Football is a tough sport.
Usually, depending on the level, the tougher of the two teams ends up winning on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. That’s why one of the first things new Delaware Hayes coach Ryan Montgomery wanted to do when he got the gig was work on building up the team’s toughness.
Based on the results he’s seen over the offseason, it’s worked.
“We wanted to push our mental and physical toughness this offseason and we’ve seen tremendous growth in both areas so far,” Montgomery said. “We have a great strength coach who created a program the players bought into … it pushed them to become faster and stronger … with better body function.
“We stressed the importance of offseason lifting and the players bought in right away.”
Montgomery said this year’s Pacers will look a little different on the offensive side of the ball, but are sticking to the same script defensively.
“Offensively, we are trying to be different than we’ve been in the past … more multi-dimensional,” he said. “Numbers wise, we’re a little bigger than the past few years, so we want to take advantage of that with multiple personnel groupings. We also want to get our athletes more space to make plays and be effective.
“Defensively, we have the same identity of being fast to the football, playing tough up front and solid in the back end. We stress getting to the football and, once we get there, stopping momentum and getting the ball back to our offense.”
That offense will have a new signal caller as junior Jake Lowman, who Montgomery said has a great arm and sees the field well, will take over for Austin Dowell, who graduated in the spring. Lowman was a receiver for the Pacers last fall.
Other playmakers on the offensive side of the ball include running backs Sawyer Sand, Josh Russel and Gavin Brinkmoeller, and receivers Austin Koslow, Wyatt Kirtland, Jaliq Wilson, Tyler Johnson and Cooper Goble.
“Sawyer was an all-league player for us last year,” Montgomery said. “He has great speed and is an aggressive runner. Josh and Gavin will also see time in the backfield — they are quick and athletic — and the receivers are great route runners and compete for the ball in the air.”
Kaden Gannon returns as well. He’ll be used primarily at the H-back position, although his versatility can make him a weapon at multiple other spots as well, Montgomery said.
The offensive line features Brandon Smith at center; Dalton Allen, Conner Dutton and Ian Browning will see time at tackle; and Issac Wheeler and Eion Pavlovich will handle things at the guard positions.
Defensively, the line will be anchored by Devin Wesley, Erik Wells, Brian Beal and Allen. All four have varsity experience. Hayes also returns three starters at linebacker — Lucas Dotson, Logan Frye and Andon Wheeler — with Joe Moose expecting to add depth.
In the secondary, three-year starter Xavier Weaver and Nikeese McCollum will hold things down on the outside at corner back while Aiden Pili and Goble return as experienced safeties.
“We have a ton of Friday night experience coming back, and we have very strong senior and junior classes that’ve played a lot of high-level football,” Montgomery said. “We have players who can make plays all over the field, so it’s on us as a coaching staff to put them in positions to have success and to showcase those abilities.
“The biggest thing we have to work on is how to handle the highs and lows of games, how to handle success and to continue to build on it each week to make ourselves better and more complete.”
All the focus over the course of the offseason, Montgomery said, has been on the Week 1 showdown at Buckeye Valley Aug. 19.
“We’ve stressed the importance of that game to our team and how it can build for success the rest of the way,” Montgomery said. “There is no better way to start a season than with your rival … and the motivation it brings to the team during the offseason.”
The Pacers finish off the non-league slate with games against Marion-Franklin and Mt. Vernon in Week 2 and Week 3, respectively. After that, they open OCC play against defending champ Big Walnut.
“We’re excited to see how we stack up with some of the area’s best teams and our players are ready to go out and compete,” Montgomery said.