ST. MARYS – St. Marys returned to prominence again in 2016 by not only garnering a share of the Western Buckeye League title but advancing to the regional finals before bowing out to Trotwood Madison, 34-27.
Roughrider head coach Doug Frye, who came in with a three-year plan, is two-years ahead of his vision and now the challenge is to see if the Roughriders can maintain and improve on what they have accomplished.
“Last year was an exciting and fun year,” Frye said. “We had a tremendous group of senior kids. Really we played those kids those three years so it was great to get the program back to the level it was used to being at but the challenge now starts because we have lost all those kids.”
The Roughriders has 10 returning starters from last year’s 11-2 squad.
“We lost nine starters on both sides of the ball so we have our hand’s full as far filling the positions we lost,” Frye said. “I think the three extra weeks of practice after the season was over (during the playoff run) that our young kids saw the winning will help but we still ose very experienced football players that were three-year starters and it is tough replacing a three-year starter.”
Frye added that the primary focus this year is getting the players to understand their positions and roles on the team and equates it to his first year he coached at St. Marys where there were a lot of uncertainty about how the puzzle is going to fit together
One of the benefits for Frye is having the same coaching staff intact for the past three years and that will come into play shaping the inexperienced players.
Perhaps the biggest holes to fill come in the St. Marys backfield that featured Julius Fisher and Eric Spicer, theWestern Buckeye League offensive back of the year and the leading rusher in the league with 1,178 yards. Fisher was fifth in the league with 966 yards and 11 touchdowns.
As a team the Roughriders were first in team rushing averaging 321.5 yards a game and rushing touchdowns with 37.
Also lost to graduation with three-year starting quarterback Dustin Howell who was both a leader on the field and effective when called onto pass. He hit 48-of-76 passes for seven touchdowns and 558 yards.
Getting the early nod to take over for Howell will be senior Collin Clements who was the backup last year and played split end as well.
“Grade wise he is an older kid but does not have the field experience at quarterback,” Frye said.
But the backfield was not the only part of the offense that was hit by graduation. Gone are senior first-team, all-WBL guard Joey Morlino and senior tight end Seth Vorhees.
At the fullback position, a vital cog in the wingT, Frye is looking at three different players beginningwith senior Bo Kuenning, a starter at wing back. Shannon Fowler and Ty Schlosser, a sophomore, will vie for playing time.
Looking to replace Spicer and Fisher will be junior Sean Perry and Braeden Dunlap, a junior will also see time in the backfield.
Frye is also rebuilding the offense line that will be anchored by first-team, All-WBL selection right tackle Garrett Lauth. Taking over the center chores will be Mitch Seewer, a junior, and Tyler Miller, who started at the end of the year will handle the left guard duties. Ian Young will see time at the right guard position and Wyatt Barhorst, a senior has been tagged as the starting tight end. Sklyer Koester, Jase Nortton and Collin Block will be competing for time on the line.
“We have a multitude of split ends and backs so you can see there is some experience but also a lot of new faces in the lineup,” Frye said. “We are still really trying to find the personality of this offense as we sit here prior to the opening scrimmage. I will probably know more after that first scrimmage.”
With work being done patching up the offense, the defense is also getting a slight makeover.
Like the offense, nine starters were lost to graduation which means a lot of inexperienced players stepping up. Last year, St. Marys was first in team rushing defense (72.9 yards allowed a game), Team rushing defense (six), and team total defense (193 yards a game allowed). As a team, St. Marys gave up on average a minuscule 9.3 points last season.
Senior first team, All-WBl Reid Aller will need help after St. Marys lost first-team, All-WBL defensive linemen, Matt Patten, on the defensive line. Joining Aller will be Kuenning, with junior Nick Myers and Blake Kanorr, a sophomore rounding out the line.
Another first-team All-WBL performer returning is Austin Giesege at linebacker. Giesege, who was injured during wrestling and is working himself back into shape, had 98 tackles with 18 tackles for loss. Joining Giesege for another year will be senior returner Jackson Harris while the third outside position is still up for grabs among Schlosser, Braxton Roop and Shannon Fowler.
In the defensive backfield, Drew Jacobs, an all-WBL selection, returns at one corner back with Cam Agler handling the duties on the other side. Perry and Dunlap will occupy the safety positions.
“They guys need to continue to mature and continue to get better,” Frye said. “Again there is a lot of new faces right there and really how quickly this team can grow up and mature will be a key to how successful of a season we will have.”
As in the past, Frye is counting on the team’s senior leadership. After all he is playing some sophomores and juniors in key positions and they will need help from their senior teammates to help the maneuver their way from junior varsity to varsity.
Frye adds that the team has pieces with certain players in key spots, however, it is how everyone grows up around them as a team.
“I think we have enough talent to be successful,” Frye said. “It is just how we grow up and how we adapt to game situations. The schedule is tougher because we play Sidney in the opener and they have three Division I players.”