BELLAIRE — Expectations are always high around the Bellaire football program.
There is no change in that belief for the 2021 season either.
And that’s exactly how head coach Mark Spigarelli, who is beginning his sixth season at his alma mater, likes it, too.
“We have a lot of guys back (from last season), everyone’s excited and we expect a good year,” Spigarelli said.
The Big Reds are coming off a 5-4 season that had its share of ups and downs even beyond the COVID-19 issues that everyone dealt with. For instance, Bellaire came out and won its first four games before dropping its final two of the regular season. In the playoffs, it defeated Lutheran East in a home playoff game, but then ended with a thud, falling to Garaway and rival Martins Ferry in a regular season finale by a combined score of 108-8.
“It was a rough ending because of all of the injuries we dealt with,” Spigarelli said. “That ending sort of tainted the start we had and the playoff win, which was our first at home since 2006. But, because it left a bad, bad taste in our mouths, the kids have really worked hard since December to get bigger, stronger and faster. Now, we’re looking forward to this season.”
The Big Reds, who open Thursday on the road at River, welcome back a significant number of contributors from last season on both sides of the ball. On top of that experience, they have a roster of more than 50 players once again. However, Spigarelli wouldn’t go as far as to say his team has great depth.
Coach Mark Spigarelli discusses the upcoming campaign
“Even with 53 guys, we’re always looking for who can be the next man up,” Spigarelli said. “We’re still looking for the guys who are going to be the twos and threes in case someone gets hurt. I am really excited about how hard all of these kids are working to accomplish that and become those guys we can rely on.”
On top of the depth, Spigarelli also believes one of the biggest keys for his club will be sharing the wealth because he does feel among his first 11 players, he has several who can be impact guys with the ball in their hands.
“We can only play 11 guys on offense and defense,” Spigarelli said. “As long as these guys don’t get greedy and worry about things like who is carrying or catching the ball, we have a chance to have a good year. How our team chemistry comes along will be a big key.”
Fueling the offense will be junior quarterback Jake Heatherington (6-2, 170). He’s coming off a season in which he completed 77-of-185 throws for 1,018 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was picked off just four times.
“Jake has worked really hard in the offseason and he really has a good understanding of the offense,” Spigarelli said. “He’s grown into the position and has really become a good leader for us. He has a really live arm, too.”
Heatherington will be joined in the backfield by a returning All-Ohioan in senior Colt Sechrest (6-4, 220). To say he’s had an impressive summer wouldn’t be doing him justice. He completed his track season as Division II state runner-up in the discus in June and last month he committed to continue his football career at Youngstown State University.
Sechrest will line up at fullback and tight end for the Big Reds. He had 52 carries for 393 yards and 5 touchdowns last fall. He also caught 14 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown.
“We want to get the ball to Colt as much as we can,” Spigarelli said. “He’s a kid who lives in the weight room. He had an outstanding junior season. He plays the game with reckless abandon.
“He wants the ball in his hands because he’s the type of kid who loves being the guy to make the (big) play.”
Backing up Sechrest at fullback will be seniors Isaac McConnell (5-10, 175), Bradley Kosky (5-9, 190), junior T.J. Wines (5-9, 150), sophomores Austin Wiggins (5-7, 160) and Andrew LaMotte (6-0, 195).
At tailback, junior Brayden Roth (5-10, 165) is expected to be the go-to-guy. He rushed for nearly 300 yards last and 3 touchdowns last season.
Providing the depth at tailback are seniors Skyler Evans (5-7, 180), Lance Piper (5-10, 160), junior Joey Lewis (5-6, 155) and sophomore Drew White (5-9, 150).
The Big Reds really like their wide receiving corps, too.
The leading returning receiver in terms of yards is junior speedster Ray Ray Pettigrew (5-10, 160).
He caught 14 passes for 211 yards and scored 5 touchdowns.
Senior Jaren Cash (6-1, 185) is expected to take on a much larger role in the offense this season, too. Also heavily in the mix is junior Jakob Dowling (6-2, 170).
Senior Jaiden Kesterson (6-0, 190) is a viable target from the tight end spot.
This is the Big Reds’ deepest area because Spigarelli pointed out that he’d have no trouble going to the likes of sophomore Khalil Kimbro (5-10, 140), juniors Terrin Frazier (5-9, 150), sophomore Logan Edgar (5-10, 160) and junior Chance Maffe (5-8, 150) as well.
The balance of the wide receiving group includes: senior Aidan Frazier (5-9, 140), junior Brenton Naumann (6-0, 180), sophomores Lane Clark (5-10, 130), Carl Lewis (5-7, 120), freshmen Luke Heatherington (5-8, 130), Grant Vasey (5-2, 100), Riley Robbins (5-3, 100), Landon Preston (5-9, 130), Maurice Webb (5-11, 150), Hunter Watson (5-8, 120), Nathan Tanner (5-7, 180), Bradyn Beckett (5-7, 120) and Keegan Davis (5-10, 195).
Similar to football teams at any level, the key to the Big Reds offense could rest with the play of the offensive line. Spigarelli believes his guys in the trenches should be a strength all season.
Senior Timmy O’Grady (6-1, 230) will anchor the wall up front at center. Familiar faces will join him on the left side. Senior Daniel Zwack (6-0, 240) is back at tackle and classmate Luke Farmer (5-10, 185) is stationed at guard.
On the right side, junior Braylen Kinder (6-0, 260) is expected to serve as the guard, while seniors Nick Materkoski (6-4, 250) and Michael Kuri (5-10) are battling for the tackle job. Both saw action last season, too.
Junior Lucas Littell (5-11, 245) is the top backup for multiple spots up front and is pushing to get into the lineup.
The balance of offensive line candidates include: seniors Logan Davenport (5-11, 250), Dante Patrone (5-10, 300), juniors Isaac Salva (5-10, 210), Talon Hughes (5-10, 210), sophomores Joey Nixon (5-9, 250), Dalton Smelko (5-9, 220), Jeremy Lemley (6-1, 200), freshmen Koltan Henthorn (5-11, 275), Andrew Ciofani (5-9, 215), Jaden Powell (5-11, 220) and Brody Holt (5-11, 210).
On the defensive side of the ball, Spigarelli wants to continue to let his guys play “fast and physical.”
The Big Reds’ leading tackler from a season ago — Vince Patrone — graduated and played in the OVAC All-Star Game last month. But, don’t think the cupboard is bare.
Sechrest will be the unquestioned leader of the defense from his inside linebacker spot. A four-year starter at “sam” linebacker, he’s coming off a season in which he recorded 61.5 tackles, 15 assists, seven for loss and broke up two passes.
He’ll be joined on the inside by Roth, who posted 18.5 tackles in spot duty.
On the outside, Edgar, Kesterson and Kosky will roam. Kesterson recorded 29 tackles a season ago.
The secondary should be a strength with veterans abounding.
Pettigrew has developed into one of the area’s top corners. He had 20.5 tackles, five pass breakups and two interceptions last season.
Playing opposite of him on the other corner will be Kimbro, while rotating at safety will be Frazier, Cash and Dowling.
In utilizing a 3-4 scheme, the Big Reds will employ Kinder at nose guard and O’Grady and Farmer will get the call at ends. Those two were both impressive a season ago.
O’Grady finished with 37 tackles and seven for loss, while Farmer had 22 stops and 10 for loss.
Spelling guys on the defensive line will be Zwack, Kuri and Materkoski.
Special teams also appears to be a strength. Heatherington is back to handle the punting duties and Littell will be the placekicker.
The Big Reds schedule has a couple of new opponents. Wheeling Central and Indian Creek are back on the slate for the first time in several seasons.
Also speaking of the Big Reds schedule, the biggest change comes in home game times. After starting at 12:30 p.m. for more than a decade, games at Nelson Field will begin at noon.
“We’re excited about the noon starts,” Spigarelli said.
The Big Reds know that this week’s trip to Hannibal is a big early season game.
“That River game is huge,” Spigarelli said. “Coach (Mike) Flannery always does a super job and we’ve had some great games with them in the past. Plus, being on a Thursday night is something our kids are very excited about.”
Spigarelli’s coaching staff is primarily the same. The varsity coaches include Shawn Valloric, Ryan McMahon, Todd Poe, Bailey McGrath and newcomer Zac Musilli, who is a former St. Clairsville and West Liberty kicker.
Working at the junior high level are John Farrier, Mike Sechrest, Keith Rejonis, Bill Meek and Jim LaRoche.
Jaren Cash, Logan Davenport, Skyler Evans, Luke Farmer, Aiden Frazier, Jaiden Kesterson, Bradley Kosky, Michael Kuri, Nick Materkoski, Isaac McConnell, Timmy O’Grady, Dante Patrone, Lance Piper, Colt Sechrest, Daniel Zwack.
Jake Dowling, Terrin Frazier, Jake Heatherington, Talon Hughes, Braylon Kinder, Joey Lewis, Lucas Littell, Chance Maffe, Brenton Naumann, Ray Ray Pettigrew, Brayden Roth, Isaac Salva, TJ Wines.
Lane Clark, Luca D’Aquila, Logan Edgar, Khalil Kimbro, Andrew LaMotte, Jeremy Lemley, Carl Lewis, Joey Nixon, Mac Mac Pettigrew, Dalton Smelko, Drew White, Austin Wines.
Bradyn Beckett, Andrew Ciofani, Keegan Davis, Luke Heatherington, Koltan Henthorn, Brody Holt, Jaden Powell, Landon Preston, Riley Robbins, Nathan Tanner, Grant Vasey, Hunter Watson, Maurice Webb,