As the final seconds of the 2019 season ticked down last November, Delaware Hayes coach Scott Wetzel knew what he’d have coming back when his players returned to the field.
He knew his do-everything, dual-threat quarterback would be back in the fold. He knew he’d have a good portion of his line back as well.
He also knew what he wouldn’t have back … guys like Jahi-Broussard Nash (117 carries for 730 yards and 11 scores), Nabil Abdus-salaam (18 receptions for 269 yards and two touchdowns), offensive lineman Max Bruney and the team’s leading sack artist, Keishawn Mack (six sacks, 43 tackles, five tackles for loss).
What he didn’t know he’d need, though, was lots and lots of hand sanitizer and social distancing just to get his team on the field.
“We’ve gone through a lot of hand sanitizer, masks and spraying down equipment,” Wetzel said of the precautions his team’s taken to limit the risk of contracting COVID-19 this summer. “We’ve stayed out of the locker room and only practiced once a day … no two-a-days with a lunch break.”
It’s worked, too, as his Pacers are healthy and ready to roll.
Senior quarterback Blake Eiland returns to his role behind center. Others who are back on the offensive side of the ball include senior running back Logan Eubanks and senior linemen Logan Gibson, Gavin Kenney and Mat McGeath.
“Anytime time you return your QB it is a big plus,” Wetzel said. “Blake has been running the offense since he was a freshman. Logan saw time as a running back last year — he’s a solid player with good speed — and the three linemen bring experience to the offense. They’re probably the key to our offense.”
Hayes will be a bit greener on the defensive side of the ball, but return experienced leaders in key spots.
Senior Marshall Klingel returns to anchor the defensive line, senior Kaleb Shaw is back at linebacker and senior defensive backs Orion Ward and Ty Gillman will patrol the secondary.
“We have a returner at each level of the defense, so they bring the leadership that is necessary for success,” Wetzel said.
The last few months have been anything but easy for the Pacers — or anyone else for that matter — but you’d never know it. They just show up and do what’s asked of them.
“They have a great attitude,” Wetzel said of his players. “With all the adversity that we’ve faced, these guys have just shown up, worked hard and found ways to get better every day.
“They’re all very coachable and want to improve this program.”
They only problem with his Pacers, Wetzel said, is there isn’t a ton of them … at least not a ton with experience playing meaningful minutes on Friday nights.
“We have to develop some depth,” he said. “Hopefully it’s a long season and some of our younger guys will have to step up and play.”
Newcomers Wetzel said could make an immediate impact, helping with the depth issue a bit, include senior receiver Alex Blevins, junior receiver Armon Weaver, junior linebacker Toby Bohrer and junior quarterback Austin Dowell.
The Pacers’ schedule was going to look a little different this year even before the coronavirus pandemic turned the world on its head. Moving from the OCC-Cardinal Division to the OCC-Capital will do that. Now, thanks to the OHSAA slashing the regular season to just six games due to COVID-19 concerns, it’ll look even more unfamiliar.
Instead of opening with rival Buckeye Valley, Hayes will play at new OCC-Capital Division foe Big Walnut — a program Wetzel is more than a little familiar with — Aug. 28. Remember, he led the Golden Eagles to a Division III state championship in 2007.
After that, the Pacers open the home portion of their schedule against visiting Westerville North. They’ll play at Worthington Kilbourne in Week 3, host Westerville South in Week 4 and Dublin Scioto in Week 5 and travel to Canal Winchester to close out the regular season Oct. 2.
“Our division is challenging,” Wetzel said. “It’ll provide a lot of different looks and be a week-to-week grind.”