PADEN CITY — The goal for a lot of high school football teams each year is to get into the playoffs and play as deep into November as possible. For Paden City, however, just making to into October this season would be an improvement from last year.
The Wildcats played just two games in 2020, going 0-2, before they had to shut the season down. In the season finale game against Van, the team dressed just 11 players, forcing then-head coach Zach Heasley to cut the season short.
Entering the 2021 new head coach Robert Price has 17 kids signed up to play and the Wildcats are preparing in hopes to be competitive for a full schedule.
“I think there is an excitement for football to be here in Paden City,” Price said. “I think it’s exciting for the community to drive by and see us out here on the field and know that not only are we going to have a team, but I think we’re going to be competitive on the field.”
Price was hired as Paden City’s new head coach in June and will also continue to serve as the school’s athletic director.
“Still kind of teetering the line with the new roles and working in with the new staff here trying to show those guys the ropes,” Price said. “It’s been a little bit of a busy start but we’re moving along just fine.”
The excitement to play this season can be felt from Paden City’s players, especially those who were on the team when the season was cut short last year.
“I would say it’s a redemption season,” said senior Joey Smith. “We didn’t really get to play last year with only two games so getting a full season is very exciting for most of us.”
Fielding a competitive team with only 17 players is no walk in the park but Price said as long as the kids are willing to put in the work, they will have the opportunity to play.
“The season was difficult but at the same time, the kids deserve an opportunity to play. That’s kind of where we’re at right now,” Price said. “These kids are working hard, they’ve bought into the offseason program, they want to play football and so we’re going to have football in Paden City.”
The missed opportunities in 2020 are also adding some fuel to the fire for a few players, who are determined to show what they can do this year.
“It was pretty disappointing to only play two games after we worked all summer,” said junior Hunter Fulks. “We’ve got a chip on our shoulder for this season.”
Fulks (5-foot-6, 195 pounds) will play offensive line and linebacker this season. He is one of four returning offensive linemen for the Wildcats along with Smith (6-0, 310), senior Gavis Lewis (6-0, 225) and sophomore Bryson Stackpole (5-7, 195). Price said they will make up the core of Paden City’s offense this year, paving the way for sophomore running back Joey Baker (6-0, 170).
“Something that could possibly turn into a huge strength of ours is running the football,” Price said. “We have returning linemen and we also return Joey Baker who was our leading rusher last year.”
Baker ran for 233 yards and three touchdowns in the team’s season finale against Van.
“Joey can do a lot of things well but specifically he sees running lanes and he does an exceptional job of picking and choosing where he wants to go with the football,” Price said. “He could potentially be a 1,000-yard rusher this year if everything goes well. But like a lot of teams, we’ve just got to stay injury free.”
Price said he will give Baker as many carries as he can handle this year.
“He could potentially be a very good player for us this season and I’m excited to see what he can do,” Price said. “Just like everyone in single-A, I’m going to give the best kid on my team the opportunity to see what he can do and the chance to get us some wins. I’m going to give him the football as many times as he wants it.”
Freshman Kaden Myers (5-9, 150) will start at quarterback for the Wildcats after not playing last season. Despite that, Price said he is fully confident in what Myers can do.
“He didn’t play last year, so his last time playing contact football was seventh grade, but he’s come along really well,” Price said. “He’s going to be an extension of me as the head coach on the field running the offense. We went down to a 7-on-7 earlier this summer at Clay-Battelle, it was the first action Kaden had seen in two years and he absolutely shined.”
On defense, Fulks and Lewis led the team with more than 20 tackles each last season and should be impactful again in 2021. Smith will play nose guard and Baker, an outside linebacker last season, will move around the defense this season.
Price was also excited about the addition of senior safety Parker Higgins (5-7, 150), who did not play in 2020.
“A gentleman who’s a senior and I’m thrilled to have him be a part of the team this season is Parker Higgins,” Price said. “His 10th grade year, he was a phenomenal free safety for us on defense and the kid just has a nose for the football.”
With some injury luck, Price said they should not be in danger of having to cancel the season because of participation this year. Without COVID, Price said Paden City would have actually been in a good position last year as well.
“We had 18, 19 kids interested and involved in our team (in the spring),” Price said. “Then when the pandemic closed shop for us, it was difficult to get those kids to buyback in to wanting to play. The time off really took a toll on us. Here at Paden City we’re kind of under a magnifying glass because we’ve never really had a lot of interest in terms of football.”
Also a teacher at Paden City, Price said his relationship with the kids will be a major factor in keeping the participation number high moving forward.
Joining Price on Paden City’s coaching staff will be Ron Casto, Josh Folks and Logan Carroll.