It’s not easy to lose your top two offensive weapons to graduation only to come back the following season even better on that side of the ball.
That, though, is exactly what Buckeye Valley football coach Matt Stephens thinks this year’s group is capable of.
“I feel this team’s strength lies within our offensive skill,” he said, “with depth and experience.”
They’ll need it to make up for the production of quarterback Anthony Hughes and running back Andre Ash, who graduated in the spring. Hughes led the team in passing with 1,188 yards and 10 touchdowns last fall. He was also the second-leading rusher behind Ash, collecting 308 yards on the ground. Ash, meanwhile, had 437 yards and a team-best six rushing touchdowns.
Sophomore Gabe Gregg and senior Jeff Beverly are competing to take over for Hughes behind center while Jake Smothers, Zayne Lucas and Landon Dewitt — three seniors Stephens expects to lead the team on and off the field — will look to make some noise out of the backfield.
The quarterback may be new, but the receivers most certainly won’t be as Alex Contreras, Mitchell Melfe, Garrett Carey and Dalton Dodds all return to the fold. Contreras led the Barons with 37 grabs for 500 yards and seven touchdowns last fall.
Stephens said Brendan Olney will also see some time at receiver while tight ends Tanner Domyanich and Sam Stokey will also be targets.
Carson Vaulx, another senior leader, will anchor the offensive line while Sam Jones, Ridge Webb, Clay Whitaker, Nate Gibbs and Austin Dilley will provide depth in the trenches.
It isn’t just the skill and depth Stephens is excited about, either. Just having a normal offseason will help his group a ton, he said.
“This year’s seniors feel we could have won a couple more games last year, and they’ve worked since December to make sure we do,” Stephens said. “I feel we’ve had a solid offseason and have built momentum each month.”
Defensively, Dewitt, Stokey, Aiden Hough, Nathan Blacker and Kaiden Shannon will take care of the duties up front. Vaulx, Jones, Webb, Landon Froehlich and Levi Richards will handle the inside linebacking duties while Domyanich, Lucas, Garrett Carey, Andrew Clase and Connor Osborn are penciled in to contribute on the outside.
Melfe, Smothers, Olney, Brady Ridder and Austin Browning will patrol the secondary while Alex Landis and Contreras or Carey will handle the kicking and punting duties, respectively.
All three of the Barons’ wins came in consecutive weeks last fall, but that was after an 0-2 start. This year, starting strong will be key to catapulting BV to a successful season … but that’ll be easier said than done as two of the first three games are against bigger schools.
Last year, BV — and every other team in the state of Ohio — jumped right into league games to start the season. That moved its annual rivalry game against Delaware Hayes to the final week of the season.
This year, though, things are back to the way they used to be as the Barons will make the short trip to Cornell Stadium to take on the Pacers in the Aug. 20 opener.
They’ll continue non-league play at Graham Local (Aug. 27) and against visiting Mount Vernon (Sept. 3) before opening MSL-Ohio play against host Bishop Ready (Sept. 10).
Buckeye Valley gets the next two league games at home — Sept. 17 and 24 against Bexley and Columbus Academy, respectively — then is slated to hit the road to take on Grandview Heights (Oct. 1).
A non-league showdown with visiting John Adams High School is next (Oct. 8) before the Barons travel to Whitehall-Yearling (Oct. 15) and host Harvest Prep (Oct. 22) to smooth out the regular season.