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Stein Cast in Roles as Defending State Champ

WHEELING — After winning a state football championship, what do you do for an encore?

That is the question at hand for Kurt Stein.

The Wheeling Central product guided Oakdale High School to the Maryland Class AA state title last fall. Maryland has four football classifications.

The state championship game — a 35-7 rout of Glenelg — capped an impressive post-season run. In the state semifinals, Stein’s charges defeated three-time reigning state champion Damascus, ending the nation’s longest winning streak at 53.

That was last year. Now, Stein must replace 26 seniors from his unbeaten title squad with just four returning starters.

“We know we now have the targets on our back. We are OK with that,” Stein said. “We were a very senior-oriented team last year. We started in January with getting our players up to speed. We have four returning starters back to carry the torch. Fortunately, one of those is a very talented quarterback.

“Right now they are still learning assignments and getting our schemes down. They are making mistakes but making progress. Our numbers are down somewhat. We have 38 players on varsity and 41 on jayvee. Four sophomores are dressing varsity.”

All is not gloom and doom, however, for the reigning state champions. Stein sees several positives with the 2019 Bears.

“We have some new talented guys. I think we are an athletic team and have players who move well,” Stein said. “It is a hungry bunch. We have guys who had to wait for their turn.

“We have guys who like to play and are itching at the chance to make their mark. I believe this group will rise to the occasion.”

The Bears launch their campaign Sept. 6 vs. Wild Lake.

“It will be a tough opener with all the new kids we have. They went 6-4 last year and have a new head coach,” Stein said.

Should Oakdale make a post-season run, it will be navigating through a new playoff format.

“The state of Maryland has made a major change in football scheduling. We used to play 10 regular-season games then four playoff games,” Stein noted. “We will now play nine regular-season games with five playoff rounds. Eight teams will now make the playoffs in each region instead of four.

“The teams will be re-seeded after the regional. This will be good for us. The theory is the best two teams will not meet in the regional like last year.”

Extended and high-level success often times yield scheduling problems. Steubenville, Shadyside and Wheeling Central have found that to be the case locally. Oakdale is now experiencing some of the same.

“It is getting tougher and tougher for us to put our football schedule together each year,” Stein said.

“We have been really strong the past five seasons and now many teams are shying away from playing us.”

To prepare for the upcoming campaign, Stein is putting his Bears through two scrimmages, one coming against the defending Maryland Class 4A champions.

The Wheeling Central product was hired in 2010 as Oakdale’s head football coach. It was a first-year school and a consolidation of Linganore, Thomas Johnson and Urbana high schools. The school is located about 45 minutes from Washington D.C. and houses some 1,200 students in grades 9-12.

That initial football season was spent playing junior varsity teams as Oakdale only brought in freshman and sophomore students. The Bears followed that by going 0-10 and 2-8 in their first two varsity campaigns.

“Winning a state championship at Oakdale was always my goal from Day 1 as well as through the early tough times. It’s been a heck-of-a-ride,” Stein said. “The state championship was always a goal. The program got better every year.”

BUBBA’S BITS

∫ Reno Saccoccia is the Godfather of OVAC football coaches. He is also the 24th winningest active football coach in the nation via his 380-70 record. John T. Curtis of River Ridge, La. is the leader with 582. Saccoccia is 43rd all-time.

∫ The recent B-MAC Upper Ohio Valley Endowed Scholarship Golf Classic raised nearly $8,000 for the BMAC Endowed Scholarship fund at WVU. Some 72 golfers took part in the 24th annual event held at Moundsville Country Club. The Open Division winning team consisted of Ed Zwolensky, Lois Zwolensky, Patty Maroney and Corky Gehrig. The Corporate Cup champion was Croft & Sons, MFG. Team members were Sam Croft, Jesse Stillmak, Tom Stillmak and Ron Helms.

∫ The final major tennis tournament unfolds this week as Flushing Meadows (NY) hosts the U.S. Open. As usual, the men’s champion should come from one of the Big Three — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic. My pick is Nadal. On the women’s side, I am going with Serena Williams. She is long overdue for another major title.

∫ Jay Desantis of Wheeling umpired first base Monday night in the American Legion National Championship semifinal game. DeSantis is the W. Va. State Legion scheduler and also sits on the National American Legion Board.

∫ Marietta College standout Tanner Clark has been a D3football.com pre-season All-American. He is a Caldwell product.

∫ College football ramps up this week. My final four for the college playoffs consists of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma. After being embarrassed in last year’s title game, I look for Bama to bounce back with a vengeance and win it all. My pick for the Heisman Trophy is Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence.

∫ The second annual West Virginia High School Girls’ Golf Invitational Championship will be staged at the Mingo Bottom Golf Club in Elizabeth on Tuesday, Sept. 3 at noon. The tournament will be an 18-hole stroke play event from the ladies tees. The top seven will be crowned all-tournament.

∫ Wheeling Central is losing an exceptional track coach. Eric Belancic is yielding the post due to work commitments that will not afford him time to coach. Belancic guided the Maroon Knight girls’ team to the 2017 Class A state championship. The collegiate All-American high jumper led the Knights with the utmost class and professionalism.

∫ The Marshall County Chamber of Commerce always puts on a splendid fall dinner/banquet. This year’s event is planned for Oct. 10 with a special speaker on tap as college coaching legend Jim Crutchfield will be featured. After his remarkable coaching stint at West Liberty he is now building another D-II power at Nova Southeastern.

∫ Rookie Will Grier may begin the NFL season as the Carolina Panthers’ starting quarterback. The former WVU star has been cast in the backup role to Cam Newton. But the former Heisman Trophy winner left Thursday’s pre-season loss to New England in a walking boot after incurring a foot injury.

∫ Prep football has arrived in the Ohio Valley. In conjunction with that, The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register will publish its annual Football Preview this Thursday. It is packed with more than 120 pages of team previews, hundreds of photos, predictions, features and much more.

Bubba Kapral can be reached at bkapral@timesleaderonline.com

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