SARAHSVILLE — Last season was a bit of an uncharacteristic one in Noble County.
The Shenandoah Zeps finished the 2021 season 2-7, missing the postseason for the first time since 2018. Gone from that team are five players to graduation and a 1,000 yard back to transfer.
Taking all of that into account, second-year head coach Johnny Jones knows there is nowhere to go but up.
“We have high expectations,” stated Jones. “We started the off-season lifting program right away as soon as the season ended and Jesse Wells did a great job as the weight room coordinator throughout the day, and it really changed these kids bodies. We had a great off-season and had about 80 different lifts. These kids are dedicated and love being in the weight room.
“We have had a lot of selfless moves take place,” Jones continued. “We had a senior quarterback who played some two years ago under Wells and started nine games last year. A freshman came in and took the quarterback position, and now that senior is a center. You don’t see that every day in football, a transition and moves like that, but that is the type of team we are dealing with. They are unselfish and want to do whatever it takes to win.
Shenandoah will be running a spread offense this season, meaning the aforementioned quarterback position holds the key to making the offense go. Winning that quarterback position is freshman Braxton Barnett (6-0, 165).
Coach Johnny Jones discusses the upcoming campaign
Backing up Barnett will be senior Nathan Van Fleet (6-1, 238), who is the starting center on the offensive line, and freshman Ethan Cutlip (5-9, 152).
A pair of backs figure to carry the load in the backfield for the Zeps, as juniors Sam Townsend (5-11, 184) and Jacob Feldner (5-8, 180) will split the majority of snaps. Classmate Brenden Portman (5-9, 163) could also see time in the backfield. Also seeking carries will be sophomore Landon Lively, and frosh runners Tate Devolld (5-7, 158) and Ayden McPeek (5-7, 166).
Senior Joel Rataiczak is tabbed to lead the receiving corps, lining up at wide receiver and tight end.
Juniors Weston Miley (6-3, 171), Portman, and Hunter Yates (6-0, 170) fill out the starting receiving corps as the Zeps figure to regularly send out multiple-receiver sets.
While Van Fleet will be the center, he is joined by classmate and All-OVAC, All-District honoree Jared Trenner (5-9, 210) at left guard and Hunter Schott (6-3, 248) fills the right tackle spot. Junior Jace Anderson, who started all nine games last season will be the right guard and sophomore Dalton McElroy (6-1, 244) will be the left tackle rounding out the starters on the OL.
Defensively, Shenandoah runs a 4-4 base and returns a lot of talent along the line.
Leading the way are All-OVAC, All-District defensive ends Schott and Ratiazak. Rotating in at defensive tackle will be senior and Devan Weisend (6-1, 360), McElroy, Wildrout and Anderson.
Trenner fills the “Mike” linebacker spot, where he was an All-OVAC and All-District honoree last season, while Palmer and Clark are competing for time at the “Will” linebacker spot. Fender is in the “Sam” backer spot, and Townsend starts at the “Bandit” position, where he garnered All-District honors last season.
The defensive backfield sees Portman, Miley and Tristen Rossiter rotating in at corer and Yates at safety, where he was an All-District performer.
Wheeler and some others will also be seeking time in the secondary.
Assisting Jones are Josh Lowery (Offensive Coordinator, QB coach), Jan Mazgay (WR, DB coach), Dustin Hughes (WR, LB coach), Todd Morrison (OL, DL coach), David Freeman (DB, RB coach), Patrick Gerst (DL, OL coach), Craig Where (LB, OL coach) and David Connolly (DB, WB coach), Jayden Porter (DB, RB coach, equipment coordinator).
“We went from three or four assistant coaches last season to nearly 10 this year and it has lifted a big weight off of my shoulders and allowed me to delegate,” Jones noted of his staff. “Lowery has done a great job taking the offense under his wing, and I can just let him do his thing, and I can check out and run the defense. It is a really good rapport we have,” The two have experience working together, as Jones was the defensive coordinator under Lowery when he coached at Cambridge.
Shenandoah makes its debut Thursday, at home, against Newcomerstown.