SHADYSIDE - The Shadyside Tigers feel as if they have potential.
They come into every season knowing the expectations that surround the program, which has played for two state titles, won four OVAC crowns and qualified for the postseason in every season except one since the turn of the century.
Tigers coach Mark Holenka begins his fourth season at the helm of his alma mater knowing that potential and expectations don't mean a thing because every team has those in August.
''Sometimes it can be tough to pick up right where you left off,'' Holenka said. ''Our starting point is a little progressed from where we were last year, but our starting point is where our ending point was. We've shortened the distance to get to the peak since our starting point is a little further along, but we've still got a long way to go.''
The last time the Tigers strapped up the pads in a meaningful game, they were on the opposite end of a 49-7 shellacking at the hands of Berlin Center Western Reserve in the Division VI, Region 21 championship game at New Philadelphia's Quaker Stadium. That capped a 9-4 campaign.
Gone from that squad due to graduation are OVAC All-Star and All-Ohioan Matt Hammond, Dylan Merryman, Mason Gulash, Jacob Clark, Kyle Shepherd, Hunter McPherson and Donnie Heath.
Aug. 24: at Strasburg7:30 p.m.
Aug. 31: Monroe Central7 p.m.
Sept. 7: at Toronto7 p.m.
Sept. 14: at Shenandoah7 p.m.
Sept. 21: Linsly7 p.m.
Sept. 28: at Beallsville7 p.m.
Oct. 5: Wheeling Central7 p.m.
Oct. 12: Buckeye Trail7 p.m.
Oct. 19: at Bridgeport7 p.m.
Oct. 26: at Barnesville7 p.m.
Win 7, Lose 3
While they weren't necessarily large in number, the class of 2012 played vital roles in the success of the Tigers the last couple of seasons, which now creates holes that Holenka and his staff must deal with.
''We've got talent, but we don't have talent at every place you need it,'' Holenka said. ''At several positions, it's feast or famine, so we're going to need certain kids to step up and take on a bigger role than they've had in the past. I think where we're good, we could be dang good, but where we're questionable ... they're true question marks.''
The Tigers' senior class, which measures 12 for this season, has been a part of 28 victories since arriving on the scene when Holenka was hired for the job.
''Since I've been here, both as an assistant and now as head coach, I think each (senior) group wants to see that the winning tradition carries on,'' Holenka said. ''Senior leadership is always important because the senior class doesn't want to be the one that didn't succeed like the others in the past. Plus our fans are rabid and want us to win every game. But those fans propel or motivate you to exceed expectations.''
To help gain that experience quicker, Shadyside faced three Buckeye 8 members (Indian Creek, Union Local and Martins Ferry) in its scrimmages as it prepares for Friday's trip to Strasburg.
''Those scrimmages were designed to show us if we needed to change the bolts and screws or just tighten them up,'' Holenka said.
Shadyside features an impressive collection of talent at the skill positions.
Battling for the quarterback job have been senior Chase Kinemond (6-foot-1, 175 pounds) and sophomore Austin Dorris (6-5, 205).
Kinemond was the quarterback for much of the season last year until a torn ACL put him on the shelf for the balance of the season. Prior to the injury, he had passed for 806 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also ran for 547 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Dorris, meanwhile, played admirably in the balance of the second-round playoff game against Western Reserve for being thrown into the fire.
Whomever isn't playing quarterback will shift to the outside and be one of the Tigers' receivers.
Sophomore Luke Nardo (5-10, 150) and freshman Cole Tiger (5-8, 130) are the other quarterbacks listed on the roster.
While known as a passing team first, Shadyside has had success running the ball the last few years.
The team's leading rusher returns to handle the tailback chores and is the game breaker. Diminutive senior Brooks Ramsey (5-5, 150) ran for 1,149 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
He'll be joined in the backfield by senior Alex Quinn (6-0, 170) and junior Chris Littell (5-9, 181), who had scored seven touchdowns in six games before going down with a season-ending injury last season.
Sophomore Eric Howell (6-1, 185) is another who could see carries this season.
Other running backs vying for time include sophomore Matt Krupa (5-11, 175), freshmen Brett Kahl (6-0, 140) and Austin Allen (5-7, 135).
On the outside, the Tigers also boast several key returnees who had impressive seasons in 2011.
Senior Cody Hudson (6-2, 180) will line up on one side after making 23 receptions for 495 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
Dorris made six receptions from his tight end spot last season and with his frame will be one of the Tigers' go-to-guys should he not be playing quarterback.
Senior Ian Baker (5-8, 165) has developed into another solid option and he'll be relied upon heavily. Junior Robert Newhart (5-10, 140) is another who's been solid in camp and could see valuable action.
''We're pretty solid at receiver, but we don't have that one burner who can just light it up like we've had in the past,'' Holenka said.
Sophomore Scott Hammond (6-0, 170) could see time on the flanks, tight end or could move into the offensive line rotation if need be.
Senior Dillon Tomlinson (5-8, 135) is also seeking action at receiver.
Also vying for time are juniors Jake Haswell (5-10, 130) and Jake Duvall (6-0, 160); sophomores Zach Vaughn (5-4, 130), Logan Price (5-7, 150), Wyatt Skapik (5-4, 105) and Bryce Clark (5-10, 154).
The ultimate key to the season lies in the trenches.
Like so many prep teams, Shadyside feels it's got plenty of options to catch and run the ball, but giving time and opening holes is a concern.
''The lines, on both sides of the ball, are the big keys for us,'' Holenka said. ''If those kids can mature, come along and play with a sense of urgency, then I believe we can be a decent football team if we continue to progress like we did last year. We've got two seasoned quarterbacks, but if they don't have time to breath, it doesn't matter. We have to maintain the comfort level for our quarterback, and if we can do that, I really believe we'll be in great shape.''
The Shadyside line is led by two returning starters in junior Zach Meadows (5-10, 225) and senior Branden Krock (6-3, 190). Meadows will serve as the center.
Junior Cory Banco (6-2, 250) was a part-time starter and saw a lot of action up front and is ticketed to take over a full-time role this season.
''We've got depth galore up front, so we just have to see who is going to separate themselves and take a job,'' Holenka said.
Junior Hunter Hammond (5-9, 230), sophomore Jacob Spencer (5-9, 285), sophomore Colton Campbell (6-3, 220), senior Jake Schramm (5-5, 160) and sophomore Eli Henderson (6-3, 255) were locked in a battle for the other starting jobs.
''We've got some options, but whoever is going to win those jobs are going to be pups,'' Holenka said. ''We could see ourselves being able to do some platooning.''
Seniors seeking to contribute to the line are Von Adams (5-7, 170), John Higgins (5-8, 280), Kevin Balk (5-6, 189) and Lucas Watson (6-1, 280). Juniors Justin Wagner (5-10, 190) and Devin Stillion (5-7, 175) also supply depth.
''We've got a knowledgeable group offensively, so it's not really a work-in-progress, but a work in how far we're going to progress beyond where we've been,'' Holenka said.
On the defensive side of the ball, Holenka thinks the Tigers' key will be in the front four.
''We've got talent at our linebacking crew, but we have to let those guys have an opportunity to make some tackles,'' Holenka said. ''We can't have our defensive line getting pushed back into our backers, then we should be OK. I like the defense because I know what I am getting out of most of the guys, but can our linebacker play sustain with so many new faces on the line? That's something we'll have to see.''
At the defensive end, Holenka believes Howell and Hammond will hold down those spots. Meadows, Banco and Krock are amongst the guys battling for the defensive tackle spots.
Quinn is moving into one of the linebacking jobs where he'll join Dorris and Littell. Both Dorris and Littell started games at backer last season.
The Tigers' biggest strength on the defensive side is in the secondary. Kinemond returns at free safety, while Baker, who Holenka says is the ''vocal leader of the defense and coach on the field,'' returns at strong safety.
Tomlinson and Ramsey are battling for the cornerback job opposite of Hudson, who is also a returning starter.
Others Holenka feels could make an impact defensively are Newhart and Nardo, who Holenka says is ''very football smart.''
Shadyside also returns one of the area's steadiest placekickers in Hudson, who will also take over the punting duties because doctors have advised Kinemond against punting after the knee operation.
Littell and Price are both back after seeing time at long snapper a season ago.
As has become an annual rite of spring in Shadyside, Holenka and then Athletic Director Gary Cunningham had trouble filling the 10-game schedule.
Gone from the 2011 slate are Imani Christian Academy, which handed the Tigers a setback, Southington Chalker and Fairfield Christian Academy.
They've been replaced by Linsly, Toronto and Buckeye Trail. The meeting with the Red Knights came to fruition because Chalker had scheduled two opponents for the same week and opted out of the contract with Toronto, creating the opening.
''With the schedule we've got, I am hoping for a winning season,'' Holenka said. ''I think the schedule is pretty loaded. Monroe Central will be good, Wheeling Central and Linsly will both be tough games for us, Beallsville has a four-year quarterback, Toronto is beefing up its schedule for good reason, so they'll be tough, too.''
Shadyside's coaching staff is primarily the same. Former Ohio Valley Greyhounds player Wilkie Perez is on the staff after moving back to the Ohio Valley from Florida. Returning are Mark Bonar, Gregg Bonar, John Grinch, Jeff Campbell, B.A. Holloway, David Bonar, Chase Grinch, Randy Merryman, Kurt Glasser, Bryce Allen and Eric Krupa.