Buckeye Valley’s Nathan Huss looks to pass during a game last season. He returns after starting nine games as a freshman.

Gazette | File

The Buckeye Valley football team shook off a slow start last season, winning six straight after opening 0-3 to give it plenty of momentum heading into the offseason … momentum the Barons took full advantage of.

“We had and still have a tough opening three games to start,” BV coach Matt Stephens said. “I feel the team remained strong and positive despite the start, though, and we continued to improve. Unfortunately, many of that team’s leaders have graduated, but another group has stepped up to lead.”

Offensively, key returners include quarterback Nathan Huss, running backs Garrett Slater and Levi Richards and receiver Matt Hall.

Huss started nine games last fall as a freshman. He threw for 1,976 yards and 10 touchdowns. Richards, the team’s leading rusher, collected 399 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, Slater racked up 351 yards and three rushing touchdowns and Hall had 15 receptions for 253 yards and a couple scores.

The Barons didn’t have much trouble moving the ball last season, amassing more than 450 yards a game. They averaged 300 yards a game through the air and 155 on the ground — a number Stephens wants to see go up.

“We feel our skill players are the strength of the offense and are confident in our ability to move the ball in the air,” he said. “A point of emphasis offensively is to be more consistent in our ability to run the ball.”

Up front, Kellen Maxey Saldana and Kaiden Shannon will anchor the line.

On the defensive side of the ball, returning standouts include Riley Mack, Shannon and Landon Froehlich, a two-year starter at inside linebacker and long snapper and the team’s top returning tackler from a season ago. Stephens likes his front seven, but said replacing the secondary will be important to BV’s success.

“We need to replace our entire secondary, but will lean on the experience of our front seven,” he said.

Others Stephens expects to contribute include Andrew Clase (wide receiver/linebacker), who played both sides of the ball last year and will do so again; Josh Johanson (offensive and defensive line), who Stephens said has had a good camp and will be a fixture on both sides of the line; Simon Schall (wide receiver/defensive back), who will go both ways; Gavin Gentner (tight end/linebacker), who is healthy and ready to roll after missing the last half of last season due to injury; and Malakai Ross (running back/linebacker), who should add depth at running back.

Others expected to make noise include Cameron Grout (running back/linebacker), who had a strong offseason and will likely play inside linebacker alongside Froehlich; A.J. Grout (running back/linebacker), a versatile player who can play all three linebacker positions; Marcus Hemphill (wide receiver/linebacker), who is new to the program, but Stephens said has shown big-play potential; Tristan Pemberton (wide receiver/defensive back), who missed last season due to injury; Jaxon Upper (offensive and defensive line), who is battling for starting jobs on both sides of the ball; and Liam Schoonover (kicker/punter), who will handle the kicking duties.

Buckeye Valley will play in a new league this fall, but face similar opponents as it, Bexley, Whitehall-Yearling and Columbus Academy all left the Mid-State League to form the Central Buckeye League (CBL) following last season. Bishop Ready is also a member, and the league recently announced it’s adding Franklin Heights starting in 2024.

The Barons open with rival Delaware Hayes before games against Jonathan Alder, Ashland, Washington Courthouse and Fairview. They’ll open CBL play in Week 6 against host Bexley before taking on St. Charles, one of three new opponents on the schedule, in Week 7.

After that, Ready, Academy and Whitehall smooth out the regular-season schedule.

2022 Results

(6-5, 5-1 MSL-Ohio)

Aug. 19 — vs. Delaware Hayes, L, 28-8

Aug. 26 — vs. Jonathan Alder, L, 21-7

Sept. 2 — @ Ashland, L, 34-16

Sept. 9 — vs. Bishop Ready, W, 36-35 (OT)

Sept. 16 — @ Bexley, W, 15-7

Sept. 23 — @ Columbus Academy, W, 22-0

Sept. 30 — vs. Grandview Heights, W, 23-6

Oct. 7 — vs. Logan, W, 29-28

Oct. 14 — vs. Whitehall-Yearling, W, 14-13

Oct. 21 — @ Harvest Prep, L, 47-12

Oct. 28 — @ St. Mary’s Memorial, L, 42-18 (OHSAA Division III playoffs)

2023 Schedule

Aug. 18 — @ Delaware Hayes, 7 p.m.

Aug. 25 — @ Jonathan Alder, 7 p.m.

Sept. 1 — vs. Ashland, 7 p.m.

Sept. 8 — @ Washington Courthouse, 7 p.m.

Sept. 15 — vs. Fairview, 7 p.m.

Sept. 22 — @ Bexley, 7 p.m.

Sept. 29 — @ St. Charles, 7 p.m.

Oct. 6 — vs. Bishop Ready, 7 p.m.

Oct. 13 — vs. Columbus Academy, 7 p.m.

Oct. 20 — @ Whitehall-Yearling, 7 p.m.