BELLAIRE - In his fourth season at his alma mater, Jose Davis continues to weave his magic wand around Nelson Field as Bellaire is making a return to being a competitive program.
The former all-state quarterback guided his Big Reds to a 5-5 record last season, that coming on the heels of a 6-4 campaign in 2010. However, after a slow start, they rebounded to win four of their last five before dropping the season-finale to storied rival Martins Ferry.
With a bevy of skilled athletes and large linemen back in the fold, big expectations are once again expected on the fall weekends.
"It's kind of crazy right now because we've got a pretty good idea of the talent that we have, but the mystery is what will we do with it," Davis said. "We've got a lot of skilled talent returning, but then again, we've got a lot of inexperienced kids in the mix."
One position that Davis knows a lot about and has a pretty good returnee at is quarterback. The former Kent State record-setter and Ohio Valley Greyhounds field general is quite pleased with the way junior Spencer Badia has progressed.
"Spencer had a breakout year last season," Davis said. "He's got a pretty good grasp on what we're trying to do here. He's also really taken a hold of getting his assignments down, and he knows what everyone's responsibilities are."
Aug. 25: at Steub. Catholic7 p.m.
Sept. 1: John Marshall12:30 p.m.
Sept. 8: East Liverpool1 p.m.
Sept. 15: at Buckeye Local7 p.m.
Sept. 22: Indian Creek12:30 p.m.
Sept. 28: at St. Clairsville7:30 p.m.
Oct. 5: at Harrison Central7:30 p.m.
Oct. 13: Union Local12:30 p.m.
Oct. 19: Edison12:30 p.m.
Oct. 26: at Martins Ferry7 p.m.
Win 7, Lose 3
While all that is good, Davis said the 5-foot-8, 165-pounder still has some things to learn.
"He still has a way to go on his progressions and things like that, but he is learning," the coach said.
Badia passed for nearly 2,400 yards and 28 touchdowns, completing 153 of 299 attempts. He did, however, throw 17 interceptions. He broke Nate Davis's single-game passing record with a scintillating 507-yard effort in a 63-27 rout of Steubenville Catholic last season. He was 29 of 42 and tossed seven touchdowns in that contest.
"It's always good to have your quarterback returning, especially in the offense that we run," Davis noted. "That is a huge benefit for us."
"However, on the other hand, he has to realize that last year he dealt with a veteran group of guys, as opposed to this season when he is dealing with guys that will be learning on the fly, so to say. He has to learn to be able to help those guys out and make them better players."
The backup quarterback is still undecided as the crafty Davis always seems to come up with something unusual.
"That's one of the things we're working on," he said. "We've got a couple of kids that we might be able to some things with like we did with Manny (Ray) last year."
He did say that junior Dakota Gable (5-9, 160) has been working out under center. Also listed is freshman Tyler Stewart (5-9, 130).
When Badia does take to the airways, which will be often in Bellaire's spread offense, he will have only one target returning in classmate Nick Patrone. The 5-8, 150-pounder grabbed 22 passes for a little more than 200 yards and one touchdown.
"We are super fresh," Davis said of the wideouts. "That's where we lost a ton of people to graduation."
Sophomore Hunter Westlake (6-1, 165), another returner, is back and will be used in the slot. Also in the mix are senior Quinton Crosby (5-10, 145), junior Kenny Hess (5-10, 160), sophomore Tyler West (5-7, 145), Bralen Snell (5-8, 165) and a transfer from Union Local, Abhay Horvath (5-8, 170).
Crosby got hurt in the first scrimmage last year and missed the entire campaign.
"I like our talent level at receiver, but you can't teach experience and that's what we are lacking in this area," Davis said.
Graduation took away 129 receptions, 2,179 yards and all but one touchdown.
Other wideouts include juniors Robert Kovalyk (6-4, 190), Colin Nolan (5-8, 120), Brendan Ross (6-1, 160) and Kalitir Roark (5-10, 180); sophomores Austin McConville (5-11, 160), Dominic Vinka (5-8, 160), Chace Braden (5-9, 145), Johnathon Longwell (5-9, 150); and freshmen Nathaniel Cumberlidge (5-8, 160), Dylan Marling (5-8, 110), Anthony Price (5-8, 125) and Austin Anastasia (5-8, 165).
The running backs are kind of an uncertain quality as seniors Logan Koshenka (5-8, 170) and Nick Maffe (5-11, 167) will line up behind Badia. Neither saw action in the backfield as juniors, but Koshenka did play some as a sophomore.
"Logan did some damage two years ago, but didn't play back there last year due to Josh (Davis) being there," Davis said.
Other potential ballcarriers include junior Myliek Green (5-10, 170) and freshmen Alex Hibbits (5-8, 160) and Anthony Piper (5-9, 145).
The offensive line is where Bellaire's real strength is as five guys who started at least one game a season ago are back.
"We've got a few guys back that played last season, and that always helps," Davis added. "I'm happy with what we've got up front."
He also likes the size of his linemen.
"Our size is really good this year. We're not floating around the 200 (pound) mark now, we're up to somewhere between 220-230 across the board. That's a huge benefit."
Junior Ryan Callarik (6-1, 200), junior Wyatt Back (5-10, 235), senior Vince Kolenich (5-10, 220) and senior Dalton Conroy (6-0, 240) all started last season, while senior Jonathan Carter (5-11, 230) saw quite a bit of playing time. Sophomore Cody LaRoche (6-0, 240) will be in the mix, as will newcomer Robbie Kalinowski (6-4, 275).
"Just because we list someone at one position on the line doesn't mean they won't play somewhere else," Davis said. "In the past, we never have guys in the same spots when the season ends because we find out that they can help us in another position."
Also listed as offensive linemen are senior Austin Dodrill (5-8, 245); juniors Seth Pickens (5-10, 185), James Dunfee (5-9, 200) and Frank Nelson (5-9, 170); sophomores Jeremy Rife (6-1, 180), Joshua Materkoski (5-11, 230) and Michael Kovalyk (5-9, 200); and freshmen John Price (5-9, 185), Zach Bellville (5-10, 200), Donivan Taylor (5-11, 335), Matt Montgomery (5-8, 175), Jacob Thorton (5-9, 185), Cody Tredway (5-9, 155), Steven Krupa (5-10, 170) and Devin Violet (5-9, 185).
Defensively, the Big Reds will have to find replacements for two graduated players (Davis and Christian Edmund) who combined for 180 tackles last season.
"When you lose two kids with that amount of tackles between them, that's always going to be a soft spot for you," the coach said. "But we think we've got some kids that can step in."
Koshenka and Maffe will start at the inside linebackers. Both are big, rugged kids. Koshenka saw some action a year ago, as did Maffe.
Other linebackers are Snell, West, Green, McConville, Gable, Horvath, Hibbits, Cumberlidge, Vinka, Braden, Kenny Hess, Anastasia, Pickens, Montgomery, Nelson and Roark.
In the trenches are Kolenich, Callarik, Conroy, Back, Kalinowski, LaRoche, Violet, Dodrill, Krupa, Michael Kovalyk, Thorton, Carter, Dunfee, Taylor, Materkoski, Bellville, Tredway, Rife, John Price and Robert Kovalyk.
Roaming the secondary will be Patrone (5 INTs), Badia, Crosby, Westlake, Stewart, Kyle Hess, Nolan, Ross, Longwell, Marling, Piper and Anthony Price.
"We've got to tackle a whole lot better than we have in the past," Davis said. "We can't give up the big plays like we have done in the past."
When asked about his special teams, Davis was all smiles.
Conroy is a legitimate threat as a placekicker and kickoff specialist. He has a strong leg.
"I don't think he missed a field goal last year," Davis said of Conroy. "He's a huge weapon for us. He's got good range."
Last season, Conroy accounted for 44 points on 29 PATs and five field goals.
Also returning is Westlake as the punter.
"We should be solid in our special teams as far as kicking goes, but we will have to fill in bodies to go down field and make plays," Davis said.
The Big Reds have a fairly sizeable roster, which is something that makes Davis beam with happiness.
"Our numbers are really up from last season,'' Davis said. ''We've got 51 players on the roster, and we had 38 last year at this time. That's a huge improvement considering we only have seven seniors.
"I think we're starting to finally turn the corner and get headed in the right direction. Winning breeds confidence, but the biggest thing is you get kids that aren't interested in playing as freshman because of the commitment during the summer months. Then, all of a sudden, between their freshman and sophomore seasons they realize that they want to play. We've picked up some kids that way.
"However, in looking at the bigger picture, things are looking up for us to progress and keep climbing the ladder to get better."
Bellaire has a favorable schedule as it opens on the road Saturday at Steubenville Catholic before returning home for four straight Saturday matinees at Nelson Field.
"We must take advantage of that," Davis noted. "They say you must win at home to be successful. That's definitely a stretch of games that we need to take care of."
During that stretch, the Big Reds play host to John Marshall, East Liverpool, Buckeye Local and Indian Creek.
The coaching staff includes assistants Casey Davis, Shawn Valloric, Ryan McMahon, Bruce Stolz, Justin Green, Ty Masciarelli, Adam Shallcross and Ed Miller. The trainer is Mike Busack and the equipment manager is Bee Bee Marinacci.