SHADYSIDE — It’s been quite the preseason at Shadyside.
Already faced with the tall task of replacing 10 seniors from a team that won an OVAC title and played in a regional championship game, the Tigers dealt with a coaching change just 16 days before Friday’s opener at Martins Ferry.
Amid allegations of insensitive comments inside the Tiger locker room, which led to the Shadyside Board of Education meeting for 2.5 hours in executive session on Aug. 1, highly successful head coach Mark Holenka opted to resign on Aug. 3. Holenka’s decision ended a 13-year tenure as the head coach at his alma mater that saw him win 115 games, six OVAC titles, a regional championship and play in seven regional finals.
Michael Kernik, who has been on the Tigers staff since 2008 and offensive coordinator since 2013, was named the interim head coach for the season.
Coach Michael Kernik discusses the upcoming campaign
“Our focus hasn’t changed,” Kernik said. “It always has been and still is on our players. They’re the most important thing to our staff. We’ve worked to remain positive with these kids and keeping them focused and ready to play the games.”
Though Kernik was elevated to the head coach, he was left to find several assistant coaches in short notice because four members of the Holenka staff elected not to return after the coaching change.
However, Kernik didn’t allow that process to affect his ultimate focus.
“We have a good team and a lot of good players,” Kernik noted. “It makes that aspect (of taking over) easier. I know I am going to have a lot of support behind me in terms of our administration, our staff and all of the people behind the scenes. Those people will be a huge help.”
When the Tigers got down to football and fully shifted their focus to the Purple Riders, they realize putting any distractions aside and focusing on what will be a pivotal game for both squads was of the utmost importance.
“We know we have to be ready to play going up to Ferry because they’re going to be physical and hard nosed,” Kernik said. “We’re going to do our best to match their physicality. I think it’s a good game, and I know the kids are looking forward to it.”
The Tigers will be breaking in not only a new head coach, but also several new players since graduation claimed the likes of three-time First Team All-Ohioan Wyatt Reiman, All-Ohioans Logan Crozier, Ryan Florence and Mason VanNest. Reiman, Florence and VanNest all played key roles in Ohio’s victory in last month’s OVAC All-Star Game.
The balance of the graduation losses included: Rhys Francis, Kris Tsoras, Zach Heslep, Gage Joseph, Korey Beckett and Ethan Stanley.
“We’re going to have some new faces in new spots, but for the most part, everyone who is going to be on the field (on Friday), played last year in one way or another,” Kernik said. “It’s not like we’re going to have kids on the field who are totally green. We simply have to coach them up, coach them the right way and put them in a position to have success.”
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, patience hasn’t been something that Shadyside has needed a lot of in recent memory because it’s consistently been able to hit the ground running.
Kernik doesn’t see any reason why that would change, based on how “energetic” the practices have been.
“I can not ask for any more out of these kids than what they’re giving me,” Kernik said. “We’ve been really pushing them and working them hard, but they’ve done everything as hard as they can and with a smile on their face.”
In terms of numbers, Shadyside’s roster is smaller than most previous seasons and that had nothing to do with the coaching change. The Tigers have only 28 players on the squad.
Though Reiman is gone and the Tigers have one of the smallest teams — in terms of pounds — they’ve had in many seasons, Kernik, who will remain the play caller, doesn’t see a lot of changes coming on the offensive side of the ball.
“I would say it’ll be similar to what you’ve seen in the past,” Kernik said. “We like to run from two-back sets with iso and power runs, but we realize there are times when you can’t do those things. So, we’ll also use a quicker passing game. So, really, it’ll be mostly a pro-style system with a little bit of spread stuff mixed in.”
Shadyside is fortunate enough to return its most experienced quarterback from a season ago in junior Ben Wach (5-8, 145). Wach was the second of three quarterbacks the Tigers employed last season. He took over for Francis, who was injured against Buckeye Local and missed the remainder of the season. Wach suffered a broken arm in the Tigers’ second-round playoff game against Waterford, which led to Beckett finishing the season as the QB.
“I thought Ben did a phenomenal job for the situation he was put in,” Kernik said. “Ben’s biggest attribute is that he’s level-headed and nothing rattles him.”
Wach got the bulk of the reps despite not having played quarterback basically at any point in his career, including junior high. He handled himself quite well, completing 62 of 109 passes for 900 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Sophomore Kaiden Baker (5-10, 125) is Wach’s top understudy.
Though Reiman and his 1,765 yards and 29 rushing touchdowns are gone, Shadyside’s not totally green in the backfield. Junior Andrew Osman (5-9, 160) will take on the primary tailback duties. He rushed 71 times for 352 yards and four touchdowns last season.
“Andrew is going to get his opportunity to carry the ball a good bit and he’s more than capable,” Kernik said.
Junior Karl Tsoras (5-10, 190), who lettered as a freshman, is back out for the team and will be one of the key cogs in the backfield as well. He sustained an injury early in the preseason and his status remains unknown.
“Karl is battling through an injury, but he has the same mentality of hard worker and does everything asked of him,” Kernik continued.
Pushing for action behind Osman and Tsoras are freshman Kory Davis (6-2, 160) and classmate Dante Mavrikas (5-7, 135).
When Wach threw the ball last season, Reiman and Beckett were the primary targets.
The wide receiver load will go to senior Elijah Brock (6-5, 195), juniors Dylan Booth (5-11, 165) and Nathan Booth (5-11, 163).
That trio combined for 21 catches last season, but Brock had 20 of them for 263 yards and three touchdowns.
Also pushing for significant playing time are sophomore Cole Micker (5-7, 145), senior Grant Miller (5-11, 150) and senior Kooper Chimley (5-11, 140).
Other receivers listed on the roster are senior Isaac Green (5-9, 130), sophomore Griffin Kritz (5-10, 160) and freshman Brayden Kappler (5-1, 100).
“I think we have good talent at wide receiver,” Kernik said. “Some of these kids saw some time last season and they’ve matured physically and are much stronger and faster.”
Up front, Shadyside returns a pair of players with experience. The biggest challenge is replacing Crozier, who was a three-year starter at center.
Slated to take over the center job was sophomore Derrick Russell (6-1, 190), but he was injured during the early stages of camp and his status remains unknown.
Jacob Brown (5-9, 190) who was a starter last season at guard will handle the center duties.
Expected to serve as the guards are seniors Andrew Brown (5-8, 180) and Josh Harris (5-8, 165).
At the tackle spots, senior William Robinson (5-11, 195) returns with some experience from a season ago. Junior Colton Gorby (6-1, 200), who was a tight end last season, is shifting one spot down the line to a tackle.
Junior Chris Stillion (5-6, 170) has had a good camp and is pushing to get into the rotation. Sophomore Anthony Forgacs (5-8, 180) is a utility player along the line for the Tigers.
Additional line depth is supplied by junior Nick Norris (5-8, 210), sophomores Brandon Reineke (5-5, 143), Gavin Bommer (5-5, 135), freshmen Landen Simmons (5-6, 157) and Trent Wakulchik (6-0, 150).
Kernik admits the early rash of injuries have been tough, but the Tigers are simply dealing with whatever comes their way.
“Unfortunately, injuries are part of football,” Kernik said. “I wish they weren’t, but they do happen from time to time. We’re hopeful that the kids who are banged up are able to come back soon, but we’re not positive yet on their status. We’ll make adjustments and get the next guy ready to play.”
Defensively, Shadyside finds itself in a similar position as the offense. The Tigers return some pieces, but guys like Reiman and Florence were massive impact guys on that side of the ball.
Holenka and Chase Grinch both had major influence on the defensive side of the ball and neither is on the new staff. Still, however, Kernik doesn’t foresee wholesale changes.
“Similar to the offense, we’ll do our best to adapt to what everyone is capable of doing,” Kernik said. “We’ll use a lot of different looks and try to keep things as seamless as possible. The last thing we want is for the kids to be confused. We want kids knowing their assignments and reacting to the play.”
Andrew Brown returns at a defensive end and Brock, who played end as a sophomore, will be on the other side. In the middle of the defensive line, Robinson and Jacob Brown.
Davis, Stillion, Norris and Bommer are all vying for time. Forgacs can help at a bevy of spots on that side of the ball, too.
The linebacker group will be led by Osman, Tsoras and Gorby. Backing those guys up are Harris, Kritz and Simmons.
In the secondary, the Brothers Booth will be at the corners, while Wach, Miller and Micker will all see time at safety. Chimley is another who will see time in the secondary. Baker, Green and Mavrikas could also crack the rotation.
As for special teams, Brock is expected to handle the punting duties, while Bommer will kick the extra points.
For the first time in many seasons, Shadyside was able to complete its schedule without much stress. The Tigers are replacing Frontier with Brownsville Area, which will make the 65 minute drive from east of Washington, Pa. to Belmont County.
“I think it’s a great schedule because we’re playing basically all local teams,” Kernik said. “Games against teams like Ferry, Bellaire, Barnesville, River, etc. are the games that kids want to play in. It’s exciting for all of the fans and coaches. It makes the whole thing feel more like community.”
One thing that the coaches are disappointed about is the fact that because his roster has just 28 players total, whether or not the Tigers play junior varsity games will be decided upon on a week to week basis.
When Holenka stepped down, the coaching staff was also affected.
Working with him at the varsity level are James Edwards
At the junior high level, Nick Ongley, Jayson Johnson and Zeke Merryman are the coaches.