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Magnolia Returns Veterans, Plenty of Size Along the Lines

Blue Eagles look to be in Class A hunt

August 28, 2013
By DAVE MORRISON , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

NEW MARTINSVILLE - Replacing Stephen Rogalski alone would be an almost impossible task for Magnolia coach Mark Batton.

The captain of the 2012 Class A all-state team was a record-setting receiver at the school. You can't just replace a three-time all-state performer.

Batton not only has to try to replace the star, but he also has to replace seven other seniors who helped Magnolia go 11-2 and reach the semifinals of the Class A playoffs, where it fell to eventual state champion Wahama, 10-7.

It's no easy task.

There is good news.

Magnolia, a perennial West Virginia playoff contender, returns its two leading rushers and a line that, while a bit inexperienced, will be gigantic, as Class A teams go.

Back in the fold are all-staters Kage Rohde, a three-year letterwinner and Drew Keller, a two-year letterman.

Rohde (5-foot-9, 180 pounds) was a two-way starter, rushing for 857 yards and 15 touchdowns while leading the team in tackles with 134, including 16 for a loss of yardage and 10 sacks. He was an all-state linebacker.

The other top returnee is Keller, who was an all-state running back after rushing for 1,377 yards and 12 touchdowns.

"Drew is more of a finesse-type player," Batton said. "He has great vision, and great balance."

The quarterback will be Jacob Brill, who replaces two-year starter Tanner Hanna. Brill has played a lot of football for the Blue Eagles, just at other positions.

"He played a lot of defense for us the last two years, plus last year he was one of the starting tight ends in our offense," Batton said. "But he has been under two good guys. Justin Fox was the Kennedy Award winner in 2010 (for the Blue Eagles' Class AA state championship team) and Jake was a freshman then. Last year he was under Tanner Hanna who was the quarterback the last two years.

"Jacob is ready. He is ready to play that position."

Brill will be backed up by Nick Priem, who Batton called "a promising freshman."

The line, while under development, has the potential to average 250 pounds tackle-to-tackle.

There is experience, led by senior Cole Steckman (6-1, 310), a three-year starter at center.

"He moves well," Batton said. "He's also extremely intelligent, probably in the top two in his class. He does a great job as, what we call him, the quarterback of our offensive line."

Logan Wright (5-9, 195) will return as the left guard and senior Brandon Clegg (6-1, 240) will move to left tackle after starting mainly at right tackle last season.

"That's three guys who saw significant time last year on the line, so we do feel fortunate with that," Batton said.

The right side will feature Carter Seckman (6-1, 200), Cole's younger brother, at guard after he saw some time in the backfield in 2012, and Stephen White (6-1, 305) will be at tackle.

Also in the mix for playing time is sophomore Hunter Brill (5-8, 185), Jacob's brother, and he will split time at guard and tackle.

The tight end will be sophomore Kyle Ritz (6-1, 215), who played a lot at the position as a freshman. He will be backed up by Brandon Fayad.

The receiving corps will be led by senior Grant Cain (6-0, 150), who saw considerable action before sustaining a midseason injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season.

Senior Eric Smith (5-9, 165), sophomore Jared Kasor (5-6, 130) and sophomore Todd Lemasters (5-11, 145), who had a touchdown reception in a playoff game, all return.

The Blue Eagles also return six starters to the defense, led by inside linebackers Rohde and Keller (77 tackles and six sacks).

"Both of them started as sophomores, so they have done it for a few years," Batton said of the Blue Eagles' Dynamic Duo. "That's a strong position to have experience returning."

Hunter Brill will be an outside linebacker. Freshmen Chase Street (5-6, 145) and Peau Halahingano (5-8, 160) could also see action at linebacker.

On the defensive line will be Cole Steckman and Clegg at tackles, with White set to spell the two starters.

Kyle Ritz is a returning starter at defensive end. Last season, as a freshman, he had 67 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss and a team-best 12 sacks. Carter Seckman, who played linebacker last season, will start at the other defensive end. Freshman Caleb Nice (5-10, 180) will provide depth on the line.

The secondary is where the Blue Eagles are the most inexperienced, losing all of their starters to graduation.

"It's a wok in progress and we are really trying to build it up," Batton said.

Keller is the third of three brothers to play for the Blue Eagles since 2007.

Cain will be one cornerback and brothers Eric and Andrew Smith will split time at the other. The strong safety is a three-way battle between Tyler Anderson, Brandon Mason and Yale Wetzel with Jacob Brill (92 tackles, three interceptions and a defensive touchdown), who has bounced between safety and linebacker the last two seasons, back at the free safety.

"We just thought that since he is going to be at quarterback it would be better to get him out of all that banging going on up front," Batton said.

Oscar Clendon, who is also a soccer player, will do the kicking for Magnolia and Eric Smith or Jacob Brill will be the punter.

The Magnolia team is loaded with brother acts, including the Seckmans, the Smiths (who are twins), the Brills and the Lemasters.

Magnolia opens the season at home against Linsly before playing three of the next four on the road, including games at perennial power Williamstown, rival Tyler Consolidated and preseason Class A state champion favorite Wheeling Central.

Batton is assisted by five former Blue Eagles players, including Dave Chapman, Eric Mason, John Smith, Craig Mason and Josh Sims. The trainer is Brian Castilow.

The Blue Eagles face this future without Rogalski, who is playing at West Virginia Wesleyan this fall.

"I don't know that you can do that or not," Batton said of replacing the three-time all-stater. "Rogalski was a game changer. He changed quite a few games into our favor last year. This is our 107th year of playing football here and he holds all three receiving records (receptions, yards and TDs).

"He will be hard to replace but we lost a lot of good quality seniors from last year's team."

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