NEW MARTINSVILLE — It has been an uncharacteristic couple of years for the Magnolia football team. With just two wins in the last two seasons combined no one would blame the Blue Eagle so setting lower expectations for 2021.
Head coach Dave Chapman does not see it that way, however, instead expecting Magnolia to return to its winning ways.
“It’s playoffs or we’re going to be disappointed, I don’t look at it any other way,” Chapman said. “We’ve got a senior-laden team here with experience and we feel we’re pretty good at some key positions.”
Chapman thinks a large senior class full of returning lettermen will help the Blue Eagles get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2018.
“I feel like these seniors have a chip on their shoulder because it’s been rough here the last couple years,” Chapman said. “We play five of our first six (games) here, which is a plus. We can get off to a good start and take it one game at a time. If we aren’t playing into November the coaches and the players are going to be disappointed.”
In terms of benefitting from experience, you need look no further than Magnolia’s offensive line where four of the five starters will be seniors. Joey Dawson will play center, Joe Hubbard and Kolbee Cecil will play the two guard spots and Austin Stillwagoner will be joined on the outside by sophomore Elijah Swan at tackle.
Chapman said the experienced offensive line will allow a deep group of skills players to give Magnolia a very balanced offensive attack this season.
“It’s a very athletic line and we’ve got some size there,” Chapman said. “We feel like we’ve got the ingredients to run the ball and that’s what we’re going to do but we can also throw.”
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Leading the offense will be senior quarterback Brendan Mirandy. After playing a bit last season, Mirandy feels confident heading into the season.
“I feel a lot more confident this year than last year,” Mirandy said. “I’ve had more time to prepare for the season. The little bit of experience last year helped me understand the playbook and what to do in certain situations.”
Chapman expressed full confidence in his senior signal-caller.
“He’s gotten bigger, faster, stronger, he’s matured and he knows the offense as good as I do,” Chapman said. “He’s an extension of the coach on the field and he’s really stepped up this offseason. It all starts with the quarterback, I don’t care what level, and I feel that we’ve got that guy.”
Another reason Chapman feels so strongly about Mirandy’s chances for success this season are the skill players he will be surrounded with. At receiver the Blue Eagles will have seniors Cody Leek and Damon Shimp, junior Brayden Vargo and sophomore Hayden Pyles. Senior Kaden Starkey has moved from offensive line to tight end to give Mirandy one more target.
The backfield will feature a running back tandem of senior Marcus Barnes and sophomore Kaden Johnson. Chapman said he is devising ways to get those two on the field at the same time this year.
“They’re clones of each other, they’ve both about six foot, 190 pounds, very similar in their running style,” Chapman said. “In years past I would rotate those guys but this year both of them are going to be on the field a lot together.”
Barnes said being on the field alongside Johnson will put that much more pressure on opposing defenses.
“I feel like we have the same skill set. The only difference is basically experience but he’ll be able to catch up, he’s a fast learner,” Barnes said. “It’ll give you two targets on the field, maybe even three to four counting the quarterback and wide receivers. That makes the defense harder to read our offense.”
With so many skill players, Magnolia is planning to give opponents a lot of different looks this season and Chapman fully plans to spread the ball around.
“All of those guys are athletic kids. We feel we can spread the ball around,” Chapman said. “Mirandy’s pretty smart about what we’re doing and what we’re asking him to do. He’s got some weapons to go to.”
Magnolia’s defense will feature many of the same faces as a lot of the Blue Eagles will play both ways this year.
“Again, it starts upfront,” Chapman said. “Football’s a game played at the line of scrimmage, you’ve got to be good at the line of scrimmage. We’ve got Dawson and Cecil down at tackle, Stillwagoner and Swan will play end.”
Barnes and Mirandy will play corner with Starkey and Vargo at safety. Johnson and Hubbard will be the team’s linebackers. Chapman pointed out Hubbard as someone who will stand out on defense.
Despite being a senior, this will be Hubbard’s first year back playing football since middle school.
“He’s come back with the energy that we’ve lacked here the last couple of years,” Chapman said. “He’s just a guy that gets the other guys going, he’s a good leader, great kid. I can’t say enough about him, he’s busted his tail.”
“I’m just happy, I missed this kind of stuff,” Hubbard said. “The chemistry’s there, you can feel it on the field. I think we’re going to get a bunch of wins this year, honestly.”