KIDWELL - For the second consecutive season, Tyler Consolidated is coming off a losing campaign with big changes ahead.
In 2012, it was a move to the Class A ranks in West Virginia. This season, it is a change in the head coaching position with Ryan Walton taking over for former mentor Rob Caldwell, who crossed the river and is now an assistant with River High.
Walton inherits a team with some veteran leadership in eight seniors and one junior, but also plenty of youth with 25 players in the lower two grades.
"We are excited to get started," Walton said. "I think one of the biggest things is the fact that we had a good turnout in the weight room from December until now, and I have to give all of that credit to the assistant coaches who were able to keep that going before the new head coach was even named.
"Those guys really kept the kids motivated and working hard."
Along with a new coach, Tyler Consolidated will also be breaking in a new quarterback to replace the reliable Hunter LeMasters, who threw for more than 1,700 yards as a senior and was also the team's leading tackler on defense. That job will be passed to senior Cole Kocher (5-foot-9, 150 pounds), who was a starting receiver last season.
A strong point, as it has been in the past, will be the running back position with a trio of seniors all slated to get plenty of carries. All three played at one point or another because of injuries to the others. Those carries will be handled by Skyler Leasure (5-6, 150), Josh Ruble (5-9, 165) and Jacob Highley (5-11, 205).
There is also a pair of sophomores who could be counted on to make some noise offensively. Jordan Baker will spend time both at running back and in the slot, while Hogan Wells (5-7, 190) may be used at running back or even on the offensive line.
Senior Swen Scheidemantel (5-11, 180) returns at tight end and will be joined by two returning starters on the offensive line. Senior three-year starter Ryley Warner (5-10, 220) is the elder statesman of the group with junior Nick Anderson (6-1, 265) at guard. The remaining three all coming from the sophomore class.
Devon Harris (6-1, 245) and Kordell Stewart (6-1, 220) are competing for playing time at the other tackle position, while Austin Thompson (6-2, 200) is the other guard. Dillon Glover (5-10, 212) and Kole Starkey (6-0, 210) are fighting for the center job. Senior Troy Watson (6-1, 270) is also available at tackle.
There is plenty of depth, but not a ton of experience, on the remainder of the roster. Available at receiver are senior Curtis Shepherd (5-9, 145) with freshmen Hunter Wells (5-9, 120), Wesley Watson (5-7, 120), Joey Simpkins (5-5, 117) and Trent Smith (6-2, 140).
Additional running backs will consist of freshmen Trent Shepherd (5-11, 155), Jace Reed (5-9, 160), Tyler Anderson (5-9, 150) and Ben Pratt (5-3, 100). Sophomore Josh Peck (5-8, 150) could see some playing time in the slot and will also be Kocher's backup at quarterback.
Line depth will come from sophomores Matthew Jones (5-7, 233), Jeremy Lancaster (5-9, 163) and Daron Weekley (5-9, 170), along with freshmen Brandon Keys (5-8, 205), Ross Gorby (6-2, 170), Dylan Harter (6-4, 200).
"We have some big shoes to fill on offense in LeMasters, wide receiver Alex Doak (team's leading receiver), tight end Levi Henderson and receiver Koty Martin, but I think we also have some kids capable of doing that," Walton said.
On defense, Troy Watson and Anderson will man the tackle spots with Thompson, Stewart, Warner and sophomore Kyle Frum (6-1, 190) all available at the end spots. The linebackers will come from a group that includes Ruble, Leasure, Scheidemantel and Highley with Kocher as the free safety. Fighting for cornerback spots are Baker, Peck, sophomore Colby Lash (5-7, 145) and classmate Chase Cooper (5-10, 145).
Scheidemantel and Baker will handle the punting duties with Josh Ruble on the kicking chores.
Tyler Consolidated is trying to gear its schedule more to the Class A ranks, and also stay a little more local, and is doing so with the addition of teams such as Valley and Bishop Donahue.
"Our schedule consists of five teams that made the playoffs last year and the rest of them are also tough so it will be challenging," Walton added. "While there will be no time to relax, the kids are excited about, and looking forward to the challenge.
"We have some seniors with experience, but there are also plenty of sophomores who are going to play and they will need to gain some confidence early on. I know that a couple of early wins might go a very long way in achieving that.
"While the ultimate goals are getting to the playoffs and making some noise, the immediate goal is to compete in every game. The biggest thing we are trying to do is maintain pride and have these kids get to where they are proud to be Tyler Consolidated football players. We also hope that the community support the team has had over the years continues, and again I feel winning some games will help make that happen."
Assisting Walton this season will be Robby Jones, Steven Blake, Bobby West and Gary Hagerty.
Jacob Highley, Cole Kocher, Skyler Leasure, Josh Ruble, Swen Scheidemantel, Curtis Shepherd, Ryley Warner, Troy Watson.
Jordan Baker, Chase Cooper, Kyle Frum, Dillon Glover, Devon Harris, Matthew Jones, Jeremy Lancaster, Colby Lash, Josh Peck, Kole Starkey, Kordell Stewart, Austin Thompson, Daron Weekley, Hogan Wells.
Tyler Anderson, Ross Gorby, Dylan Harter, Brandon Keys, Ben Pratt, Jace Reed, Trent Shepherd, Joey Simpkins, Trent Smith, Wesley Watson, Hunter Wells.