WHEELING — This will be a season unlike any other for Wheeling Park football coach Chris Daugherty.
Not only will he be leading his Patriots against a daunting schedule but he will also be entering his first year as the school’s athletic director.
Nonetheless, it’s a challenge Daugherty is excited to take on.
“Running the OVAC All-Star Game and helping put that on was a good taste of what I’ll have to deal with in the fall,” Daugherty said. “Even though I had no coaching responsibilities, it was nice to kind of oversee and help the OVAC as much as I could.”
The Patriots finished last year 5-4 after having several games called off due to COVID and injuries also plagued the team throughout the course of the campaign.
“Last year we had a glimpse of looking really good but at other times we didn’t look so hot,” Daugherty said. “I think a lot of that had to deal with us catching COVID after the Steubenville game and then we went into the University game with only one practice. Then we lost another game due to COVID from another team so we kind of had a lull in the middle of the season. I thought we looked pretty good during the first two games but we never really regained that.”
Not only was Park facing issues with COVID a year ago, but it had a brand new crew hitting the field on offense.
“We had 11 new faces on offense last year,” Daugherty said. “It took us awhile to kind of get going but they got better as the year went on. This year will be different. We lost some defensive talent but we’re bringing back almost our whole offense so we should be able to execute at a high level.”
While the Patriots are returning a lot, there will be some big shoes to fill in certain positions.
Colt Thomas was a standout at linebacker for Daugherty, along with running back Hunter Nixon, defensive back Nate Shelek and linemen Jacob Stewart and Devon Rayford.
“Losing Colt Thomas is big because he was the brains of our defense,” Daugherty said. “He flew around and is going to play college ball at Marietta. Hunter Nixon battled injuries last year but that guy — when healthy — was one of the best kids we’ve had in awhile. Shelek was the brains of the back end of our defense and losing kids like him, Ray-Ray (Rayford) at defensive tackle and Jacob Stewart, that’s tough. But, we have some kids we can plug in there. They’ve put in the work and it’s their turn.”
After leading the charge as a junior, senior quarterback Brett Phillips is back and ready to sling the ball around to a plethora of outstanding targets.
“Brett improved and sophomore Aiden Davis improved,” Daugherty said of his top two quarterbacks. “We feel good about the quarterback position. We’re blessed to have two really good kids. I think Brett will have an even better year than he did last year and he’ll add to that wonderful junior year he had.”
Junior wide receiver Jarrae Hawkins has been turning heads all offseason with his impressive 40 times at college camps and after dealing with some injuries a season ago, he looks to be back and ready to shine for the Patriots.
“Part of our drop off last year was Jarrae being injured,” Daugherty said. “He is a difference maker and he is going to be a game-changer. We all know he is fast and has a lot of change of direction so he has a lot of upside.”
What really makes Hawkins dangerous is while the opposing defense is keying on him, there are plenty of other receivers on Park’s roster who will make the opposition pay.
“I’m really happy with our supporting cast of receivers,” Daugherty said. “Seniors Will James and Christian Bryan and juniors Keohn Stephens Jr. and Mykel Davis, they’ve all raised their game to where they will be major factors on Friday nights.”
Other receivers to keep an eye on this fall are seniors Isaiah Zelaski, Quinton Velas and Jordan Bachie; juniors Kam Shanley, Jared Marsh, Max Reasbeck and Ian Richards; and sophomores Mason Charlton, Xavier Neider, Taven Mayo, Bradley Kraft, Gabe Larance, Brent Marion, Noah Short and Trent Simon.
“I’d like to think our strength is going to be our quarterback and our wide receiver crew,” Daugherty said. “Having the ability to have four or five kids to make a play in the air or make a run is huge for us. It’s not just going to be one guy, it’s going to be a handful.”
With the loss of Nixon to graduation, the running back position is still up for grabs.
“We’re still evaluating the running back position,” Daugherty said. “Senior Max Wiley and junior Zac Lydick stick out right now but we’re still evaluating everybody.”
Vying for reps, along with Wiley and Lydick at running back, are seniors Erick Brothers Jr. and Brayden Lucas; Junior Owen Tipton; and sophomores Coven Burkle, Brody Cottrill, Trey Kocher, Isaac Swauger, Jordan Combs, Andrew Pasden and Gianni Robinson.
Senior Jaden Palmer and sophomore Jameson Maynard could see time at tight end.
In the trenches, Daugherty will count on seniors Max Cunningham, Miquan Macklin, Charlie DiSaia, David Lemasters, Jaxsen Edgmon, Michael Hogan, Ian Litman, Harmon Lewis and Evan Vansickle; juniors Jordan Beasley, Trent Werner, Mason Parsons, Robert Metz, Dakoda Beaver, Derek Croghan and Carson Miller; sophomores Xander Ackley, Jack Klein, Dom Purcell, Cameron Bryan, Hunter Means, Ben Anderson, Austin Rufner, Cayden Davis, Kieran Moses, Coldin Burkhart, Jayden Woods-Davis and Luke Miller.
“Mikey Hogan is back for his second year as a starter and he’ll be a standout for us on the front line,” Daugherty said. “Charlie DiSaia will be at defensive end for the second straight year as a starter and he’s going to be a big factor. Erick Brothers Jr. is out for his third year as a starting linebacker and we’re excited about that too. We have the defensive pieces and it’s just building around them.”
Vying for time at linebacker are seniors Lucas, Palmer and Wiley; juniors Lydick and Tipton; and sophomores Maynard, Cottrill, Kocher, Swauger, Combs, Pasden and Burkle.
Defensive back positions will be between seniors James, Bryan, Zelaski, Velas and Bachie; juniors Hawkins, Davis, Stephens Jr., Shanley, Marsh, Reasbeck and Richards; and sophomores Charlton, Neider, Mayo, Kraft, Larance, Marion, Short and Simon.
Junior Aiden Forget will pick up where he left off last year handling kicking duties after a strong sophomore campaign. Junior Brock Hinebaugh and sophomore AJ Seals will add kicking depth.
While the Park schedule is challenging once again, Daugherty has his team aiming for the postseason.
“The playoffs are always something we strive for,” Daugherty said. “We’ve been to the playoffs for 10 or 11 years in a row or something like that. We’re going to take it one game at a time but our schedule is unforgiving. We don’t have any Fridays off. If we start looking ahead to things it will be disastrous, so we’ll just plan for St. Clairsville and when that’s over we’ll work on Week 2.”