa, Brayden Ecker, Trey Elerick, Frankie Favede, Austin Finchum, Nick Goolie, Devon Harris, Devin Holt, Jacob Keen, Chris Kuhn, Justin Lane, Joey Maroon, David Orr, Joel Porter, Josiah Rhodes, Kyler Roscoe, Noah Roscoe, Mike Scarnecchia, Nick Schramm, Landon Thompson, Dustin Tomich, Donte Vincenzo, Logan Williams.