BATH TOWNSHIP – Bill Garland pulled a roster off the printer and placed it in the center of his desk. The sheet was dotted with a number of asterisks, indicating veteran players.
This year’s Wildcats’ team will be loaded with experience. In all, they return seven starters on offense and nine starters on defense from a team that went 4-6 (4-5 Western Buckeye League) a year ago.
This is Year 2 for Garland as head coach at Bath, after serving as a Wildcats’ assistant for 28 years.
“We had a whole year as a coaching staff to prepare for this year, compared to last year when we started camp five weeks after I got the job,” Garland said. “Now I’m able to put some of my touches on the program. … We have a lot of experience back.”
Bath returns senior Cam Jenkins (5-11, 195) at quarterback. Last year he completed 144 of 276 passes for 1,710 yards. He threw 17 TDs. He was second on the team in rushing with 275 yards and one touchdown.
Jenkins, a catcher in baseball, gives the Wildcats a gritty leader.
“Cam started all 10 games at quarterback last year,” Garland said. “He’s a guy who can run inside the tackles. He’s a coach’s son and brings a little bit of the football smarts to the game. He knows our offense and our passing game really well. We expect a lot out of him this year.”
Bath returns four on the offensive line, including tight end Garrett Metcalf. The other three are tackles Blake McGue, Easton Rudasill and center Kody Toland.
“Blake’s a three-year starter and will anchor our offensive line,” Garland said. “Cody makes our line calls up front. … Garrett has good hands and he’s a guy we want to try to throw the ball to this year.”
Running back Chase Clark led the team in rushing (87 carries, 299 yards, 3 TDs) last year in the pass-oriented attack. The running game will be a mix of Clark, Dylan Burkholder, Kyle Lhamon, Bo Gross and sophomore Kadean Sullivan.
Gone are the team’s top three wide receivers from last year: Colin Gossard (41 receptions, 611 yards, 8 TDs), Hayden Atkins (45 receptions, 459 yards, 4 TDs) and Eric Heffner (29 receptions, 436 yards, 4 TDs). All three also were regulars in the secondary.
The lone veteran receiver is Corey Briggs (17 receptions, 121 yards).
The new group of wide receivers will include Lauf, Davis, Luke Niebel and Sullivan.
Bath will primarily have a two-back look, but will also run some one-back offense.
“We have to work on our passing game,” Garland said. “We graduated 83 percent of our passing yards from a year ago,” Garland said.
Defensively, the Wildcats return tackles Lenny Miles, Tyler Shaw and Billy Nichols and nose guard Kyle Lhamon.
The linebacking corps will be a team strength, including sophomore middle linebacker Gross (6-foot, 215), who started last year as a freshman.
“He’s (Gross) going to play middle linebacker, but he’s also going to run the ball,”Garland said.
Also back are linebackers Jared Davis, Tyler Shobe (5-11, 198) and Burkholder.
“Shobe plays outside linebacker, which is really a defensive end,” Garland said. “His motor never stops running.”
Graduation did take linebacker Hunter Weis, the team’s leading tackler with 124 tackles.
Tre Wheeler returns at cornerback and will also play some wide receiver and could also play some tailback.
The big key for Bath will be defense. The Wildcats gave up 33 points-per-game last year, which ranked eighth in the WBL. It also gave up 382 yards-per-game (ninth in the WBL), including 175 on the ground.
“We have to improve on how many points we give up per game and that starts by stopping the run,” Garland said.