RAYLAND - In Phil Pest's first season at Buckeye Local, the veteran coach was hoping to see his Panthers rebound from a 3-7 season.
The fall progressed well and with three games remaining on the schedule, the Panthers were holding onto a 4-3 record.
As luck, and the 2012 Buckeye Local schedule, would have it, the final three weeks included games with three high-powered offenses. As a result, Buckeye closed at 4-6 and is heading into the 2013 campaign with hopes of starting strong and finishing strong this season.
Pest came into the Panthers head coaching post as a long-time veteran with long stints as an assistant at both Wheeling Central and Buckeye Local. He opens his second season with a veteran staff and 17 returning lettermen.
"We were happy at the end of the season," Pest said. "We played St. Clairsville very well for a half, and we did some good things late in the year that we hope will carry over.
"Our schedule this year is pretty decent. We are hoping to get off to a good start and build some confidence that will carry us through the season.''
With Buckeye 8 teams again filling in seven weeks of the schedule, Buckeye will face three non-Buckeye 8 opponents. Buckeye opens the season by playing host to Pittsburgh-based West-inghouse and following a Week 2 matchup with Union Local, travels to John Marshall. In the second half of the season, the Panthers will play host to Western Reserve.
"We lost some good skilled players from last year's team and we will have to replace those players," the coach said. "It won't be easy replacing them, but we have some speed in the backfield and that's a plus."
Graduation losses, no matter how large or small, have an affect on a team the following season. In the case of Buckeye Local, Pest is faced with dealing with the graduation of a talented group of seniors that left some big shoes to fill.
Atop that list is a trio that provided the Panthers with the bulk of their offensive punch. Austin Marshall, one of the area's quickest running backs, left after lettering three seasons and rushing for 770 yards in his career as well as being a threat catching the ball. Shane Duncan finished as the school's second-leading receiver in career yardage and had the third-most productive season last year. Also gone is starting quarterback Nathan Kirk who also excelled in the defensive secondary.
In addition, the Panthers lost through graduation Caleb Agnew, a versatile athlete who is taking his talents to Waynesburg, Andy Stock, defensive stalwart Brian Zeroski, Eric Bell, Cody Crawford, Dakota Flaherty, Lucas Hoaglund, Christian Hopkins, Lucas Ostijich and Michael Telek. Agnew excelled as a kick return specialist.
Rounding out the list of graduated players are Chad Durbin, Tre' McGee, Landon Partelli, Jonathan Roth, Trevor Sebring, JP Solomon and Logan Hall.
"We have plenty of speed in our backfield and our offensive line is one of the quickest we have ever had here," Pest said of his team's strong points. "Our quarterback has a very good arm and every one of our returning senior lettermen is filling a starting position. Our senior players are really contributing both on and off the field.
"We don't have a lot of depth. Our depth is our young kids. We can't afford a lot of turnovers and we can't afford a lot of injuries. We will need to keep the turnovers down because we can't afford to have our defense on the field all game."
Buckeye's senior contingent for the 2013 season is another good one. Strong-armed Chase Hopkins returns to start at quarterback this season. Hopkins (6-foot, 185 pounds) is a multi-talented athlete who moved to the defensive secondary in Week 2.
Devin Pyciak (6-1, 235) is one of the area's premier linebackers and will start at fullback as well. He is one of those players that will rarely leave the field.
Seven of this season's seniors lettered in 2012 and will provide the bulk of the power up front. Along with Hopkins and Pyciak, the senior lettermen returning are guard-defensive tackle Denny Czuchran (5-8, 185), center-linebacker Josh Figurski (6-1, 195), center-defensive tackle Austin Flaherty (5-4, 190), two-way tackle Dominic Rose (6-0 , 185) and two-way tackle DJ Rusnak (6-1, 200).
Four other seniors looking to contribute are split end-safety Adam Borkoski (5-6, 130), tackle-defensive end Andrew Cammer (6-0, 165), two-way tackle Steve Sable (6-3, 195) and tackle-defensive end Derek Sebring (6-3, 195).
Nine of the 10 juniors on the roster are returning as letterwinners. That group includes speedy running back-safety Eric Banal (5-7, 155), fullback-split end Damion Beall (6-0, 170); tight end-linebacker Logan Dehnart (5-10, 180), guard-defensive tackle Billy Glover (5-10, 180), two-way tackle Brent Kandrach (5-10, 230), receiver-center Devan Marques (5-6, 130), quarterback-safety Tyler Miller (5-10, 135), receiver-center Brandon Panepucci (6-0, 155), tailback-defensive back Shawn Tustin (5-5, 135) and fullback-linebacker Nick Pielech (5-10, 225).
"We still have a lineup that is up in the air as far as starters, but our backfield will be quick with Hopkins at QB, Pyciak at fullback and Banal and Tustin as the running backs. Of course, we'll probably open with a sophomore (Dylan Dokes) at tailback," Pest said
Pest noted that Panepucci and Miller will see a lot of time at the ends. Rose is moving from guard to tackle, Figurski will be at center and the rest of the line will be filled by his senior group along with Kandrach.
Defensively, the Panthers will be have some two-way players while trying to mix some fresh bodies.
His defensive ends will be Figurski and Dokes and he has a few options in the secondary. Pest's tackles and linebackers will be decided as the season nears, but Pyciak is certain to be a key figure there.
Pest has a large and talented sophomore group that will fill a lot of slots and playing time with the varsity.
The group is led by lone letterwinner Dylan Dokes (6-0, 180), who was a starter last season and will open in the back for the Panthers.
"We don't have a freshman team, but Jared Moore will see a lot of action with the varsity. Corey Neavin should see lot of action with the special teams and DonRay Mayle will see a lot of action at both offensive and defensive guard,'' Pest said.
Assisting Pest this season are a bunch of familiar faces. Nate Skrzypek is the offensive coordinator; Blair Closser will handle the secondary and inside backers, Mason Boyce, the offensive line and defensive tackles and ends; Caleb Myers, the offensive line and defensive tackles and Chris Heaton.
Pest has added a few new faces to his staff, but also added experience in the process. Former St. John head coach Jason Merryman, along with Tom Merryman (Jason's father and veteran coach) and Brett Clough, former Wheeling Park and Bethany College player, have joined the Panther staff.
Adam Borkoski, Andrew Cammer, Denny Czuchran, Josh Figurski, Austin Flaherty, Chase Hopkins, Devin Pyciak, Dominic Rose, D.J. Rusnak, Steve Sable, Derek Sebring.
Eric Banal, Damion Beall, Corey Darrah, Logan Denhart, Billy Glover, Brent Kandrach, Devan Marques, Tyler Miller, Brandon Panepucci, Nick Pielech, Shawn Tustin.
Nathan Bloom, Tyler Boyd, Dylan Dokes, Alex Donley, Zach Fair, Tristan Jones, Zac Merkel, Sean Moore, Zach Moore, Ryan Morrow, Austin Mosser, Bobby Myers, Mason Patterson, Simeon Smith, Michael Weaver.
Logan Barsch, Danny Callarik, Wyatt Cornish, Andrew Hillman, Jake Ingram, Abel Maxwell, DonRay Mayle, Jared Moore, Corey Neavin.