Big, Experienced Line Will Be Strength for Park
By JOSH STROPE
WHEELING — Coaches around the state have been waiting for the day former Wheeling Park quarterback Cross Wilkinson graduated.
That day has come but don’t expect Wheeling Park to be “easy pickings.”
In fact, Patriots coach Chris Daugherty is thrilled with what he has seen from his squad and feels this is a team that will be right in the thick of things once the season kicks off tonight with a road game against rival Brooke.
“Any time you lose the quarterback you lost, the receivers, the two tailbacks, you immediately wonder ‘how do we fill those voids?'” Daugherty said. “Last year we were young along the offensive line and we were young defensively, and maybe that didn’t get noticed because of the skill we had.
“This year will be a little bit different. We will be old in spots defensively and old on the offensive line, while newer at the skill positions.
“Right now, I am really happy with how these kids have been progressing. At the end of the day, I would take a seasoned offensive line over fabulous skill. You would like to have it all and that remains to be seen, but we might have it all.”
Those big boys up front is what will be Wheeling Park’s strength.
Daugherty mentioned that size along the line hasn’t exactly been a known commodity at Wheeling Park. This year is much different.
The Wheeling Park starters average 267 pounds and all 5-foot-11 or taller.
That group is led by Tristen Bittner (6-5, 290 pounds). The senior right guard is a mauler and has a number of scholarship offers on the table, including a Division I offer from Marshall.
Joining him as starters will be Ronan Butts (left tackle, 6-3, 235), Ryan McCave (left guard, 6-5, 300), Chase Mortakis (center, 6-2, 265) and Cade Miller (right tackle, 5-11, 245).
“They know what they are doing and some of the bonehead mistakes they have made last year, that is all gone,” Daugherty said. “I am really excited about those five guys and we have depth there, too. Not that you want to see an injury, but we could afford to rest a kid or absorb an injury.”
That depth comes in the form of Brett Mundy, a starter as a sophomore before injuries took a toll last season, Jaylen Rouse and Eli Kutrovac.
Wilkinson set every major school passing record before taking his talents to the University of Toledo this season. The biggest question everyone will want to know about Wheeling Park is who will fill Wilkinson’s shoes?
“Nobody,” Daugherty stressed. “Alex Dunlevy just has to be Alex Dunlevy. That doesn’t mean statistically or wins and losses can’t be just as good. It will be a long time before we run into a kid like Cross that can put the ball on the hash and throw a 15-yard out into the field. Alex is more like (former Park and current West Liberty QB) Zach Phillips.
“Alex can run it, Alex can throw it. If he gets pressured, he can get out of the pocket with his feet and throw it on the run. Alex is an athletic kid. We knew he could run, but we are real happy with what he can do with his arm and in the pocket, too.”
With Dunlevy will come a slight change in the offense. There will be some new wrinkles, although nothing too dramatic according to Daugherty, that comes with having a more mobile quarterback.
The junior comes in at 6-foot and weighs 175. He will be backed by sophomore Beau Heller.
Rennie Clark and Donnie Evans provided most of the carries last season and with them graduated, the tailback position is wide open.
Daugherty felt Rapheal Bradley could have started on a lot of teams last season, but just as he gets his time to shine, the junior has been pushed in practice by a number of talented ballcarriers that could force their way into playing time.
“He has a great offseason, a little more compact now, 5-7, 190,” Daugherty said of Bradley. “That being said, we have been really happy with Kenya Robinson (5-8, 165), a junior, and Stevie Mitchell (5-6, 160), a sophomore.
“Right now, we feel we have three kids that we can use in the backfield, and three kids that can really play.”
Nate Phillips is another in a long list of offensive standouts that graduated, but Park will bring back another talented wideout in Jack Stakem.
Stakem had 42 receptions for 638 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
“He is another one that had a great offseason and worked hard in the weight room and it shows,” Daugherty said. “Every year he has gotten a little bit better at the little things of being a wide receiver. Now, it is really coming into play in practice.
“I think he is going to have a great year. He is a kid that can stretch the field, catch short and turn it long.”
Sophomore Shaheed Jackson, along with Xavier Morris, Jack Cook and Donovan Goodard will see time at wideout.
“Some of those kids will be young, but they are talented,” Daugherty said. “We feel good there. It is just a matter of getting that Friday night lights, getting that nervousness out.”
The Patriots plan to play with a tight end a little more than in previous seasons and that job will belong to Dustin Vansickle and Jordan Aldridge. Austin Stobbs and Dylan Gongola could see time as well.
Last season, Wheeling Park was young on defense and at times really struggled to stop anybody.
That being said, a year older and more experienced, Daugherty expects that group to be much improved with nine starters returning.
“We were transitioning last year and we think we have one of the better linebackers in the state of West Virginia in Jermaine Snodgrass (5-9, 215),” Daugherty said. “That kid, as the year went on, started to solidify the middle of the field for us.”
Brandon Brown will be inside with Snodgrass and according to Daugherty has bulked up and improved greatly from last season. Daugherty believes the linebackers will be the strength of the defense.
Aldridge and Robinson will vye for time alongside Snodgrass and Brown.
Dylan Wood, Rouse, Calvin McGaha and Mundy will make up the defensive line.
Both corners return in Devaughn McWhorter (who will also play offensively) and Justin Levelle.
However, the safeties are brand new.
Seth Woods, who was a linebacker but now Daugherty says he will be an “aggressive safety,” will be joined by sophomore Sincere Sinlair, a “suprise and a kid with just a special skill set.”
Andrew Shelek could also see time at safety.
An injury to last season’s kicker made way for then-freshman Andrew Glass to get some work. The soccer player rejoins the team for his sophomore season.
“We should be all right there,” Daugherty said. “Last year we had to do some pooch kicks with him being a freshman, probably 120 pounds. But he shot up (135) and has been doing really well in the weight room. He is kicking off pretty well and that will help the defense a little bit.”
Dunlevy will likely handle the punting duties.
“I thought the whole offseason we were going to have good leadership and that is what we have,” Daugherty said. “We have some pretty good kids here. Everything has been great work ethic, great attitude. That senior group is a good group of guys and they aren’t selfish. This group bought in right off the get go.
“(Bittner) has emerged as voice, and even Alex Dunlevy has emerged as a vocal leader. He is a competitor and wants to win and that rubs off on guys. Even though he is a junior, they let him lead. When “Bitt” needs to get involved, he does, but that is not very much. They work good together.
“(Snodgrass) is a quiet leader, but in practice, if we have to raise our voice a little bit, that next play, someone better have their mouthpiece in because he does it with his play. When he starts flying around and making plays, our whole defense gets better.”
The Wheeling Park schedule remains the same, with the exception of Bridgeport coming off the schedule and being replaced by Musselman, a playoff participant for the past three seasons.
“Last year was the seventh time in the playoffs in school history and we are absolutely thinking about No. 8 and doing something in the playoffs,” Daugherty said. “There is no reason where we are a clear underdog in any game. I don’t think that means we will be the favorite either. We have to go out here and prove it. The middle of our schedule is going to be very tough.”
Daugherty is joined by assistants Drew Beihl, Boogie Johnson, Tim Ickes, Shane Glass, Keith Phillips, Rick Marsh, Andy Seals, Dave Stahnke, Jack Doyle, Doug Boyd, JR Pyle and Nick Nardone. Sarge Cordery is the equipment manager.
Aug. 23: at Brooke 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 31: Allderdice 7 p.m.
Sept. 14: at University 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 21: at Cambridge 7 p.m.
Sept. 28: at Parkersburg 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 5: Morgantown 7 p.m.
Oct. 12: Musselman 7 p.m.
Oct. 19: Princeton 7 p.m.
Oct. 26: at Parkersburg South 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 2: John Marshall 7 p.m.
Win 7, Lose 3
Jordan Aldridge, Tristen Bittner, Ronan Butts, Jack Cook, Andre Cooper, Gavin Curnes, Donovan Goddard, Tyler Hogan, Justin Levelle, Ryan McCave, Calvin McGaha, Devaughn McWhorter, Cade Miller, Chase Mortakis, Brett Mundy, Tyler Porter, Jaylen Rouse, Seth Smith, Austin Snodgrass, Jack Stakem, Austin Stobbs, Dylan Wood
Nate Adams, Ben Balestra, Ryley Bippus, Rapheal Bradley, Brandon Brown, Casey Cassi, Alex Dunlevy, Aden Edgmon, David Fox, Kameron Johnson, Patrick McLaughlin, C.J. Miller, Xavier Morris, Matt Reinacher, Kenya Robinson, Dakota Scott, Andrew Shelek, Jack Saines, Charlie Tamburin, Dustin Vansickle, Kenny Webb, Seth Woods
Keegan Ayers, Rashawn Bradley, Caleb Bryan, Mason Diehl, Jaden Evans, Andrew Glass, Dylan Gongola, Cole Greer, Seth Hand, Nate Hairston, Beau Heller, Qwentin Hibbits, Shaheed Jackson, Eli Kutrovac, Harrison Leech, Stevie Mitchell, Kyle Murray, Carson Namack, John Okla, Sincere Sinclair, Brandon Sipos, Matt Taylor, Torrence Walker, Isaac Wiley