HANNIBAL — Having reached the playoffs five of the past six seasons, River figures to be among the contenders for another D7 Region 27 run with a boatload of young lettermen on deck.
Head coach Mike Flannery, a former record-setting QB at West Liberty whose expansive playbook at his alma mater is as thick as any coach’s in any conference, figures he’s already ahead of the curve this season.
“The restrictions hurt us last summer due to COVID, but we’re ahead of the race a little bit this time around,” added the Pilot mentor, now in his 19th season at the riverfront campus with a 42-man roster.
River, OVAC 2A champion last fall in a socially distanced-filled season, finished 6-3 including home playoff wins over Waterford (7-6) and Eastern Meigs (49-13). The Pilots were ousted by Shadyside in a regional semi.
Coach Mike Flannery discusses the upcoming campaign
The Pilots open the season Thursday against Bellaire, the first of three straight home tilts on the Martin Flannery Field artificial turf.
Six seniors are led by Avery Creamer (5-11, 175), a solid linebacker who had 80 tackles, including 11 for loss, while as a supporting back rushed for three TDs and had four receptions (132 yds, 3 TDs). He’ll be joined in the backfield by his brother, Austin Creamer (6-0, 180), penciled in as one of the linebackers.
Brody Longwell (6-2, 180) provides a nice target as a wideout after hauling in six for 48 yards a year ago, while Chase Siburt (5-10, 206) is a two-way lineman. Kylie Miller (5-4, 100) is a defensive back.
Heading the kicking duties is senior Zack Hocutt (5-10, 160), who drilled 30 PATs and a field goal a year ago. (Zack’s) went to a lot of kicking camps and colleges are looking at him,” said Flannery. “He’s hit some nice ones and a certainly a valued addition.”
A dozen juniors Flannery has in prominent roles are led by returning quarterback Brody Lollathin (5-10, 170), who threw for 1,138 yards (72-of-125) and five TDs, while a big target in the Pilot aerial attack should be Ty Long (6-2, 195), an end/hybrid back who had three catches.
A trio of receivers include River Thompson (6-3, 180), Gage Lyman (5-9, 150) and Clee Mitchell (5-9, 140), while Elijah Wayt (5-9, 170) is a linebacker/receiver.
There’s impressive size among the junior linemen, headed by letterman Marshall Bier (5-9, 285) and Jake Huffman (5-11, 250). A pair of 230-pounders in the trenches are Mason Randall (5-9) and Travis Childress (5-11), while Brayden Strawn (5-9, 220) can fill a linebacker slot.
“Bier and Strawn both wrestled and their preparation over the winter has really shown in practices,” mentioned Flannery, who had high marks for Mitchell as a defender.
Another lineman in the mix on both sides of the ball is Matt Baker (5-10, 170).
One of River’s largest sophomore groups in recent memory is sprinkled with decent size along the line and speed at the skill slots among the 16.
Contending for some quarterback duties with Lollathin is returning corner Kabel Isaly (5-9, 150), who passed for 157 (13-of-25), while Madox Mozena (6-0, 170) has impressed in camp as a deep back/receiver.
“Right now there’s good QB competition. We can interchange Brody and Kabel, as well as develop some depth up front,” mentioned Flannery, who began his coaching career in Florida, matriculated to Paden City, and finally, RHS.
“As of now, both Cramers are in the backfield with Long at H-back. Thompson and Longwell would be two main receivers.”
Ready to assist in the secondary/receivers are Talon Ady (5-11, 170), Colton Cisar (6-0, 150), Noah Rubel (6-1, 150), and Kalob Headley (5-7, 140).
Looking for opportunities in the backfield or at linebacker is Finn Bowers (5-11, 185), while nine classmates Flannery is high on are ready to claim spots on either side of the ball.
Cooper Cordery (5-10, 250) has impressed, as has Brenden Hanlin (5-8, 205), and Matt Gregg (6-0, 235). Also on alert are Zeke Zola (5-9, 260) and Hunter Nething (5-9, 215).
“I really like our sophomore linemen and it’ll help spare some of our starters some breaks early on,” added Flannery.
Also in the running are Austin Baughman (6-4, 180), Dominic Asturi (5-6, 175), Chase Hoskins (5-9, 170) and Corey Gobel (5-10, 155).
Don’t look past Flannery filling a starting position with a freshman as he’s done in the past. One to keep an eye on among the seven available is center candidate Peyton Blue (6-3, 270).
Two other young linemen are Derek Smith (6-3, 290) and Blake Devere (5-10, 285).
Rounding out the Pilot frosh group are a quartet of receiver-defensive backs in Lucas Dennis (5-7, 140), Hunter Lyman (5-7, 150), Kaden Connor (5-4, 120), and Jackson Dietrich (5-4, 120).
Flannery tentative line of Bier, Strawn, Huffman and Randall “is being pushed by Gregg, Nething, Cordery and Huffman,” he added, while building the depth to provide depth in the early season heat is key.
“We’ve got two scrimmages this year this we couldn’t have a year ago so that’s huge.”
Graduation hit River hard in the talent department as 3-time All-Ohio linebacker Carter Dennis and receiver Jake Rose, who represented in the OVAC game, are gone, as is returner Michael Johnson, who was selected for the North-South Game. Also gone are linemen Nate Bowers, Tyson Randall, Kobe Zola, and versatile Chase Lawrence.
River assistant coaches returning are former head coach/OVAC Hall of Famer Terry Snively, along with veterans Eric James, Kyle Ritz, Joey Asturi and Tim Tisher.
Three new opponents are on the slate and all at home as Marietta, Belpre and Conotton Valley visit Monroe County.
The Pilots are once again in Region 27 Division VII.