Tyler Hungry for Improvement, Taking Next Step
By CODY TOMER
SISTERSVILLE–Tyler Consolidated football coach Ryan Walton and his Silver Knights were not pleased with how the 2017 campaign ended.
The Knights finished the year with a 5-5 record and just missed the playoffs, leaving a bitter taste in their mouths.
“We let a couple of games get away from us on mental and physical breakdowns,” Walton said. “Whether it was not making plays or not making tackles, it cost us and we narrowly missed the playoffs. That didn’t rest easy with the kids and it didn’t rest easy with the coaching staff.”
There are 24 players on this year’s roster and in Class A football, Walton understands the importance of keeping his team healthy and having players prepared to step up into other roles.
“Every year we start the season with high expectations,” Walton said. “As a small Class A school, all it takes is one guy to go down and then you have to juggle everything around to try to make it work.
“Our coaches are doing a great job of working to get it taken care of now.”
Gone from last year’s squad are nine seniors who provided great leadership.
That list includes Timothy Adams, Colby Buchanan, Cory Chipps, Dylan Glover, Nate Lancaster, Kyle Mason, Thomas Owens, Levi Smith and Brandon Weigle.
Buchanan, Mason and Weigle combined for seven touchdowns and Weigle was second on the team in receiving yards with 216.
Lancaster and Mason each hauled in an interception on defense. That duo along with Buchanan and Chipps combined for 79 tackles.
“We graduated some guys who are going to be tough to replace,” Walton said. “We are working to fill that void.
“Some guys need replaced on the offensive line. We do have seniors Jake Rice and George Tennant returning on the line, but we still have three holes to fill and we are working at it to take care of business.”
Players looking to jump into those remaining offensively line slots include seniors Brandon Wise and Cody Klages, juniors Jacob Sharp and Zach Haney, sophomore Nick DiBell and freshmen David Grimes and Ryan Fletcher.
The offensive line will be opening lanes for first team all-state running back Mark Rucker.
In just his sophomore season, Rucker compiled 31 touchdowns. He scored 20 on the ground, eight receiving and three on kick returns. The explosive tailback tallied 1,054 yards rushing and hauled in 34 passes for 404 yards. He turned in a total of 190 points for the Silver Knights.
“Rucker simply just makes plays out there,” Walton said. “He does everything we ask of him and he just gets the job done on the field.”
Senior Hunter Forester and sophomores Austin Craven and Jacob America could also fill in at running back to get Rucker a breather.
Taking snaps for Tyler is second team all-state quarterback Griffin Phillips.
The signal caller enters his senior year as a leader on the team after a stellar junior campaign.
He completed 78 of his 145 attempts for 1,043 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was also a threat to run as he found the end zone on seven occasions and rushed for 657 yards.
“Phillips is one of those guys who is quiet but he can play,” Walton said. “He gets after it and he is a smart football player.”
On defense, Phillips recorded a pair of interceptions.
A key weapon taking the field for Phillips this year is at the tight end position in junior Gage Huffman.
“Gage worked his butt off in the offseason,” Walton said. “You can look at him and see the gains he made.
“He is going to play some tight end for us and he could also take some snaps.”
Senior wide receiver Riley Leasure should also make an impact on the offensive production this year.
“I am happy with our skill positions,” Walton said. “Phillips, Rucker, Forester, Leasure and Huffman are all guys who can get the job done.
“Hopefully, they can make some big plays for us.”
Wide receiver Trey Pittman rounds out the talented senior class that Walton is excited to see take the field.
“The strength of our team is our senior class,” he said. “They are good leaders and they are not afraid to help the younger kids. They don’t turn their backs on them.”
Forester will also be counted upon to make an impact on the special teams unit.
Last year he blocked a kick and was in on 12 special teams tackles.
“We are looking for big things from Hunter,” Walton said. “He helped us out last year offensively and defensively.
“One of the big things he does for us is special teams. He takes pride in that. We rely on him to make special teams tackles and he usually gets that done for us.”
Leasure returns at defensive back this year after leading the team in tackles a year ago with 38 solo stops and 29 assists. He also managed seven tackles for loss.
Tennant produced 29 solo tackles and assisted on 14 stops a year ago at the linebacker spot, while Huffman made 28 solo stops and had 15 assists.
Rucker delivered 28 tackles at defensive back.
Rounding out the sophomore class are Justin Bowman (WR/DB), Jacob Medley (WR/DB) and David Throckman (WR/DB).
Freshmen hoping to see time at the wide receiver position includes Parker Leasure, Weston Henderson, Case Landis and Caleb Strode.
There are a few changes to the schedule for the Silver Knights this year as Ritchie County moves to the season opener at home and Williamstown drops down to early October.
“We had to juggle some teams around,” Walton said. “We also have a long road trip to Tolsia this year. They are a pretty good football team and gave us problems last year.
“Year in and year out, we have Magnolia, St. Marys and Williamstown on the schedule.
“Our new addition is Wirt County but we weren’t able to maintain Ravenswood this year but we will look in the future to work them back in there.”
Joining Walton on the coaching staff this year are offensive coordinator Rob Jones, line coach Brandon Gregory, wide receivers and defensive backs coach Matt Peters and athletic trainer Gary Hagerty.