Knights Set Goals
WHEELING – There will not be anymore spin series when the Wheeling Central football team opens it season Aug. 30 at Wheeling Island Stadium against Clarksburg Notre Dame. The hope among the coaching staff though, is the spinning of opposition heads will continue.
The change in philosophy, both offensively and defensively, makes the practice period in June more important for the Maroon Knights than an average team.
”The biggest thing we want is for kids to settle in with what we’re putting in this year, which is we’re spreading the field and we’re going to try to get people in space,” Central coach Mike Young said. ”Defensively, we’re going to try to gang up a little bit more (from a 3-5 alignment) and cause some turnovers, and that’s something we haven’t done the last two years.
”We’ve got to cause turnovers and put points on the board.”
That has to be music to the ears of rising sophomore quarterback Isaac Rine, who performed well enough under pressure last season to get the Maroon Knights into the playoffs, despite the club being decimated by injuries. Rine is noticeably bigger, checking in between 170-175 pounds, after playing 2013 at around 150.
”The fact we have only three seniors amongst the 48 and almost 50 out, that speaks volumes about the future and what we’re trying to do, which is develop kids to be athletic and make plays,” Young said. ”You’ve got to develop some skills, some mobility and even some communications between your quarterback and receivers.
”This is a much better time to work on that. In the past, maybe we would have worked in the weight room at this time to be a little stronger to run people over.”
The much talked about change of venue by Wheeling Central, from Wheeling Island Stadium to Wheeling Jesuit University, isn’t taking place just yet. The Maroon Knights will play all their home games on the island, save for the Oct. 18 Homecoming contest against Westinghouse, which will be a 12:30 p.m. kickoff at WJU.
”The reason why, if you look, is we can hold about a thousand people here,” Young said. ”We got the field and in August they are going to be working on the track and then they are going to start on the stands and the press box. Along that same lines they are going to put in an entry way and parking and things like that.
”The people that follow us are elderly, a lot of them, and I don’t want them to have to walk in the dark to find their cars. I want it to be as easy a transition as possible.”
Nobody will question the success the Patriots enjoyed last season, coming within an eyelash of playing for a West Virginia Class AAA state championship. That was one for the memory bank, according to Coach Chris Daugherty, but it won’t put a single point on the scoreboard in 2014.
”In the first team meeting we said ‘as a group of guys we cannot allow people in Wheeling to talk about last year anymore,’ ” Daugherty recalled. ”The kids said ‘well what do we say?’ You stop them in Kroger and you say ‘ma’am, that was last year and it means nothing this year.’ You say it nice and you say it respectful, but we can’t live off of last year.
”If we live off that we won’t be any good.”
Despite graduating 28 seniors, including several that won prestigious postseason honors and will continue playing at the collegiate level, Park’s cupboard isn’t bare. In fact, the Patriots return seven starters on defense, including linebacker Theo Blackston, and six more on offense, including running back Savion Johnson.
”It’s crazy to say, but you’ve got some kids who maybe are a little bit hungrier because they don’t know where they stand and what’s ahead of them,” Daugherty said. ”You hope that when you have a special class that you have kids behind it that are special too, just not as ready. I think there’s a lot of kids on this team right now that people don’t know their names, but they’re ready.
”They were in the weight room. They didn’t hang up their cleats and wait until everyone had graduated. They continued to work waiting on this day.”
Coach B.J. Depew’s Cadets have been among the top small-school clubs in the Ohio Valley the last decade or so, and he says they aren’t ready to scale down this season. Sure, Linsly has to replace four of its five offensive linemen and multi-year starting quarterback Jameson Murray, but there are new names ready to create their own legacy.
”We don’t have tremendous size, where we did in our senior class last year,” Depew said. ”We’ll have to tweak our scheme a little bit for some smaller bodies, but also those guys are going to have to be tough to go up against the opponents that we have.
”What we have done in June has really paid off over the years.”
One big area of concern, both literally and figuratively, is the health of running back Chimechi Oparanozie. Expected to be among the best at his position in the valley, Oparanozie injured a knee at a University of Pittsburgh camp and is on crutches.
”We’re not sure the severity of it yet, but luckily it’s June and he has a lot of time to recover,” Depew said. ”But it’s definitely concerning.”