They say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.
In the case of the Buckeye Valley football program and its offensive line from a season ago, third-year Baron coach Matt Stephens sure hopes that’s not the case.
The Barons return a stud up front as Wes Cochran, a six-foot, 310-pounder who finished sixth in the heavyweight division of the OHSAA Division II State Wrestling Championships earlier this year, will be back to anchor the line. As for the other seven linemen who saw significant time last fall, well … they all graduated.
Getting an almost entirely new cast of characters to mesh and work together the way a well-oiled offense needs them to will be a huge key for the 2016 Barons.
“We have some new faces, including one guy who hasn’t played football in a couple years, but, based on our scrimmages, I’m not too concerned,” Stephens said. “That said, to be able to hang our hat on the run and really be able to knock people off the ball, I haven’t seen that yet.”
Newcomers he expects to fill the holes at the tackle positions include senior Mitchell Presley and junior Max Rotondo.
“Max is the guy who hasn’t played football in a couple years, so he’s had to shake off some rust,” Stephens said. “But he’s really been a quick study … they all have.”
On the inside, look for 6-2, 300-pound junior Ethan Stambaugh and classmates Leo Damico and Jack Smothers to push people around in the trenches.
As for the rest of the offense, it’s considerably more experienced.
“The offense is really geared toward our quarterback (senior Ben Spaulding),” Stephens said. “He’s looked good all summer and is a team captain.
“Ben just has a better understanding of our offense. He knows where every kid is. I have to give thought to the plays and this kid knows them like that. He makes all the calls at the line and rarely makes the wrong ones. He puts us in good situations and is just one of those guys kids like to be around.”
Spaulding had a strong season last year, finishing as the team’s leading passer (85-for-141, 1,249 yards, 11 touchdowns and 3 interceptions) and rusher (64 carries, 212 yards and 3 touchdowns) … and he put up the numbers despite missing significant time due to a broken arm he suffered in a 27-14 win over Pleasant in Week 7.
“We’ll try and keep him as healthy as possible,” Stephens said. “That broken arm he suffered against Pleasant was a bad one for him, but he feels he’s back. I cringe every time he gets hit, but he says he’s 100 percent.”
His weapons include senior Nathan Bisang, who returns to the slot; senior Braxton Wells, who will split out; and senior Chris Santillan, who will replace Gabe Miller at the Z spot.
Stephens said running back will be by committee until junior Trent Davies, a transfer from Olentangy Liberty, will be permitted to play, which could be as late as Week 6. Davies led the Patriots with 154 carries, 723 yards and seven touchdowns last fall.
Senior Blayde McCully, junior Teren Wycoff and sophomore Paul Staley could all be asked to carry some of the load until Davies is cleared, Stephens said.
Wycoff and McCully both had a handful of carries last year, but their real strength is on the defensive side of the ball, where they earned first- and second-team All-MOAC honors, respectively.
Defensive end Daryl Mayo, a senior who had a team-high four sacks last season, is back on one side of the line while Wells will look to wreak havoc on the opposite end. Cochran, meanwhile, will bring his presence to one of the two tackle spots.
“The front seven is where most of our experience is,” Stephens said.
There are a few more holes in the secondary as Santillan is the only player back with experience.
“That’s what’s keeping me up at night right now,” Stephens said. “We have guys up front, but the back end of the defense is a bit of a question mark.”
Guys like juniors Kellen Marshall, Landon Alexander, Joey Verdes and Carson James will be expected to fly around and make plays in the back end of the Barons’ defense.
It’s not hard to see Buckeye Valley lacks some of the experience its had in years past. Some of that inexperience could be offset by athleticism, though — strength and speed gains forged through hard work over the offseason.
“I think our offseason has been the best one since I’ve been here,” Stephens said. “I track everything in terms of workout participation for winter, spring and summer — who is there, what they’re lifting — and I’m getting more guys in there … I’m getting younger guys in there.
“Our numbers in terms of what kids are lifting are improving too. When I got to BV two years ago we had one kid who could bench 260. Now we have five or six over 300. We keep on telling them the commitment in the offseason is important, and they’ve bought in.”
Buckeye Valley opens the season Friday against visiting Hayes. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.