By SHAWN RINE
WHEELING - With a stunning, last-second loss to Cabell Midland in the first round of last season's playoffs still fresh in their minds in that locker room in Ona last November, Wheeling Park coach Chris Daugherty liked what he saw from his players. Maybe more importantly, he approved of what he heard.
"Our kids' mentality after that loss to Cabell Midland, the young kids in that locker room said 'we're taking this farther next year,' " Daugherty said.
And with that, expectations at Wheeling Park changed. No longer are the Patriots trying to get back to the playoffs after a drought. They've been there, and now the goal is to win the whole thing.
"It's nice to have goals as a coach, but it's even better when the kids set their own goals before you can even do it. Their work ethic, starting in January kind of went along with their mouth," Daugherty said. "We all know with the weight room, just because you go in there for three months doesn't mean you're going to win. You have to go in there for three years.
"This set of seniors is the first set of kids that has really lived that. We also felt like if you do those things, you become vested. When you become vested you don't want to quit - you're willing to stay and fight and claw for everything every game, every minute, every quarter. Sometimes when guys aren't vested they don't put that time in and then give up on a Friday night when things aren't going so well."
Aug. 23: St. Clairsville7:30 p.m.
Aug. 31: Bridgeport WV7 p.m.
Sept. 7: Brashear7 p.m.
Sept. 14: at University7:30 p.m.
Sept. 21: at Brooke7 p.m.
Sept. 28: John Marshall7 p.m.
Oct. 5: Morgantown7 p.m.
Oct. 12: at Elkins7 p.m.
Oct. 25: at Pksbg. South7:30 p.m.
Nov. 2: Hedgesville7 p.m.
Win 7, Lose 3
The Patriots lost a bevy of important seniors, but the coaching staff feels as though this season's club won't miss a beat.
Offensively, it starts in the slot where juniors Bryce Ingram (5-foot-9, 178) and Eric Banks (5-7, 152) return and figure to form one of the toughest 1-2 punches in the Ohio Valley. They have a chance to be truly special.
"They really do," Daugherty said. "I tell them all the time 'don't play like a junior, because you're not.' Most of the time juniors, that's the first time out on the field. You need to play like you're seniors and hopefully next year they play like first-year college players.
"There should be a huge gap between them and most of everyone else."
Ingram carried 67 times for 401 yards and seven touchdowns last season, while also hauling in 14 passes for 216 yards and a pair of scores. Banks, meanwhile, gained 373 yards and scored six times on 44 carries. He also has seven catches for 72 yards.
Wheeling Park has a plethora of running backs it can hand the ball to including senior Josh Dent (5-6, 163) who will roam from slot to running back. The Patriots will also use junior Geremy Paige (5-10, 200), senior Greg Myers (5-8, 190) and sophomore Theo Blackston (5-11, 216).
"All four of those guys, anybody would love to have them," Daugherty said.
Calling the signals will be junior quarterback Zach Phillips (6-1, 153), who Daugherty has high hopes for. Phillips' dad is former West Liberty and current Wheeling Park defensive coordinator Keith Phillips.
"I really think he's going to surprise some people,'' Daugherty said of the younger Phillips. "He grew up in a coach's house and sat in on college quarterback meetings. His knowledge of the game, his football IQ is very high.
"It was just a matter of physically becoming a junior."
Cole Bertol, Michael Grove, Killian Coyne were pretty much equals in terms of backing up at the position during the preseason.
The Patriots will have a whole new group on the outside at the receiver positions as graduation hit there perhaps the hardest. Though guys like Ingram and Banks will get most of the passes thrown their way, fans can also expect to see good things from seniors Quashad Pugh (5-11, 173) and Julian Figaretti (5-8, 158), as well as sophomore Nick Vargo (6-2, 165) and junior Josh Angalich (5-7, 135).
"We'll be a lot closer to last year's offense than people would think. But I believe in running the football, so we're going to run the football," Daugherty said.
They'll do so behind a bigger, more powerful offensive line. It's a line that Daugherty believes must have the ability to push people off the ball, even when the opponent knows the Patriots are going to run.
Leading the way is 6-4, 230-pound junior right tackle Matt Hackathorn. Senior Zach Drake is the left guard and is fully recovered from a broken leg suffered during the playoff loss, which enabled classmate Reese Folmar (6-0, 260) to get some quality playing time. Folmar will battle it out at right guard with junior Eric McCave (6-1, 237) who the coaches are high on.
That leaves seniors Trent Nicholson (5-11, 225) and Nathan Miller (5-10, 214) as well as a "bunch of younger kids coming up" to fight for the left tackle spot.
"We're definitely going to be bigger. Matter of fact, no matter who wins those positions we're going to be 200-and-over everywhere," Daugherty said. "For years we would put 200 on paper, but in reality they were more like 190, 185.
"We like an athletic line anyway. We're not going to go and weigh our kids and put the heaviest ones out there. We feel like we're going to be 220 and higher."
Liam Casey, a 5-9, 148-pound junior, will take over the kicking duties.
Paige, who led the Patriots in tackles last season, is back at Mike linebacker. Daugherty said he weighed 180 last year, but is 205 this season.
Senior Andrew Wheeler (5-8, 190) is back for his third season at inside linebacker, and Markieth O'Neal returns at one lineman spot, up to 185 pounds from 160.
"It's hard to believe we played a 160-pound defensive end last year, but people had a tough time blocking him. They'll have a tough time this year too, because he's even faster and stronger," Daugherty said.
Daugherty said the Patriots are in search of a pair of nose tackles, one of which is likely to be filled by Myers. The other could be 6-4, 317-pound sophomore Elliott O'Brien.
The right tackle, though the staff would like to see Hackathorn play there, remains open.
"We really think we're going to be able to start our season and go Game 1 with our offensive and defensive lines not having to go two ways, which I think is important," Daugherty said.
The secondary is going to be green as nearly the entire unit was lost to graduation. Daugherty said Dent will provide speed from one outside backer spot, while Blackston will be the sledge hammer on the other side.
Banks and Ingram will have to "come out of defensive retirement," according to the coach.
The key toward the end of camp, was finding a corner and a free safety. Junior Chaz Huntsman (6-0, 194) was given the first crack at punter.
"It will not be a successful season if we're not in the playoffs," Daugherty said. "If we're in the playoffs I will say it's successful, but I don't think it will satisfy anyone.
"Anytime you can get into the Top-16 and move on, I'm going to count it as a success."
Daugherty will be assisted by Phillips, Rick Marsh, Andy Seals, Shane Glass, Daryl Johnson, Drew Biehl, Joe Subasic, Andrew Yahn, Bob Pyle and Tim Ickes.
Cole Bertol, Jaleel Brown, Brady Comer, Josh Dent, Zach Drake, Jacob Gibson, Reese Folmar, Julian Figaretti, Nathan Miller, Greg Myers, Trent Nicholson, Connor Nixon, Markieth O'Neil, Quashad Pugh, R.J. Saunders, Josh Varner, Neil West, Andrew Wheeler, Alex Wood, Tanner Yoho.
Josh Angalich, Eric Banks, Brandon Briggs-Tyska, Brendon Byard, Liam Casey, Elijah Ford, Chris Freeborough, Matt Hackathorn, Gary Hagan, Bryce Ingram, Niko Kefauver, Jacob Key, Brandon Luff, Dustin McAdams, Eric McCave, Jordan McCormick, Josh Messner, Zach Musilli, Geremy Paige, C.J. Pelkey, Zach Phillips, Devan Rose, Joe Sharpsky, Aaron Shrimp, Max Steinman, Austin Vance, Javaughn Wade, Nick Wolfe.
Zach Amend, Coty Bachman, Greg Bailey, Michael Bell, Keandre Benjamin, Theo Blackston, Michael Coram, Killian Coyne, Tyler Fleming, Cody Flick, Logan Fugate, Henry Gompers, Michael Grove, Brendan Grubler, Chaz Huntsman, Shane McGhee, Chalmar Moffitt, Sebastian Nolan, Elliott O'Brien, Tommy Ricker, Dylan Taylor, Nick Vargo, Spencer Wiley.