NEW MANCHESTER — Oak Glen and head coach Ted Arneault Jr. still can see the 2020 Class AA championship at arm’s length.
It had everything going for it until the unexpected conclusion due to COVID-19, canceling the Super Six and the Golden Bears’ chances of hoisting the trophy.
It also marked the end of arguably the most successful two-year run in program history, while losing 21 seniors through graduation in the process. The Bears stood two victories shy of the Class AA title before the abrupt conclusion and only lost once in each of the last two seasons.
However, rebuilding does not sum up what Oak Glen is trying to accomplish for this season.
“If I bring (last season) up, it’s not for sour grapes,” Arneault said. “If you bring up anything from last year, it’s like what I’ve told them all year long, including the seniors. ‘You have to appreciate the time that you have because you don’t know when it comes to an end.’ Every single practice, game and team meeting, the chance to absorb as much as you can is so precious. It can be over at any second because all it takes is one case at the wrong time.
“If anything, it’s made this group appreciate any time they get together. This is a team that’s really embraced that brotherhood, and they want to be around each other and here early. They’ve really adopted that mindset of a great work ethic.”
Despite losing the likes of Nick Chaney, Hunter Patterson, Gage Patterson, Kyler O’Connor and more, Arneault believes rebuilding is not in his dictionary.
“I would look at is as more of a retool. We’re not abandoning any of our systems,” he said. “Offensively, we’re still going to be a base Wing T team. We’re still going to run a lot of the same schemes we did before. There will be personnel differences.
Coach Ted Arneault on the upcoming campaign
“When you lose your four-year quarterback that really understood as much as he did, that’s what will dictate what our skill set will be. We’re also introducing a new line that has to gel together. A lot of kids got playing time but never together as one unit.”
Arneault added that if the injury bug hits Oak Glen hard like it did a season ago, it may be a different outcome because of this year’s depth.
“We didn’t have a lot of injuries, but the problem was the injuries we did have were season-long injuries,” the sixth-year head coach said. “As an example, Evan Geise was a senior corner we lost, Josh Blake got injured in the John Marshall game, Paxton Shuman broke his leg in the playoff game against Hoover and Brayden Mineard against Weir.
“In the long term, that may have benefited some of our younger guys. It was devastating to lose Brayden, but then Buck Franklin got experience right away, and he was only a sophomore last year. We had a lot of sophomores that either started or moved into a starting position as the year went on.”
Starting with the positions, Arneault first and foremost must find a new quarterback. Chaney started every game and took nearly every snap since his freshman season. He also unofficially ranks in the Top 10 in OVAC career passing yards.
“We don’t have a set man for the job right now,” Arneault said. “We expect (senior) Dylan Conley, (junior) Tristan McCauley and possibly (junior) Landon Beatty battling it out. Landon is more of a wide receiver type. Dylan would be more of your run-threat-type of quarterback, and Tristan would be more of a traditional thrower.”
Senior Daniel Pritchard also is an option. He is a senior who came out as a freshman and is coming back this year. Arneault said he was really impressive during the team’s 7-on-7s.
In the backfield, there will be new faces replacing the likes of speedster Hunter Patterson and the powerful Shuman.
“You overcome losing Hunter by spreading the ball to the other athletes we have,” Arneault said. “Somebody that’s a really impressive athlete is (junior) Buck Franklin. He’s the fastest kid we have on the team. He plays four sports and is just a tremendous athlete.”
Junior Kholton Goodlin is another option and would have started against Robert C. Byrd in the semifinals following Shuman’s injury. He was a tight end last season and is switching to fullback.
“I really wished he could have played that game because I think he would have impressed a lot of people,” Arneault said. “I think Kholton has better speed than Paxton had, but he still runs the ball pretty strong inside. You’ll still see the thunder and lightning because Kholton can be great inside.”
Also in the mix will be junior Matt Greenlief and possibly Conley if he does not win the starting QB spot.
The receivers slated are senior Ethan Lively, senior Torrin Smith, Beatty, junior Hunter Rhoades and sophomore Aiden Flowers. Conley, again, will be in the mix. One thing for sure is he will be a factor somewhere in the offense.
McCauley will be the starting tight end if he does not start at quarterback. Other TE options are Beatty and Pritchard.
Along the offensive line, Arneault lost every starter from last year due to graduation. This year’s options include senior Jordon Morris, junior Josh Black, junior Kyler George and senior Deshawn Gray at center.
Moving over to the other side of the ball, Arneault said his defense will be the key to success.
“We feel like our defense is losing the least — that will be some of our strongest positions,” he said. “Not saying we won’t be able to pass the ball or score on offense, but we really feel like our defensive personnel is not taking much of a hit. We do lose Gage Patterson, which is a major loss on defense. Hunter (Patterson) wasn’t much of a defensive guy. Danny Bealles played guard and linebacker.”
Players who stick out for the defensive line are Blake, Morris and Gray. Junior Shane Renfro and George are the other possibilities.
The linebacking core will be led by Conley, who racked up more than 100 tackles a season ago. He will be joined by junior Juvencio Quintana, Goodlin, Renfro, senior Camden Cunningham and senior Tyler Davis. Other options include senior Nathan Stoica and Lively.
“We think this will be a big strength of our team. Our linebacking core is strong,” Arneault said.
The cornerbacks are senior Daniel Kidder, senior Nate Lang, Franklin, Greenlief if need be and possibly Rhoades.
The two key safeties will be Greenlief and Flowers, with freshman Wesley Molish in line for playing time.
Junior Trenton Richmond will handle the field goals and extra points once again. Arneault still is looking for a kickoff specialist. Franklin is in line to punt.
Looking ahead at the schedule, Arneault feels as though it is competitive throughout, and that begins with Weir High in the season opener.
“Week 1 will be interesting because we both have strong junior classes,” Arneault said. “Weir will be up and coming and will surprise some people. I’m sure they’ll have a lot of confidence coming here. I anticipate that being a really good matchup.
“We didn’t play Keyser or Point Pleasant two years ago. We did last year, and they were late additions for different, obvious reasons. We actually played Point Pleasant twice last year. Beaver Local and East Liverpool are back on the schedule. Tayler Alderdice is a new, AAA addition. We added Berkeley Springs, and Brooke is back.”
As for a third straight trip back to the playoffs?
“At this point last year, I could’ve told you we were making playoffs with the highest amount of certainty. This year, there is no game I can say that will be an easy win or an easy loss,” Arneault said. “There are a lot of toss-ups in there. If we can stay healthy, we should be fine. If we run into the injuries we ran into last year with this depth, then we’ll be in trouble. But, I will be shocked we get massacred in any game.”