SARAHSVILLE — John Jones has been around winning programs throughout his playing and coaching careers.
The former Cambridge High and Gannon University standout is hoping to continue the tradition that’s been started at Shenandoah as he embarks on his first head football coaching assignment.
“I’m really enjoying it,” Jones said. “The administration has been extremely supportive, (former coach) Jesse Wells has been supportive and always willing to answer any question and it’s a really good group of kids that he left me. I am definitely happy.”
Jones inherits a Zeps program that is coming off a 4-4 season in which it lost in the first round of the Division VI, Region 23 tournament to Coal Grove. Graduation claimed upwards of 15 members of that club, too.
“The youth is a concern, but it’s something that’s promising for down the road,” Jones explained. “The kids are really catching on and buying in. They’re trusting us as coaches and staff and there has been a complete buy in from top to bottom.”
All told, there are 40 players on the Shenandoah roster, which is a good number. Unfortunately, there are only four seniors on the squad.
“We’re young and we’re going to have some hiccups and face adverse situations at times,” Jones admitted. “How we handle those, come together and battle through them is going to be big for us. We will make mistakes, but we need to be able to keep our heads up and battle back.”
Offensively, the Zeps plan to employ a pro-style offense, utilizing some option and misdirection.
Junior Nathan VanFleet is slated to take over the quarterback duties. Thus far, Jones has been impressed with what he’s seen from Van Fleet as both a runner and passer.
Coach John Jones discusses the upcoming campaign
Finding someone to fill the shoes of All-Ohioan and OVAC All-Star Game participant Briar Portman at running back has been one of the more interesting battles in pre-season camp.
Ironically, Jones looked to the same household for Portman’s replacement. Sophomore Brendan Portman, Briar’s younger brother, is expected to see carries, but he could also see time at receiver.
Sophomore Sam Townsend and junior Tyce Devolld are vying for time. The latter is expected to be used at fullback or receiver.
Joel Rataiczak is penciled as the tight end, while sophomore Hunter Yates, junior Ethan Carpenter, junior James Freeman and sophomore Tristen Rossiter are all part of the receiving corps.
The Zeps strength — literally and figuratively — lies in the trenches where they have strength and athleticism.
Anchoring the line at center is junior Alden House. Senior Preston Mackie, who measures in at 6-2, 326 is at a tackle, while junior Hunter Schott and Jared Trenner are expected to line up at guards.
The other tackle is junior Devan Weisend, who stands 6-1 and weighs 350.
Jones also spoke highly about senior Xavier Hannahs, who is listed at guard, but could play a bevy of spots up front.
On the defensive side, the Zeps are shifting to a 4-3 alignment and hope to use their speed.
“We have speed and our size up front allows us to fill some gaps,” Jones said. “I think our backers are fast and physical. We want to be able to stop the run first and make teams one dimensional and make them do things they don’t want to do and then let the chips fall where they may.”
Mackie and Weisend are listed at defensive tackle with sophomore Jace Anderson pushing for action. Rataiczak and House will line up at the ends.
Schott leads the linebacking corps, while Devolld and Trenner will also be starting at the ‘sam’ and ‘will’ spots, respectively.
In the secondary, Brendan Portman will hold down one corner, while Carpenter will be on the opposite side. Yates along with a combination of Townsend and Feldner will roam at free safety.
As for special teams, it’s been a work-in-progress this month. The battle for punter has been between Carpenter and Schott. As for a kicker, Jones joked “we might kick some PATs.”
Shenandoah, which opens on Thursday at Newcomerstown, has added Shadyside to its schedule and has joined the relatively new Mid-Ohio Valley League. Union Local is also a newcomer to the slate.
“We would like to increase the intensity of our schedule,” Jones said. “By taking 16 teams (to the playoffs), losses really don’t hurt you nearly as badly if you play the proper competition. You’re still able to sneak into the postseason and play a tough schedule.”
Jones is being assisted by Ben Fowler, Nathan Abbott, Todd Morrison and Patrick Gerst.
Joey Crum, Xavier Hannahs, Preston Mackie, Caleb Scott.
Ethan Carpenter, Jacob Crum, Tyce Devolld, Alden House, Chance Overly, Joel Rataiczak, Jacob Rich, Hunter Schott, Jared Trenner, Nathan VanFleet, Devan Weisend.
Jace Anderson, Jacob Feldner, Gage Gladden, Kaden Palmer, Brendan Portman, Tristen Rossiter, Tre Steele, Sam Townsend, Hunter Yates.
AJ Carpenter, Logan Clark, Leland Farmer, Marcus Gibson, Joseph Gutowski, Jordan Harriman, Easton Hooks, Wesley Hunter, Landon Lively, Colton McElfresh, Dalton McElroy, Nash Noll, Klayton Smith, Cooper Vincent, Kyle Wheeler, Drew Wildroudt,