ST. MARYS — Heading into last year’s football season, Doug Frye wasn’t planning to judge his first season back at St. Marys by wins and losses.
His goal was much larger: Stabilizing the program he previously led.
The once-proud Roughriders’ program was riding a 21-game losing streak, and the roster weighed in at about 40 kids who lacked confidence and fundamentals.
“I got used to things being done pretty well,” said Frye, entering his 28th season as a head coach. “Last year, I thought we had to teach everything.”
Frye and his coaching staff focused on recruiting and teaching immediately. The payoff was a roster with more than 100 players and breaking the losing streak with a 71-21 win over Sidney in Week 1. St. Marys finished as the turnaround team in the Western Buckeye League and the region with a 5-5 record (4-5 WBL).
This year, the roster is steady at 105 players, and the program has a much different complexion in Year 2 with Frye back at the helm.
“I think our program is better,” Frye said. “The kids know the routine. They know the expectations. They understand the coaches, and we’re more comfortable with each other. Those things from a program standpoint have taken a step forward.
“Really, I always thought there were the same type of kids at St. Marys. They really hadn’t changed. We just needed to get back to the point where we were doing things in a more solid way. I know that at least we made our kids believe again they had a chance in every game.”
According to Frye, his team this season will be junior-dominated in a senior-dominated league. The offense, which led the WBL in total offense (366.2 yards per game) and rushing offense (303.1), lost fullback Isaac Fitzgerald (159 yards per game) and two hefty linemen in tackle Sean Bowen (6-0, 290 pounds) and tight end Quinn Zaerr (6-5, 260).
“We lost size on the offensive line and a good fullback,” Frye said. “We’re not real big in the trenches, and we’re not deep in our senior class.”
But the Roughriders should make up for that with speed, toughness and a great work ethic. And the returnees are solid players.
On offense, junior Dustin Howell is back to quarterback the Wing-T, while a committee will make up the backfield. Senior Logan Maze and junior Eric Spicer will handle the halfback duties, while sophomore Bo Kuenning will take over as the fullback. As a freshman, Kuenning broke onto the scene with a 190-yard game in a win over Celina. This year, he’s up to 6-1, 210 pounds.
Senior tackle Zach Elshoff (5-11, 235) and senior guard Aaron Alexander (5-11, 185) are the building blocks on the offensive line.
On the other side of the ball, St. Marys has worked hard to improve a defense that allowed 26.9 points per game and 324.1 yards per game.
Senior Dane Chisholm (6-0, 215) moved from center to nose guard, senior Chase Roop (5-11, 185) will be an inside linebacker and junior Julius Fisher will be an outside linebacker. Senior Austin Tester (5-11, 175) leads the defensive backfield.
“We’re not deep in returnees, but we have some guys we can build around,” Frye said. “The big emphasis for us was we had a young coaching staff, and we really wanted to solidify our defense.
“Our kids worked extremely hard in the offseason. That was one of the trademarks we had before when I was here. We might not match up with you athletically at all times, but our kids would work extremely hard.”