While the rest of the football teams in Delaware County play schedules almost identical to last year’s — the sites shift, but the opponents stay pretty much the same — Buckeye Valley’s couldn’t be more different.
For starters, the Barons didn’t play their first home game until Week 5 last fall. This year, they play in front of the home fans three times in the first four weeks. The biggest change, though, will come in that fourth week, when BV opens Mid-State League play for the first time. Remember, Buckeye Valley was a charter member of the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference. It spent the better part of the last three decades in the MOAC, playing the same handful of teams year in and year out.
Needless to say, this season will have a different feel.
“I have mixed emotions about the change,” BV coach Matt Stephens said. “I’ve spent the majority of my coaching career in the MOAC and will miss the rivalries … but I won’t miss the bus ride to Galion, Clear Fork and Ontario. We are a Central District school and needed to play in a Central District conference.
“The Mid-State League is an excellent fit for BV on many levels and we look forward to seeing how we stack up. We know very little about the conference except that several of its teams have had playoff runs in the last few years. The team we know the most about would be Bexley, which we played two years ago and have had to open against their new coach (former Delaware Hayes coach Mike Golden) for my first four years at BV.”
The schedule change, swapping out the Pleasants, Marion Hardings and North Unions of the world for teams like Columbus Academy, Grandview Heights and Whitehall-Yearling, isn’t the only change the Barons will be experiencing this year, either. They’ll have some personnel changes as well.
Last year, BV entered the season with the MOAC’s passing leader, Grant Owens, behind center. This year, it’s a bit of a different story as three guys with very little experience — senior Andy Anthony, junior Anthony Hughes and sophomore Alex Contreras — are competing for the starting spot.
“I’ve been pleased with our quarterbacks during the offseason, summer 7-on-7 drills and camp,” Stephens said. “All three are exceptional athletes and have become leaders over the course of the last few months.”
The guys tasked with protecting them have plenty of experience as the offensive line returns senior lettermen Edward Reely (tackle), Chris Connor (guard), Joe Smothers (center) and Nick Fein (tackle). The receiving corps is senior heavy as well. Junior Andre Ash returns as the leading receiver, but seniors Scott Steck, Brock Buckler and Christian Riffle are expected to make plays on the perimeter.
Buckeye Valley also has some sophomores Stephens said he’s excited about. Jake Smothers will play running back and defensive back, Dalton Dodds will see action as a wide receiver and kick returner and Christian Karnofl will see time on the lines. Junior Nathan Peak could also get some reps on the offensive line.
Depth isn’t a strength, so Stephens said playing smart, being balanced and remaining healthy will be keys to success on the offensive side of the ball.
Moving over to the other side, the defense will be anchored by Anthony and junior linebacker Will Weinberg. Anthony, who had six interceptions last season, earned second-team All-State honors for his efforts.
Other returning starters include Reely and Fein on the line, Hughes at free safety and Ash at linebacker. Sophomores Carson Vaulx and Landon Dewitt will add dept at linebacker while juniors Zane Skinner (defensive line), Mason Hatcher (defensive line, linebacker), Jake Henwood (defensive line) and Hunter Clements (defensive line) have shown promise in practices, Stephens said.
The Barons open the season Aug. 30 against host Delaware Hayes before taking on Big Walnut and Mount Vernon in back-to-back weeks at home. The league portion of the schedule gets underway Sept. 20 against visiting Harvest Prep.