By NICK BEDWAY
WHEELING - Arguably the 2011 Linsly football team might have been the best in school history. Coach B.J. Depew's perfect-record squad captured the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference 2A championship after outscoring its opponents by a dominating 425-108 margin and the Cadets had six of their 12 graduating senior stalwarts selected on The Intelligencer's All-Valley Small School Team.
Linsly also probably would have enjoyed a huge representation on the West Virginia All-State Class A roster but none of its players were eligible since the private school is not a member of the SSAC.
The capper to this brilliant season came when the Cadets rolled 54-18 against repeat Class A state titlist Wheeling Central in a battle of 9-0 powerhouses at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Ironically, last year marked the fourth time for Linsly to record an undefeated season and all of those teams were coached by guys named Depew. Terry Depew, B.J.'s father and one of the area's most successful football coaches during his tenure, directed the Cadets to back-to-back perfect seasons in 1986 and 1987. Terry Depew then followed that up with another unblemished campaign in 1996.
Supporting belief that last year's team might have been the most talented at Linsly is that fact that each and every one of the graduating seniors are continuing their athletic careers in college. Nine of them are playing football, while quarterback Alex Stephens has joined the baseball program at West Virginia University. Haydon Stanley signed to play baseball for Bethany College and Jimmy McCleery will be a member of the lacrosse team at Alderson-Broaddus.
*Aug. 25: Magnolia7:30 p.m.
**Aug. 31: Parkersburg South7 p.m.
Sept. 7: at Allderdice7 p.m.
*Sept. 14: Wheeling Central7 p.m.
Sept. 21: at Shadyside7 p.m.
Sept. 29: Bishop Ready1:30 p.m.
Oct. 6: Western Reserve2 p.m.
Oct. 20: at Gilmour Academy1 p.m.
Oct. 26: at Columbus Crusaders7:30 p.m.
Nov.3: Kiski2:30 p.m.
*-at Wheeling Island Stadium
**-at Bethany College
Win 6, Lose 4
Committed to play football are Akil Blount, Florida A&M; Mark Dodd, Lafayette; Ryan Riethmiller, Bucknell; Adam Jones, John Carroll University; Anthony Thompson, Neal Drennan and Gabe Hill, all committed to Bethany; Ricky Jordan, St. Francis University in Loretta, Pa., and Chris Stephens, Alderson-Broaddus.
Twin brothers Alex and Chris Stephens were first team All-Valley honorees along with Blount, Dodd, Reithmiller and Thompson.
Alex Stephens surpassed all-time Linsly standards by passing for 1,712 yards and 28 touchdowns. He completed 68 percent of his passes (95 of 139) and threw five interceptions. Blount hauled in 28 passes for 465 yards and nine touchdowns. Another two-way stalwart, Dodd scored 11 touchdowns as a running back and turned in 78 tackles on defense, 13 of those stops coming behind the line of scrimmage.
''The time those kids and their teammates put in over the years finally paid off,'' B.J. Depew said. ''They might be the best group of seniors ever at Linsly. Normally you have some marginal kids in every class. That class did not have any marginal kids.''
The biggest question being asked about the 2012 Linsly football team is what can this group do for an encore? Certainly, the current players face a huge challenge. However, Depew is hopeful they have learned a great deal from the work ethic and winning attitude left behind by their much-heralded teammates.
''We return a decent number of kids,'' Depew said. ''There are a total of 15 lettermen and most of them lettered due to their special teams contributions. Obviously, a lot of them were key backups now eager to fill the positions vacated by nine offensive starters and 10 starters on the defensive side.
''It's going to be tough putting together a depth chart so early in practice but that also makes it kind of exciting. We expect the kids coming back to really work hard to be good."
The revamped Linsly schedule also will add to the task for a roster that is made of just eight seniors along with 14 juniors, 14 sophomores and 12 freshmen. The Cadets begin the season against a new opponent, Magnolia, on Saturday night as part of the OVAC Kickoff Classic at Wheeling Island Stadium. The following Friday night they go up against a talented W.Va. Class AAA opponent Parkersburg South in a game to be played at Bethany College.
Magnolia and Parkersburg South join Shadyside and Gilmour Academy as the new opponents, replacing Indian Creek, Westinghouse, Buckeye Trail and Brashear.
Wheeling Central was moved from the last date on the schedule to Week 4. Linsly will play three opponents on campus, Columbus Bishop Ready, Western Reserve Academy and Kiski Prep.
Replacing four starters on the interior line and finding a quarterback were the biggest tasks facing the Cadets coaching staff at the outset of fall practice. The lone starter back on the line is an excellent athlete, Reno Colaianni, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound junior two-year letterman.
Jameson Murray (5-9, 145) is the most experienced QB as the junior letterman came in to spell Alex Stephens during several of Linsly's blowout victories.
Murray finds himself being pushed by sophomore Jibri Blount (6-4, 195), another highly regarded performer whose play in the closing minutes of the OVAC 2A basketball finals led the Cadets to a conference crown. Blount also is expected to be a key contributor at linebacker with the defensive unit.
Two freshmen quarterbacks on the roster are Charlie Dodd (5-10, 150) and Jack Hanson (5-7, 110).
Late last season, then-junior Chinelo Oparanozie stepped to the forefront at running back, putting himself in position to be the Cadets' main weapon on the offensive side of the football. In the victory against the Maroon Knights, the 5-8, 180-pound power back Oparanozie rushed for 216 yards and three touchdowns.
''Chinelo split time with Gabe Hill and really blossomed at the end,'' Depew said. ''His two best games were during Weeks 9 and 10 when he was a huge part in both of those victories.''
Others expected to receive their share of opportunities carrying the football are Chinelo's younger brother, Chimechi Oparanozie, a 5-10, 220-pound sophomore letterman; junior Kalib Winters (5-11, 175) and senior letterman Isaac Lee (6-1, 180).
Winters was a Linsly student in middle school before the family moved away. But he returned this year and is hoping to make a major contribution at running back. Lee was Mark Dodd's understudy at fullback.
Three freshmen completing the running back list are Von Wooding (5-10, 155), Jay Mascara (5-6, 125) and Tyler Ashbrook (5-6, 135).
Linsly graduated its top two tight ends in Akil Blount and Thompson, the latter a high school All-American lacrosse performer as a long stick midfielder. Looking to step in at the position are two players who lettered as freshmen, Haydon Gaus (6-0, 175) and Eric Dodd (6-1, 235). Another possibility is senior letterman Kay Ogundiran (6-1, 195) although Depew would prefer to leave him inside at one of the tackle spots. Also at tight end are sophomore Mackenzie Hammond (5-11, 150) and freshman Nick Aprea (5-6, 136).
Two-year letterman Michael Hammond (6-1, 175) has the most experience among the receivers. Brooks Simmons, 6-0, 190 senior newcomer to the football program, also is in the battle for starting jobs with senior Rashad Johnson (5-9, 140) and sophomore letterman Zak Kriechbaum (5-10, 145). Johnson played his sophomore year but sat out last season. Simmons previously played lacrosse for the Cadets.
Senior, two-year letterman Rainer Whiteside (5-9, 140), one of the Ohio Valley's top placekickers, could also be in the receiver mix. Along with kicking extra points and field goals this fall, Whiteside will assume the punting chores handled previously by Alex Stevens.
Rounding out the list of receivers are juniors Benton Nanners (5-8, 135), Daniel Truong (5-11, 160), Chad Mixon (5-6, 125), Hunter Brown (5-10, 125); Luke Miller (5-10, 145) and Zeke Scherich (5-9, 125); sophomores Christian Braughler (6-0, 165), Jacob Caimano (5-9, 140), Maxim Yanovich (6-0, 150), Matthew Moore (5-10, 150) and freshmen Brady Nanners (5-4, 110) and Sam Doe (5-10, 140).
Both the offensive and defensive lines will have size as an asset. Austin Whipkey, a 6-2, 315-pounder who lettered at middle guard on defense, is expected to also see some time at guard or tackle.
Looking to take over at center are senior Zach Hanlin (5-9, 210) and junior Todd Nikoles (6-2, 265). Depending on where Ogundiran plays, junior two-year letterman Dom Ellis (6-1, 190) and Colaianni could be paired at the tackle spots. Also in the picture is sophomore letterman Chuchwudi Chuckwu (6-1, 265). Chuckwu impressed the coaches with his work in the weight room. Another potential guard is junior Jin Cho (6-0, 270). Freshman Khalid Blount (5-10, 240), younger brother of Akil and Jibri, is another good possibility, along with his plebe classmate James Cartwright (5-10, 190).
Some other interior line candidates are junior Chris Afonta (61, 250); sophomores Sam Lybarger (6-1, 240), Will McClure (5-11, 210), Dillon Curtin (5-6,150) and freshmen Connor Trosch (5-9, 160) and Jared Schacter (5-11, 190).
The rebuilt defense has Whipkey, Cho, Chuckwu and Nickoles seeking time at the inside tackle spots. Ogundiran will be one of the ends with Eric Dodd, Gaus, Lee and Chimechi Oparanozie vying on the other side. Colaianni and Michael Hammond are expected to get the nod at the inside linebacker spots. Ellis and Curtin also could see duty at LB as well with Simmons and Chinelo Oparanozie on the outside.
Oher top corner and secondary candidates include Braughler, Winters, Benton Nanners, Kreichbaum and Camaino.
''Defensively, we feel confident that we'll find the right 11 guys,'' Depew insisted. ''They'll need time to gel and learn how to work together as a unit. It would help if can get some early wins but that may be tough for a young, inexperienced group when you look at our schedule. If we get off to a fast start, we can be real good.
''There is no doubt in my mind that by the time we play Kiski in Week 10, we will be a whole lot better than we are heading into Week 1.''
The Linsly coaching staff includes: James Cowart, defensive coordinator; Dave Plumby, offensive coordinator; James Wallace, special teams coordinator; Brian Valentine, offensive and defensive lines and Ray Smith, junior varsity coach. Tom Giovengo is the trainer.
Michael Hammond, Zach Hanlin, Rashad Johnson, Isaac Lee, Kay Ogundiran, Chinelo Oparanozie, Brooks Simmons, Rainer Whiteside.
Chris Afonta, Hunter Brown, Jin Cho, Reno Colaianni, Domenic Ellis, Luke Miller, Chaz Mixon, Jameson Murray, Benton Nanners, Todd Nickoles, Zeke Scherich, Daniel Truong, Austin Whipkey, Kalib Winters.
Jibri Blount; Christian Braughler, Jacob Caimano, Chuckwudi Chuckwu, Dillon Curtin, Eric Dodd, Haydon Gaus, Mackenzie Hammond, Zak Kriechbaum, Sam Lybarger, Will McClure, Matthew Moore, Chimechi Oparanozie, Maxim Yahovich.
Nick Aprea, Tyler Ashbrook, Khalid Blount, James Cartwright, Charlie Dodd, Sam Doe, Jack Hanson, Jay Mascara, Brady Nanners, Jared Schacter, Connor Trosch, Von Wooding.