BARNESVILLE - In his second season as coach at Barnesville, Matt Johnson feels more at home.
"I feel more comfortable," he said. "The comfort level is there this season. The kids aren't walking around not knowing what to expect, and we, as a staff, know what to expect from them.
"The kids have worked very hard in the offseason. They're buying in to what we're trying to do."
The Shamrocks went 4-6 last season after a surprising-to-many, 4-1 start.
"We only lost four seniors from that team, but if you look at our stats from last season, 86 percent of our receiving yards were caught by seniors (Jacob Anderson, Brandon Burkhart); 87 percent of our throwing yards were thrown by a senior (Kyle Iaquinta); 84 percent of our rushing yards were run for by a senior (Colton Pritchard). I know we only lost four seniors, but those four seniors did just about everything for us last season."
On the flip side, graduating four seniors means a lot of players return that saw extensive playing time a year ago.
"Yes, we've got quite a few kids back, but most of them haven't been put into situations that they are counted upon," Johnson said. "Some of those kids were forced into action early last season and it showed in the first game. We looked like deer in headlights.
"I think we're better prepared right now than we were last season. I'm a little better prepared on how to schedule practices and how to run them. It (last year) was a learning experience for everybody."
Fourteen letterwinners return, with seniors Kyle McIntire (6-foot, 155 pounds) and David Brown (5-11, 240) are seeking their fourth varsity 'B.' Six others are two-year vets, while the remaining five lettered last season.
"I think we're better right now than we were last year, but I also think that everybody we play is a little better than what they were last year, as well," Johnson said. "We're excited about the season. We're not making any predictions or anything like that. These kids come out and they work their tails off.
"As a head coach, we have no headaches. We don't have to get on them to do something the right way. That's all you can ask as a head coach, that the kids come out and work hard every day. We've got kids that do that."
The Shamrocks will go away from the spread offense and try to play smash-mouth football from the pro-I.
"We've simplified our offense a little," Johnson said. "We're trying to put kids in the right situations to be successful. Last year we tried to spread teams out a little, but this year we're going to be a fullback-tailback look. Having most of our offensive line back will probably dictate that. We think our line will be a strength for us, so we're going to try and come right at you a little bit more.
Brown was a three-year regular on the offensive line but has been moved to fullback. He gives the Shamrocks a good-sized ballcarrier, as well as a big blocking back.
However, he was sidelined in the early going with a rolled ankle, but according to his coach, should be 100 percent for the opener with John Glenn on Friday at Shamrock Stadium.
Brown wasn't the only to one be bitten by the injury bug as returning starter at tailback, sophomore Dylan Burkhart (6-0, 170), is sidelined with mononucleosis. He ran for 121 yards and a touchdown in limited action.
That hasn't dampened Johnson's enthusiasm, though.
"We've got 49 kids out this season," he pointed out. "Our practices have been a lot more spirited ... a lot more competitive. The kids have accepted the competition. If a kid knocks another one to the ground, they don't argue and fight because they know that is what is going to make us better in the long run.
"The competition has been good even though we've been without our starting fullback and tailback for most of the preseason. But we've had some other kids step up. That hasn't set us back like it did last year when we only had 33 players and 16 of them were freshmen."
He was referring to a jet ski accident prior to two-a-days that cost then-junior Tyler Carleton (5-11, 185), the projected starter at both tailback and inside linebacker, basically his entire season.
Senior Austin 'Bub' Hannahs, who didn't play last fall, and junior Isaac McGee are battling for the quarterback spot. McGee was the starter last season, but got injured on the first series and missed much of the campaign.
"Isaac was our starter, but he got hurt at John Glenn. He never really recovered and that's when Kyle (Iaquinta) took over,'' Johnson said. "Bub is a kid that didn't play last year. He's a very good athlete. We can probably put him anywhere on the field and he would fit in and play.''
McGee passed for 159 yards, completing 11 of 32 attempts. He threw one TD and one pick after returning from a shoulder injury.
Sophomore Colten Strauss (5-8, 150) and promising freshman Matthew Burkhart (5-10, 140) will see time on the jayvee level.
Brown will be the starting fullback, while Carleton, a two-year vet, will get the nod at tailback until Dylan Burkhart returns.
"We've moved David from the line and we think he can be productive at fullback," Johnson said. "Carleton can also play fullback. He's fully healthy."
Others listed at fullback include senior Josh Schnegg (5-8, 180), a two-year lettermen, sophomore Spencer Lake (5-9, 150) and freshman Blaine Holskey (5-8, 145). Schnegg is a two-year lettermen.
Hannahs could be used in the backfield, as well, while junior Jamie Wells (5-9, 165) and sophomore Sonny Fluharty (5-9, 165) were vying for playing time.
Also listed as tailback candidates are sophomore Daniel Brown (5-10, 145) and freshman Royce Hall (5-8, 140).
When the Shamrocks look to throw the ball, the quarterback will have a bevy in wideouts to look for. Leading the way are McIntire and classmates David Stewart (5-7, 130), Austin Singleton (5-8, 135) and first-year player Jeff Hart (6-0, 155); junior Collin Wilson (5-5, 130).
"Those five guys will get most of the reps," Johnson said. "They are all good athletes, so even though we're not going to spread teams out like in the past, we hoping that (run game) opens up things for our athletes on the outside."
McIntire hauled in 16 passes for 270 yards and a pair of TDs.
Other receivers are sophomore Dalton Turner (5-10, 135) and freshmen Kohl Campbell (5-5, 110), Tannor Burkhart (5-5, 110), Gaetan Sinisgalli (5-9, 145), Bailey Burkhart (5-4, 110), Seth Gordon (5-6, 125), Nathan Clark (5-9, 130) and Colbey Haney (5-6, 125).
The tight ends are senior Chase Huntsman (6-3, 165), sophomore Joey Burkhart (6-1, 170), and freshmen Kevin Milhoan (5-8, 155) and Brice Mercer (5-7, 150). Huntsman will earn his third letter this fall.
When the Shamrocks stick with their game plan, they will be running behind a veteran offensive line that has four starters returning.
"We think the offensive line is going to be a strength of ours," Johnson said. "The kids have worked really hard in the weight room. They have seen themselves change physically, so that made them want to get back in there. We've got some good size and good smarts, which is important up there. We can do a lot of things with those guys in blocking schemes and they're handling everything we're throwing at them early. Not only are they big and smart, they can also move pretty well."
Back for another year is junior Mitchell Wells (6-0, 265) at center. He will be a three-year starter.
"He does a good job of getting us into our blocking schemes," Johnson said. ''He's pretty much a leader on our line."
Freshman Brady Treherne (5-6, 200) and sophomore Jacob Barrett (5-7, 200) are listed as backups. If the Treherne name sounds familiar, his father, Al, is a former Shamrocks head coach.
"You can tell he's been around the game," Johnson said. "He's going to be a good one."
Senior Brandon Collins (5-11, 195) is another three-year starter at one guard, while sophomore Logan Schultz (5-11, 175) has earned the other starting guard spot.
"Logan's a hard-nosed kid that has stepped in and done the job so far," Johnson said.
Seniors Zach Houston (6-0, 190) and Kyle Devine (6-2, 245) round out the returnees. Houston will letter for his third year and this will be Devine's second. Junior Connor Eddy (6-1, 225) is also in the mix.
Other candidates are senior Kody Zack (5-7, 260), sophomores Logan Castello (6-0, 185), Robert Thomas (5-10, 180), Reece McConnell (5-9, 185), Cade Leasure (5-10, 185), Ben Houston (5-10, 185) and Damon Howiler (6-0, 300), and freshmen Jordan Graham (5-7, 160), Kencaide Bunfill (5-11, 220) and Kaelen Hannahs (5-7, 160).
Defensively, Johnson has handed the reigns over to former assistant D.J. Butler, who will serve as the defensive coordinator.
"We'll play a four-man front," Johnson said. "Coach Butler has got our kids in great position and they are picking up on things well that he is wanting to do. He brings a little bit of a mix with the attack from a base defense.
"I'm excited about him taking over the defense."
Mitchell Wells, Zach Houston and Bunfill are rotating at the down tackles.
"Kencaide is a big kid. Just a raw athlete," Johnson said. "We're trying to mold him into a player. He's a got a nose for the ball, but he just needs to learn how to get after it."
Eddy, along with Devine, Howiler, Treherne, Zack, McConnell, Ben Houston and Graham are also listed as down linemen.
The ends will be Schnegg, Huntsman, Hart, Schultz and Castello. Joey Burkhart could also see some time there. Thomas and Barrett are in the mix.
Collins, Brown and Carleton are rotating in the middle when the Rocks got with a 4-3 look. Leasure and Fluharty are also in the hunt for playing time.
Other linebackers are Dylan Burkhart, Daniel Brown, Lake, Hall, Halskey, Mercer and Kaelan Hannahs.
Stewart and Wilson will man the corners. Wilson, a transfer from John Glenn two years ago, picked off two passes and returned them for touchdowns against Meadowbrook a season ago.
McIntire and Hannahs will play the strong and free safeties, respectively.
"We've got a pretty experienced secondary," Johnson said. "Hannahs covers a lot of ground.
"We're really excited about our defense. We think it can be a pretty good unit this year."
Other listed in the defensive backfield are Jamie Wells, McGee, Singleton, Strauss, Campbell, Turner, Tannor Burkhart, Matthew Burkhart, Sinisgalli, Bailey Burkhart, Milhoan, Gordon, Clark and Haney.
As far as special teams go, Brown will do the kicking off and placements for the third season. Last year he booted 19 extra points. He had 18 PATs and a field goal as a sophomore.
"We won't be hesitant to kick a field goal from 35-40 yards," Johnson said. "He's got a strong leg, and for a straight-on kicker, he's pretty accurate. He takes pride in that."
Punting might not be a strong suit, according to Johnson.
"We might not punt all season. It might be 2-and-a-half yards a play for us," Johnson joked. "We don't really have anyone that has stepped up. (David) Brown can punt and so can Bub (Hannahs). We'll have to see what happens."
The schedule has one new face in Conotton Valley, which replaces long-time opponent Magnolia.
"We're kind of excited about having Conotton Valley on the schedule," he said. "The rest of the schedule is basically the same, with the traditional opener against John Glenn. The kids are really looking forward to that game."
Johnson's staff is basically the same as Nick Saffield returns as the offensive coordinator. Others are Ted Hanlon, Jason Huntsman, Devin Nichols and Steven Schumaker. Bryce Allen, Chris Hannahs and Dylan Rogers will head up the junior high program.
"I can't say enough about those 10 guys. They've been here every day ready to coach," Johnson said.
David Brown, Tyler Carleton, Brandon Collins, Kyle Devine, Austin Hannahs, Jeff Hart, Zach Houston, Kyle McIntire, Chase Huntsman, Josh Schnegg, Austin Singleton, David Stewart, Kody Zack.
Connor Eddy, Isaac McGee, Jamie Wells, Mitchell Wells, Collin Wilson.
Jacob Barrett, Joey Burkhart, Daniel Brown, Dylan Burkhart, Logan Castello, Sonny Fluharty, Damon Howiler, Ben Houston, Spencer Lake, Cade Leasure, Reece McConnell, Logan Schultz, Colten Strauss, Robert Thomas, Dalton Turner.
Kencaide Bunfill, Bailey Burkhart, Matthew Burkhart, Tannor Burkhart, Kohl Campbell, Nathan Clark, Seth Gordon, Jordan Graham, Royce Hall, Colbey Haney, Kaelen Hannahs, Blaine Holsky, Brice Mercer, Kevin Milhoan, Gaetan Sinisgalli, Brady Treherne.