OLD WASHINGTON — Putting “Team Above Me” and maintaining focus throughout the season figure to be the keys to success for Buckeye Trail as Coach Donnie Kerns begins his sixth season leading the Warriors.
“I truly think the thing that is the key to having success for us is keeping focus,” said Kerns. “We need to keep focused on the team atmosphere.
“It sounds cliche, but we need to put ‘Team Above Me,'” he continued. “We want them to be happy with a teammate’s success as much as their own individual success and if we do that, I think we can be pretty good.”
Like everyone else, the Trail coach is happy things are more “normal” as the 2021 season is about to begin after the uncertainty of the 2020 season due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“It’s nice to be back to normal,” admitted Kerns, who owns a 25-23 record in his first five years. “Last year took so much out of me and everyone else, obviously. This time last year, we weren’t even sure if we’d get to play a game and that was no fun.”
As usual, Kerns will turn to his 10 seniors to provide leadership on the 44-player squad.
“I feel our leadership is good,” he said. “Our seniors don’t feel entitled and that’s huge because you want them to work hard and show the younger kids what it takes to be successful.”
Coach Donnie Kerns discusses the upcoming campaign
Kerns looks for the offensive line to carry the load, especially early in the season.
“I think our line might be our biggest strength with three full-time starters and a fourth who would have been if he hadn’t gotten injured,” said the Trail boss. “I also feel our receivers as a whole which includes some of the running backs moving out wide at times are solid with good hands, but our biggest concern is to have some of them step up and make plays after they catch the ball.
“We feel we’re a couple of playmakers away from being a pretty good team,” he added.
Defensively, Kerns points to experience gained during last year’s 3-5 season as key.
“I like our experience on defense this year,” related Kerns, whose team received a first-round bye in the adjusted OHSAA Division VI , Region 23 playoffs before falling to
Columbus Africentric, 28-22, in overtime. “Last year, in Week One against Caldwell, we had three or four of our top guys out due to (CODID-19) quarantine and it took us a while to put things together on that side of the football.”
Taking over the quarterback reins in the Warriors’ “Gun-T” offense is junior Nick Neuhart (6-4, 186), a two-year letterman that played wide receiver last fall and received first team all-Inter Valley Conference North Division and special mention all-Eastern District Division VI accolades.
Backups at QB include sophomores Donovan Geiger (6-3, 171) and Braden Williams (5-7, 153) and freshman Travis Dodd (5-8, 142). Geiger’s versatility will also see him playing running back and receiver at times.
The team’s top playmaker figures to be senior back Franko Rome (5-10, 171), a three-year letterman who was off to a strong start a year ago before suffering an in injury. In four games, Rome rushed for 556 yards.
“We’ll move him around both in the backfield and out wide,” said Kerns. “Teams will have to find him on every play because we want to get the ball into his hands as much as possible.”
Two senior defensive studs will bolster the running game – Shane Smith (6-1, 183) and Aidan Snodgrass (6-0, 217) – with Snodgrass also lining up at tight end.
Senior Logan Hinkle (5-7, 186) gives the Warriors a speedster to run the “jet” sweep while another potential playmaker is senior Brendan Bates (5-8, 139). Both are two-year lettermen.
Also slated for backfield duty are junior Bryce Hall (5-10, 174), a transfer from Barnesville, along with junior letterman Noah Betts (5-10, 161); sophomore lettermen Charlie Parry (6-3, 181), Cale Gazda (6-0, 149) and Koen Eagon (5-8, 142); and freshmen Laine Wayble (5-7, 131), Blake Wayble (5-8, 144) and Bryer Warfield (5-6, 132).
Junior letterman Tyler Dodd (5-11, 183) is a good-sized, physical wide receiver while other pass-catchers include sophomore Janson Alloway (5-10, 149) and five freshmen – Jace Hickman (6-1, 153), Rylee Homko (6-0, 156), Logan Hollis (5-7, 131), Noah Jones (5-6, 131) and Kohl Beaver (5-10, 138).
Tight end candidates along with Snodgrass are senior Braydon Walter (6-1, 171); sophomore letterman Brady Hastings (6-1, 171) and freshman Ty McGlumphy (6-0, 213).
Veterans along the offensive line include junior two-year letterman Landon Koch (6-2, 247) at center; senior letterman Cameron Hess (6-2, 281) at “strong” guard; senior two-year letterman Dakota Milliken (6-0, 267) at “quick” guard; and senior letterman Aidan Krise (5-10, 231) at one of the tackle slots.
The other tackle will come from a group of five players, giving Trail good versatility up front – juniors Sabastian Graham (5-10, 175), William Hensley (5-9, 160) and John Yoder (6-0, 226) along with sophomores Riley Bryan (6-5, 279) and Maddox Miracle (6-2, 261).
Graham is a returning letterman.
Defensively, Trail deploys a 3-5 alignment using both “man” and zone coverages.
A very deep defensive line features six players sharing the three spots – Cameron Hess, Milliken, Krise, Koch, Bryan and Miracle.
At inside linebacker, Snodgrass is a mainstay at the “Mike” spot in the middle; Graham and Neuhart figure to share duty at the “Sam” and Hinkle and Hensley are the top “Will” ‘backers.
Manning the outside linebacker posts will be veterans Smith and Rome
Parry can play inside or outside and other regulars will be Hastings and Gazda.
Sharing the cornerback position are Tyler Dodd, Geiger, Bates, Betts and Alloway, with Hall and Eagon at free safety.
Other DBs are Williams, Lane Wayble, Travis Dodd, Blake Wayble, Hollis, Jones, Beaver and Warfield.
The Warriors’ placekicker is junior Cameron Shepherd (5-10, 197), with Rome handling the punting duties and holding on placements and Smith as the team’s long snapper.
Graduation claimed nine players from last year’s squad, headed by quarterback Connor Puskarich.
Also departed are Nic Burris, Austin Paden, Bryce Baker, Blake Bates, Ethan Carpenter, Liam Kelley, Marcus Masters and Kolton Shepherd.
Kerns’ coaching staff includes Terry Parry, Brett Shipman, Josh Green Sr., Brian Jackson, Dylan Roe, Trey Dougherty, Josh Eaton, Austin Snodgrass and Luke Allen. The junior high coaches are Mike McGlumphy, Hunter Graham, Sawyer Burt and Jeff Johnson.
The Warriors debut on the road Friday at Caldwell and will host Harrison Central and Barnesville before embarking on seven straight Inter-Valley Conference games – the first two as cross-over opponents from the South Division (Claymont and Indian Valley) – before facing five straight North Division foes (Tuscarawas Central Catholic, Malvern, Strasburg, East Canton and Newcomerstown).