PADEN CITY — Last year presented plenty of challenges for the Paden City football program.
COVID was a major test for the Wildcats, who had one game canceled due to the virus but head coach Robert Price believes the way his kids handled that obstacle shows much more about them than the wins and losses.
“Last year was my first year as head coach and we went 2-8,” Price said. “One of those losses came due to a forfeit because of COVID. Judging off of that people might say we didn’t have much success but to overcome the amount of adversity that the kids were faced with, I’d have to chalk that up to a success, even though we didn’t really fill up the win column. We were able to keep the energy, we kept kids safe and we kept our program alive. Now the kids are chomping at the bit this year.”
In fact, the Wildcats start this season with 18 kids on the roster, the most Price has seen in his four years as part of the Paden City coaching staff.
“I’ve never started the season with 18 kids before so I feel pretty good about that,” Price said. “Our main goal that I keep preaching to these guys is that we have to maintain our integrity and continue to get better every day and get 1% better each time you take the field.”
Perhaps Price’s top challenge this year may be replacing several key holes on the offensive and defensive lines left by graduating seniors.
“We lost a handful of guys on the offensive line,” Price said. “It will be a tall task. Gavin Lewis was a four-year player and a huge leader for us. He was a phenomenal player and we’ll miss him. Joey Smith played a lot of football for us during the last three years on the offensive and defensive lines. Jason Spragg found a home on the line toward the end of the season, too. He was a skill guy who we bounced around but those are three guys we’re going to miss a lot.”
One positive for the future is no seniors will be graduating at this season’s end, making the leadership of standout running back, junior Joey Baker, even more important.
“Joey is a phenomenal player for us here,” Price said. “He does everything right. In 2020 he racked up a ton of yards as a freshman in just two games. He came right back last year and ran for over 1,000 yards. He was our go-to guy. With Joey in the backfield, we were able to start a freshman quarterback who is now entering his sophomore year in Kayden Myers. He started every game for us last year and I think he is primed for a strong season. He has the tools, he has the arm strength and he has the mental capacity to handle some of the things I’m going to throw at him. So, I’m excited for him to run our offense.”
Myers will have some options in the passing game, as well.
“Juniors Ashton Little and Jeremiah Thomas are both going into their third year of playing for us and I think they’ll each have strong seasons,” Price said. “With that core of gentlemen I feel we should give our offense more opportunities than just turning around and giving the ball to No. 9 (Baker).”
Other juniors who will be counted on as leaders on and off the field are Bryson Stackpole (OL/DL), Branden Roe (WR/LB) and Eli Wetzel (OL/DL).
Sophomores on the Wildcats’ roster include Isaiah Brady and Evan Phillips.
Price is extremely excited about the nine-player freshmen class joining his program this year.
“We have a huge incoming freshmen class,” Price said. “I think Brayden Neff looks pretty good so far. He’s always in the weight room and he is a hard-working, shifty and quick kid who can see the field really well. He can be a potential play-maker for us in the slot and maybe in space. On the other side, freshman Jessup Higgins looks the part. He is easily coached. Those two are standout kids as far as kids that you might not know about yet.”
The rest of the freshmen class consists of Skyler Wright (OL/DL), Riley Dennis (WR/DB), Kinden Myers (OL/DL), Brady Pennell (OL/DL), Garrett Parrish (OL/DL), Jakob Billiter (OL/DL) and Gavin Roberson (OL/DL).
Price will be joined on the sideline by assistant coaches Ron Casto, Joe Anderson and Josh Billiter.