Perry reached new heights last year in terms of success.
The Commodores captured their first Northwest Central Conference title and a spot in the playoffs where they also achieved a new first by securing a postseason victory.
But the most important thing head coach Dan Baker said this team gained last year was experience and he is looking for this year’s squad to harness what they learned and continue their winning ways this year.
“We do a good job of staying consistent for the second half of the season and got a lot of guys experience,” Baker said. “At the beginning of the season we started with 23 kids and 16 to 18 didn’t have varsity experience. You know it was going to be a growing year but for the type of growing we were able to do was pretty impressive.”
The Commodores return 18 letterwinners from last year’s playoff contender and it should provide some stability coming into an uncertain season.
“At the end of the day were mainly sophomores last year if I had to put a number on it,” Baker said. “Now we have a lot of guys that are juniors and a handful of seniors with a lot of experience with a playoff experience so when that is your leadership group it is pretty helpful.”
Even though they do have experience and some big wins under their belts, Baker said they do not try to harp on last year’s success and focus on more what they can accomplish this year.
On the offense, the Commodores need to replace all-state standout Chazz Jackson and running back Cameron Dalton but there are plenty of candidates for the role.
Perry will be strong in the quarterback area with Ryan Yingst returning under center. Yingst was a first-team All-NWCC selection. Yingst passed for 1,564 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 828 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Experience is also abundant on the offensive line as well with all five starters returning. Anchored by third team All-Ohio selection Damarion Gibson, the Commodores also have back first-team All-NWCC and all-northwest district Hunter Klett and second team all league choice Elijah Caudill. Senior Tim Hendley is also a returning letterwinner on the line.
Two of the three starting receivers also return for the Commodores.
The Commodores also picked up a transfer, J.T. Taviano from Delphos Jefferson. Taviano led Jefferson last year in rushing with more than 600 yards.
Because this is pretty much the same personnel, Baker said the offense is going to work on what they do best and that is spreading the field, utilizing its speed, as well as work on ball control and its power attack.
“We got a lot of speed and try to get some of that speed out in space but at the same time you have to be able to run between the tackles,” Baker said. “In our four losses, three during the regular season, if we could have run the ball between the tackles that would have helped a little bit more. I think that is going to be a big focus for us is how we control the ball.”
Unlike the offense, the defense has a few more players to replace however, Baker points out the team had a strong rotation with a lot of the current players seeing their fair share of action.
Jackson, who was just as instrumental on offense than on defense, will have to be replaced but the Commodores have a lot of talent to hopefully fill those huge cleats.
Defensive back Devares Glenn, the NWCC player of the year and second-team All-Ohio honoree, is the mainstay on the defense and he will have plenty of help. Glenn had 72 tackles and five interceptions last season.
Up front, Gibson, a first-team All-NWCC selection on the offensive line, is joined by JaQuarius Austin on the defensive line.
The linebacking unit pretty much returns everyone with Isaiah Cox and Jehu Munez, along with Klett.
“At the end of the day you can only hope guys repeat that same production last year and try to improve on it and replace the production we lost,” Baker said.
Without preseason scrimmages or summer camps, Baker understands there is a lot of work to be done prior to the season.
“I say at the end of the day it’s a whole team process,” Baker said. “All take a third stance if other guys are saying offense and defense I say special teams is hard to simulate when it is just practice,” Baker said. “I would also agree that offensively and defensively your timing is going to be a little different.”
Baker added that defensively coaches are looking at tackling and how that is going to be affected.
“At the end of the day every team is going through the same struggle,” Baker said. “With small schools like us you have less kids to work with and maybe you can’t simulate as much. But in the same concept everybody nobody has scrimmages so it is just a matter of who prepares well and comes out ready to go.”
With a wealth of experience and talent, expectations are high for another big season, however, Baker said he is focused on what they can do this year and it will again take a major effort to have a repeat performance of last year.
“You never know what is going to happen with injuries and what is going on in the world but we try to talk that our expectations with the guys that are around or were around need to continue to improve every day and get better each day,” Baker said. “We keep pushing and hopefully guys follow through with that and if they get better every day we should be better this year.