For the Buckeye Valley football team, the 2021 season couldn’t have started any better as Alex Contreras’ kickoff return for a touchdown in the final seconds cemented his team’s wild Week 1 win over rival Delaware Hayes.
It was the first game with a reworked offense and defense and, well, the Barons made it work.
From there, though, with more than a few different guys behind center, BV pretty much bobbed up and down the rest of the season. The Barons alternated wins and losses for the first seven weeks, finishing 5-5 when all was said and done.
Injuries played a role in the quarterback carousel — something Buckeye Valley coach Matt Stephens is hoping to avoid this time around.
“You can never have too many QBs,” he said of a key takeaway from last fall. “We started four different guys last year. Our goals in the offseason, physically, were to train speed and agility and improve our explosiveness. Mentally, we focused on building upon our knowledge gained from last season in a new offense and defense.”
Most of the quarterbacks are gone. Contreras was one of the four. He also saw time in the backfield and at receiver on top of handling kickoff and punt return duties.
He’ll be hard to replace from a playmaking perspective, but Stephens still has talented options.
Brady Ridder, an honorable mention all-league player from a season ago, will see time at quarterback and free safety.
Other key cogs include Tanner Domyanich (tight end/outside linebacker), Mitchell Melfe (wide receiver/cornerback), Sam Jones (offensive line/linebacker) and Garrett Carey (wide receiver/cornerback). Domyanich and Melfe nabbed second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district honors last year, Jones was a second-team all-league and second-team all-district nominee while Carey was one of the team’s top returning receivers last year until an injury derailed his season.
Ethan Browning (wide receiver/defensive back), Ridge Webb (offensive line/defensive line), Brandon Olney (wide receiver/defensive back), Clay Whitaker (offensive line/defensive line), Connor Hardman (tight end/defensive end) and Austin Dilley (offensive line/defensive line) also return after seeing action in 2021.
Newcomers Stephens expects to contribute include seniors Cody Dickson (fullback/defensive tackle), Ripley Szanati (running back/strong safety) and Luke Hrynkow (offensive line/linebacker), and junior Garrett Slater (running back/defensive back).
Stephens likes the pieces he has on the exterior, but will have to find a way to offset some size deficiencies along the lines.
“I feel this team has experience and talent at several of the skill positions, and should have good overall team speed, but we will be undersized in the interior,” he said.
Fortunately, Buckeye Valley is used to being the smaller team.
“We have a solid out-of-conference schedule with Division I Hayes, a perennial playoff team in Jonathan Alder and a road game at Ashland to start,” Stephens said. “We also have a newly added OCC school in Logan Week 8.
“We play six schools that are bigger than us, however, in the MSL only two of the six conference teams are bigger than us. Columbus Academy and Harvest Prep are the two teams in the league that we’ve not beaten.”
The Barons, as usual, open the season against the Pacers, this time at Buckeye Valley. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19.