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Football 2012: Merryman Takes Over at St. John Central

August 22, 2012
By BUBBA KAPRAL , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

BELLAIRE - A new Green Day is dawning.

Jason Merryman is the new coach at St. John Central. He replaces Fighting Irish grid legend Paul Rose.

Merryman is a former Shadyside High athlete and coach. His most recent duties were as a Buckeye Local assistant, where he is also a teacher. He brings a wealth of coaching experience and loads of optimism.

Much of the season's tone may be established in tonight's opener against Bridgeport in the OVAC McDonald's Kickoff Night at Wheeling Island Stadium. The Irish and Bulldogs are renewing rivalries after a two-year hiatus.

''I want to thank Coach Rose. He is obviously the architect of what we are trying to build here,'' Merryman said. ''His kids played with a lot of heart and great resiliency. That is a credit to him.''

Merryman also relishes his opportunity at being a head coach.

Fact Box

*Aug. 23: Bridgeport5 p.m.

Sept. 1: Conotton Valleynoon

Sept. 7: at Paden City7 p.m.

Sept. 15: at Bishop Donahue7:30 p.m.

Sept. 21: at Clay-Battelle7:30 p.m.

Sept. 29: Torontonoon

Oct. 5: at Valley7:30 p.m.

Oct. 13: Sherman, W.Va.noon

Oct. 20: Cameronnoon

Oct. 27: Beallsvillenoon

*-at Wheeling Island Stadium


Win 4, Lose 6

''I have waited 20 years to get my shot. It is nice knowing I will be able to put my stamp on what we are doing," he said. ''Things are going well and the players are buying into what we want to do.''

Merryman inherits a squad that went winless in its nine starts a season ago. The Fighting Irish lost one nugget from a season ago. Athletic Travis Ogden has graduated after excelling as a quarterback, running back, receiver and defensive back during his career.

Merryman has cultivated nice numbers for his initial season. Rose was forced to go to battle with, at most, 16 players. St. John's now boasts a roster with 28 players, enabling it to have a reserve schedule, a lost commodity for many years.

Increased numbers lead to increased optimism.

''Our theme is 'Believe.' We want our kids to believe in their teammates and believe in their coaches,'' Merryman continued. ''A big key for us is dealing with adversity and playing through times.

''We are stressing to win as many plays as we can. If we lose a play, we try and win the next one. After we win so many plays we want to win a series," he said. "We want to make winning series into winning quarters and eventually into winning games. The kids are buying into it really well."

Merryman enters the season with "cautious optimism."

"Having 27-28 players has made practices much more productive. It's nice to be able to break up into individual groups and teach," he said. "The scrimmages will tell us a lot of where we are at and who we are. But so far, I am happy with the progress we are making."

Ogden's departure creates a void at the all-important quarterback position. It is one being capably filled by junior Dario Paolina. The 150-pound letterman gained valuable game experience a year ago, serving as Ogden's understudy.

Freshman Kyle Ogden is cast in the role of backup.

The Fighting Irish will feature a stud of a tailback in DJ Shoemaker. The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder earned All-Ohio honors at Shadyside last year. His infusion into the Irish lineup will be a major shot-in-the-arm to the program. Shoemaker will provide the Irish attack strong inside running with an ability to bounce it outside.

He will be joined at running back by Devon Hennessy. The scrappy 155-pound fullback has been a two-year regular for at St. John.

Freshman Anthony Busack (125) is also a running back aspirant.

Paolina will have a deep and talented receiver pool as targets.

Senior standout John Alvey is a big-play threat. The 180-pound three-year letterman possesses good speed and soft hands.

Two other Shadyside transfers will also bring talent to the wideout picture. Levi Spencer and Alex Francis both joined Shoemaker in his ingress to St. John and both inject athleticism and toughness to the team. Spencer is a 185-pounder and Francis is a 175-pounder and joins with Alvey for a big-time wideout unit.

Additional depth is supplied by battle-tested Kyle Whorton. The quality 160-pounder is a two-year letterman at wideout.

Sophomore Jacob Jones (150) and freshman Kyle Coppa (130) are also in the receiving hunt.

Tight end is an Irish stronghold with Nick Cervelli and Darren Palmer on duty. Cervelli is a 220-pound junior who moves from running back from where he started for two years. Palmer, meanwhile, is a tough-minded 200-pound senior. Jared Keiser is a 150-pound freshman hopeful.

The offensive line figures to benefit from extensive offseason time in the weight room. The O-line has good size and nice experience. With three four-year starters leading the way, the offensive line should prove a highly efficient and possibly a dominating unit.

The guard tandem is top-notch as a pair of four-year regulars return in Kasey Opic and Kolin Melko. Opic is one of the Irish's strongest performers. He is a 6-1, 250-pounder. Melko, meanwhile, is a nice blend of size and athleticism. He is a 6-3, 200-pounder.

Guard depth comes in the form of three sophomores: 170-pound Quinn Myers and twin brothers Greg and Nick Wilson, both checking in at 170 pounds.

Gage Tiber is a force at one tackle. The 210-pound mainstay is also a four-year regular. He will be joined at tackle by ever-improving Jonathan Bossell, a 180-pound junior letterman.

Other tackles in the mix are senior letterman Tyler Buttersworth (235), junior Zachary White, a 305-pound transfer from Wheeling Park, 230-pound sophomore Landon Gray and freshmen Murray Brycen (225) and Bryce Zonkowski (160).

Center is the one line spot still up for grabs. Nick Petho, a 185-pound frosh, is likely to get the opening game call.

Merryman has opted to go with a 4-3 look defensively.

"Right now, I am real happy with how our defense has looked," he said. "They have been physical and getting to the ball. We have 11 guys on defense who I would have no problem giving the ball to on offense. It is an athletic bunch."

The defense's strength begins up front.

Four battle-tested linemen are back in the fold.

The ends will be Melko and Cervelli, the former possessing relentless pass-rushing ability. Cervelli was a starter at linebacker the last two falls.

Anchoring the inside will be Tiber at one tackle. A rotation of Buttersworth, White, Gray and Myers will handle the other post.

The linebacking trio is exceptional.

Opic and Spencer will open on the outside while Shoemaker is the anchor in the middle. When they need an occasional breather, Palmer and Bossell will deliver.

The secondary also takes on a solid look, with Alvey returns as a lock-down corner, while also being strong in run support. Wharton will be the other corner with Paolina in reserve.

The deep zones will be adeptly patrolled by Francis and Hennesy, supported by Jones.

Paolina - with a strong soccer background - provides the Fighting Irish with a potent placement weapon. Shoemaker will handle the punting.

St. John's held a pair of preseason scrimmages, visiting Hemlock Miller while hosting Millersport.

The Fighting Irish make their home debut in week two against Conotton Valley.

Merryman's staff consists of Jeff Paolina, Neal Zaccagnini, Steve Wharton, Sean Zeakes and Kevin Lahna. Zeakes quarterbacked St. John's to an 8-2 record in 2001 and the OVAC title.

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