NEW MANCHESTER - When most new head coaches take over a high school program, they are left with a rebuilding job.
Not so with Ian Whittington, the new guy at Oak Glen. Among the 55 football candidates he greeted Aug. 1, the largest number in the gold and blue uniforms in recent years, were 17 letterwinners from the 2011 team that posted a 9-1 record and won its opening-round game in the West Virginia Class AA playoffs.
Of the 17 lettermen, Whittington has 15 seniors including perhaps the best lineman in the state in Preston Murray (6-foot-1, 265 pounds), a four-year starter and two-way tackle. Murray was third last year as a junior in the voting for the prestigious Hunt Award, emblematic of the best lineman in West Virginia.
"He's our nose tackle on defense and right tackle on offense," Whittington, who was a member of Tony Filberto's staff last year, said. "His motor goes at 100 miles per hour and he gives 100 percent all the time. He's unblockable on defense. He's often double teamed and still produces."
The biggest part of Whittington's veteran club are offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs. Dylan Powell and Ethan Delekta are the only two linemen to graduate.
When Lucas McDowell, Dylan Davis and Jeff Hissam graduated, the Golden Bears lost much of their offensive producers and that could be a problem.
*Aug. 24: vs. Edison8:30 p.m.
Aug. 31: Wellsville7 p.m.
Sept. 7: Indian Creek7 p.m.
Sept. 14: at John Marshall7:30 p.m.
Sept 21: Steub. Catholic7 p.m.
Sept. 28: at Weir7 p.m.
Oct. 5: at Tyler Consolidated7 p.m.
Oct. 12: at East Liverpool7 p.m.
Oct. 27: Point Pleasant1:30 p.m.
Nov. 2: Magnolia7 p.m.
*-at Harding Stadium
Win 7, Lose 3
However, Whittington thinks he has the replacements despite them being inexperienced.
In the preseason, the youthful coach, who himself is an Oak Glen graduate and former receiver and defensive back for the Golden Bears, has a battle on his hands between two underclassmen for the quarterback position vacated when McDowell picked up his diploma.
Vincent ''Bub'' Haddox, a junior, and Chase Hartley were vying to start. Haddox, who hasn't played football since his middle school days, is described by Whittington as the best athlete on the team and appeared to have the early edge. Hartley quarterbacked the junior varsity team last year as a freshman.
"They are two different types," Whittington said. "Haddox is versatile and can run and throw. He has an outstanding arm, but he has a lot to learn about football. Hartley is more of the pocket passer type, but he can run. He was on the track team last spring."
Whittington points out that Oak Glen brought in an outside consultant to run a speed camp and that has made a difference in the Golden Bears as a whole.
"I was amazed at the difference in our kids after the speed camp," Whittington said. "They really improved with their speed and agility so that was a good investment."
Whittington has 235-pound Zack Staley moving into the fullback spot occupied by Dylan Davis a year ago and Tyler Steed becomes the full-time tailback. He said junior David Campbell also will get his share of carries as well.
Whittington will have an all-senior offensive line. Logan Curtis, who started eight games at left tackle in 2011, moves over to center replacing Powell. Jeff Stivason is the right guard and Murray the right tackle. On the left side, Whittington has Nathan Wright at guard and Richie Davis at tackle.
That experienced offensive line averages 271 pounds and is buoyed by the gigantic stature of Davis at 6-8, 370 pounds. Wright is the smallest of the linemen at 225 pounds.
Justin Stivason, a former Oak Glen quarterback, moves to tight end this year and will rotate there with Whittington's younger brother, Nation.
While Whittington, who also is the offensive coordinator, doesn't have an All-OVAC receiver like Hissam returning, he has plenty of depth at the position with Cole Holloway, Cody Howell, Clayton Flowers, Tre Smith and Josh Weltner. All are seniors and all are experienced and have good speed.
Weltner returns as the Golden Bears punter and kicker.
On the defensive side of the ball, Whittington has six returning starters. Murray heads the list with Jeff Stivason, Zack Staley and Holloway joining him on the front four. Seniors Justin Stivason, and Nation Whittington will be at inside linebackers while Steed and senior Cody Howell look like the starters at outside linebacker. The 6-foot-4 Howell is out for football for the first time.
Trey Smith and either Weltner or Haddox will be the cornerbacks with Flowers, a three-year starter, at safety.
Whittington said senior Brodie Bittenger is vying for playing time at tight end while junior Drew Bailey could see some playing time at middle linebacker. Hartley is a backup at safety.
"We have speed on the corners and strength in the middle," Whittington said. "We also have those 15 seniors that are the hardest working class I've ever seen. They are dedicated, very mature and work very hard. They want to go the extra mile and that's a recipe for success."
Oak Glen is at a new beginning with a new football stadium, new uniforms and a new head coach.
Whittington said he has a simple philosophy that he tries to instill in his players: ''All we ask of the kids is that they get better each day and give 100 percent all the time. They're going to make mistakes, we all do, but I believe that if we give it all we have all the time - work hard - we will get better,'' he said.
Several members of Whittington's staff, like him, are holdover coaches from a year ago in Derrick Stickles, Rich Flowers, Josh Taylor and Doug Wells. Justin Lipps-Watson, who graduated from Bethany College last spring, rounds out the staff. All are Oak Glen graduates and former Golden Bears players except Taylor, who is a Weir High alumnus.