Ludwig Feels Potters Ready to Turn Corner
By TRACY WATSON
EAST LIVERPOOL — Winners of only three games the last four seasons, including three consecutive 3-7 campaigns, East Liverpool coach Josh Ludwig believes his Potters are ready to burst onto the scene and make some noise in 2018.
“Coaches aren’t dumb, they know what they have and what is waiting in the wings and this is a team that we have been waiting for a long time,” Ludwig said. “When you have the kids it really makes a coach’s job a lot easier and I believe we finally have the kids.
“Obviously we need to stay healthy, but we are deeper than we have been also. I believe we are deep on offense, defense and special teams. And I believe that we are ready to go in August, and good things can happen when you can say that.
“This is also a very smart team, with six kids having 4.0 grade point averages, which is something I’ve never had. That is going to enable us to do a lot more with schemes and maybe help outsmart some people and not be riddled with mistakes.
“It is also the best camp, and two-a-day sessions we have had since I have been here.”
Not only did East Liverpool lose nobody on the offensive side of the ball, Ludwig joking says that his team returns 12 of 11 starters on that side of the football, with kids having filled in for injuries last year.
The Potters are also welcoming back eight on the defensive side of the ball.
Coming off what Ludwig calls a “down year”, senior Peyton Reed (5-foot-9, 170) returns under center and his coach is expecting bigger and better things this season. Sophomore Nate Davis (5-10, 145) and Howie Williams (5-9, 135) are battling for the back-up spot.
The Potters appear to be loaded at running back and wide receiver as well, with senior Jalen Moman (6-2, 250) and junior Derek Carter (5-6, 155) at running back.
“Jalen Momen is the real deal,” Ludwig said. “He is one of the most athletic and powerful backs I have seen, and while he has been riddled with injuries and eligibility issues, he is healthy and ready to go for the first time.
“Carter is very, very quick and electric and I like to call the two of them “Thunder and Lighting.'”
Juniors Nick Woodyard (6-2, 155) and Timmy Neal (6-2, 175), who is a high-end athlete playing football for the first time, are the top wide-outs with seniors Noah Wheaton (5-8, 160) and Lane Kopras (5-8, 210) and junior Troy Croskey (5-11, 205) rounding out the receiving corps. Woodyard could also see playing time under center if needed.
Senior Levi Turner (5-11, 160), has had some back issues, but will be available in the slot while classmate Corey Weyand (5-6, 160) will see time at running back.
An offensive line that has been young the past few seasons is a senior and junior dominated bunch that will be relied upon heavily this year. Leading the way are seniors PJ Morris (5-10, 235) at center and Joaquin Johnson (6-1, 225) at left tackle.
Juniors Kaz Zubay (6-1, 265) (right guard), Skylor Wooley (6-2, 255) (right tackle) and Caleb Learn (5-8, 255) (left guard) round out the starting five up front. Senior Justin Watkins (5-10, 205) and sophomore Jayce Frank (5-8, 230) could also see playing time.
Another junior that could be a huge contributor on the line if cleared to play is Koby Plum (6-3, 230), who had an official recruiting visit to West Virginia University over the summer before being badly injured in a dirt bike accident a week later. Plum is also a returning all-state player at defensive end.
“One of the biggest changes on offense will be the addition of offensive coordinator Jason Duke, an East Liverpool graduate who took last year off to study football,” Ludwig said. “Having him will take a lot off my plate because I am a defensive guy, not offensive, and Jason is one of the smartest guys I have ever been around.”
Ludwig, who played college football at small-school national power Mount Union, takes pride in his defense and believes they are also ready to shine.
“We like to play multiple defenses and usually line up in either a 4-3 or 4-4 that looks like a 4-2-5,” Ludwig said. “And in the defensive backfield we will do something we haven’t been able to do in a while and that is play a lot of man coverage.”
Johnson and Watkins are both back at defensive end with Frank pushing for playing time. Wooley and Zubay are back to help form the interior wall while a talented linebacking corp will be led by Kopras, whom Ludwig calls his leader, Croskey and senior Aidan Watkins (5-9, 220).
The starting defensive backfield will be made up of Weyand, Woodyard, Williams, Neal and Wheaton. Turner and Reed could see playing time if needed while others at linebacker include juniors Logan Bennett (5-11, 145) and Logan McKenzie (5-10, 210).
Croskey will handle the punting chores while senior Dominik Vallera (5-10, 210) returns as the team’s placekicker.
“As a team we played well at times last year, and there were even good things that came out of some losses,” Ludwig said. “But we want to continue to grow and I know that we can have a very successful season this year.
“The kids and the coaches are really looking forward to this season and I honestly believe that you could see some big things from us.”
Getting out of the gate quickly could be huge for East Liverpool as they welcome first-time opponent, and Ohio small-school power, Shadyside to Patterson Field to kick things off. The Potters then hit the road for games at Indian Creek and Salem.
“We had to make some changes to the schedule to help get us back on track,” Ludwig added. “The biggest thing was that we had to move Edison out of the opening game. We had some big schools call and ask about moving in there, but eventually we settled on Shadyside.
“That is a program that we have watched scrimmage Indian Creek the last five seasons and we have so much respect for their coaching staff, the school and the program there. And they are a team that if you are able to get a win can bring you a lot of points throughout the season.
“The front-end of the schedule is loaded and getting wins early is going to be key for us. Playing Martins Ferry will also be very different with Dave Bruney gone. I have been good friends with the Bruney family for a while and was roommates with Zac Bruney for three years at Mount Union.
“We have four of our final five games at home, and three in a row, so our biggest goal is to be playing meaningful games at that time and have a chance for bigger things.”
Assisting Ludwig will be Jeff Wright, Alvin Thompson, Chris Davis, John Freeman, Willie Leavelle, Jimmy Olmstead, Carl Congo and James Crane.
Gone from last year’s squad are linebacker Michael Loy, who Ludwig called his best player, Jay Cornell, Payton Atkins and Blake McCloud.