It’s rare for a game to mean more for the following season than the one in which it was played.

Rare, but not unheard of.

Need an example? Well, Buckeye Valley coach Matt Stephens will tell you last year’s season-ending 27-7 win over North Union will impact this season, the 2017 campaign, more than last.

“For us, finishing 4-6 last year, winning that Week 10 game against north Union didn’t mean much,” he said. “What it did, though, is it gave us a little momentum going into the offseason.”

The good vibes from the season finale continued to reverberate throughout the offseason, Stephens said, setting up what could be a breakout fall. The Barons have hovered around the .500 mark for years, finishing 4-6 or 5-5 each of the last three seasons.

“I’m really pleased with the effort, the turnout of the kids through the winter and spring,” the coach said. “I’m really pleased with the gains we’ve made in the weight room. That’s given us a lot of confidence. A lot of these guys’ bodies grew … and we had a lot of gains.”

The momentum from lifting and running in June continued into July’s team camps and 7-on-7 drills.

“Those went well, too,” Stephens said. “We figured out who our quarterback is going to be during that time and started seeing guys that were willing to compete. Some guys we didn’t have on our radar started making plays … that’s always interesting to see. You have an idea at the end of a season, but it’s amazing how much these guys change and grow, especially in confidence. Some guys surprised us.”

One of those surprises was junior Grant Owens (6-0, 195 pounds), who you can expect to see behind center. He’s attempted just 10 passes in his high school career, completing half of them.

“He has poise,” Stephens said, “and a strong arm … that’s what we as coaches fell in love with. The touch ball is still a work in progress, but he’s got an arm to him, he’ll stand in the pocket, he’s not afraid to take a shot and the kids just kind of rally behind him. They believe in him.

“He’s a solid kid and we’ve been pleased with the way he’s progressed. He hasn’t had a lot of varsity reps, so we’re trying to give him as many as possible and still give (backup quarterback) Kellen Marshall some looks to keep him fresh.”

Marshall, a senior, will start the season as a receiver.

“Kellen’s been a guy we’ve played on defense, but he knows the offense so we plopped him in at the slot and he’s been looking good there.”

Marshall’s part of a senior class the Barons will look to lean on this season.

“I like our senior class,” Stephens said. “I like them from the standpoint of leadership and bringing the young guys up. They are great about coaching the young guys up when coaches aren’t there. I didn’t have that last year.”

Other senior leaders who’ll undoubtedly make plenty of noise this season include running backs Trent Davies (5-8, 170) and Teren Wycoff (6-2, 225). Davies ran for 880 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, both team-high marks … by a lot. Wycoff chipped in 215 rushing yards and a touchdown.

“Last year, with (starting quarterback Ben) Spaulding and (leading receiver Chris) Santillan, we were probably more pass heavy,” Stephens said. “With Davies, Wycoff and an offensive line I think can be one of our better offensive lines, we’ll probably run more this season.”

That offensive line is expected to be anchored by seniors Max Rotondo (6-4, 235), Leo Damico (5-8, 235) and Ethan Stambaugh (6-1, 315). Junior Jack Mckean (6-2, 220) and sophomore Rance Wycoff (6-1, 210), who will likely start the season at center, are also expected to log heavy minutes.

“Rotondo is a kid that played basketball as a freshman and sophomore … he was not a football player,” Stephens said. “We got him to come out as a junior. He was really raw, but athletic with good feet. He started at tackle every game last season, then, once he got up to speed about halfway through, he started giving us reps at defensive end.

“Leo started for us last year at guard. He’s somewhat undersized, but he has a motor to him. He’s one of the guys who will pull and get up to backers on the next level … and Ethan returns with experience at center and guard.

Senior Jack Smothers (5-10, 260) and sophomore Joe Smothers (6-1, 325) will also see time on the line.

“For the first time since being at BV, I’m pleased with our interior guys from the standpoint of depth … that and we have a little size there for the first time in awhile,” Stephens said. “That has something to do with the commitment they’ve had in the offseason. Now, with that being said, I’ve seen them be physical in a scrimmage and I’ve seen them not be physical. You have to show up with some physicality … you can’t just show up and expect to move people because that just doesn’t happen.”

Senior Joey Verdes (6-2, 175) returns as the Barons’ top weapon at receiver. He had 39 grabs for 449 yards last year.

“Verdes is moving from outside into the slot,” Stephens said. “He is a home-run hitter with his speed and his catching ability. With Verdes, Davies and Teren Wycoff, who is very versatile and heady, we’ll have weapons in the passing game as well as the run game.”

The defense will feature a lot of the same names.

Teren Wycoff, an all-league performer, returns at middle linebacker and Stambaugh will be returning at nose guard.

“Stambaugh is a big, strong kid who benches over 400 pounds and squats over 500. He is a mountain of a kid and he’ll probably draw some doubles so people can get him out of the middle.”

Rotondo also returns to the defensive front with a little experience under his belt.

Secondary wise, senior Landon Alexander (5-8, 160) will back at one corner, Verdes returns at free safety and senior Tanner Hogg (6-2, 190), who started all 10 games at strong safety, will be there or corner depending on what kind of offense is standing in the Barons’ way.

Senior Heath Garrett is a guy Stephens thinks will help out defensively as well.

Punting will be handled by Verdes, who can kick with either foot, and Hogg. Freshman Felippe Scharff, the brother of former BV standout kicker Sam Scharff, will take over the placekicking duties.

The Barons start the season today against host Delaware Hayes. Pre-sale tickets can be purchased at the Hayes and Buckeye Valley athletic departments through this afternoon. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for students.

“We have our work cut out for us. I saw Hayes scrimmage … they’re solid, and doing some new things,” Stephens said. “Week 1 you’re not really sure what you have and it’s a rivalry game, so who knows? I do know this, it’s going to be a hell of a football game … it has been the last two years.”

After that, BV entertains Bexley and Mount Vernon before opening conference play with a game against visiting River Valley.

“I believe the league is completely up for grabs,” Stephens said. “River Valley is always good, you have to play football against Pleasant and we added Clear Fork and Ontario, coached by Chris Hawkins, who had success at Galion. I told the guys, we can lose all our conference games or we can win them all.”

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The 2017 Buckeye Valley varsity football team. 2017 Buckeye Valley varsity football team. Submitted
BV eying more after finishing around .500 each of last three seasons

By Ben Stroup

[email protected]

Follow Ben Stroup on Twitter @delgazette_ben.