SHADYSIDE - There's a cliche in high school sports that says 'tradition doesn't graduate.'
When it comes to small-school football the last 15 or so years, Shadyside is a model for that belief.
Coming off the school's first 10-0 regular season since 1977, the Tigers are embarking with a guarded optimism, but also a level of confidence.
"The formula has worked for us, but each season is different," said Mark Holenka, who is beginning his fifth season as the coach at his alma mater. "Our kids know what kind of success we've had here over the last several years and they just don't want to be the group that breaks the string."
Holenka sees some positive and negative to that approach, however.
"It's a tough goal to live up to, but it's also a nice motivator for it to happen," Holenka said. "The goals are hard to keep attaining, but that also keeps the kids and coaches working hard to get there."
In finishing undefeated, Shadyside earned another home playoff game and wrapped up its 10th OVAC title. However, the Tigers were dispatched by Western Reserve, 19-18, in the first round.
"Hindsight, you're certainly proud of what these young men accomplished during the season, but if the loss had occurred during the regular season, we wouldn't have had to wait for so long to get a new taste in our mouths," Holenka said. "Unfortunately, last year's seniors don't get that chance to get rid of that taste. Having said that though, the regular season still gave us a lot of great memories that a lot of teams didn't get to experience."
Gone from last year's squad are Chase Kinemond, Cody Hudson, Ian Baker, Brooks Ramsey, Alex Quinn, Dillon Tomlinson, Brandon Krock, Von Adams, Lucas Watson, Jake Schramm, John Higgins and Kevin Balk.
Sustaining the level of success the Tigers have enjoyed hasn't come easy. It starts with intangible traits such as leadership, which Holenka wants to see improve.
"Our leadership out of the senior class has to develop," Holenka said. "Those kids last year took the team by the horns and led by example and their work ethic was contagious. This class has to start to coming tougher and be willing to pay the price to be better than just good."
On the field, the graduation losses have left the Tigers searching for their identity.
"When you lose your quarterback and many of your perimeter players, you've got to find yourself a little bit," Holenka said. "We've got plenty of questions to answer. Our depth, speed and experience in certain spots are concerns for us."
The Tigers would like to continue to be as balanced as possible on offense, but Holenka really thinks their ground game is going to be the strength.
"We might go to a smash-mouth style," Holenka said. "Sometimes during camp, I looked at us and think it doesn't look bad, but other times when I thought we need to go double tight and put three backs in there because that's where we're best. But, whatever way we go, I could care less about glamour points. I am worried about scoreboard points."
Junior Austin Dorris (6-foot-5, 213 pounds), The Intelligencer's reigning Sophomore of the Year, is set to take over the quarterback duties after serving as Kinemond's backup and a go-to receiver last season. Dorris has some experience at quarterback, however. He was thrust into duty when Kinemond went down with an injury during the 2011 playoffs.
Dorris, who is drawing some Division-I interest, spent much of the summer attending camps, including Ohio State, West Virginia and Tennessee.
Dorris' backup is freshman Billy Johnson (5-10, 144).
At the running back spot, the Tigers could employ a three-headed monster in junior Eric Howell (6-2, 192), senior Chris Littell (5-10, 214) and junior Matt Krupa (6-0, 171).
"We're working a triangle in there," Holenka said. "Littell will be used mostly in the fullback spot and he's a veteran."
Other running backs vying for action include junior Zach Vaughn (5-4, 133), junior Bryce Clark (5-9, 150) and sophomore Austin Allen (5-6, 151).
The receiver slots will all be new faces.
"The wideouts are our biggest concern," Holenka said. "It's not for blocking reasons either. I've looked and you can't buy hands on QVC or HSN. It's a tough thing to develop. Receiver is a spot where we got wiped out the most, but it is what it is. We're going to have to grow up out there or we're going to have to go away from that."
Juniors Scott Hammond (6-1, 181) and Luke Nardo (5-10, 145) are expected to get the first cracks at filling the spots. Seniors Jake Haswell (6-0, 139) and Robert Newhart (5-11, 151) along with junior Logan Price (6-0, 170), are also working into the mix.
Sophomore Logan Cline (5-10, 132) and Johnson are two others who could see time. Freshman Shadow Gibson (5-8, 138) is another who could work his way onto the field.
Providing depth are sophomore Matt Shaw (5-9, 129) and junior Wyatt Skapik (5-7, 125).
Senior Jake Duvall (5-11, 180) is expected to serve as the primary tight end. Freshman Chase Wade (6-4, 184) has impressed during camp and could see time as well. Sophomore Mason Campbell (6-3, 218) transferred from Beallsville, but will have to sit out the first five games under OHSAA rules.
Another tight end option is Stevie Doughty (5-11, 165).
Shadyside's most experience on offense comes along the line of scrimmage.
"We've got nice size and experience," Holenka said. "We feel good about our first group, but this is the thinnest we've been depth-wise. If we would take an injury at a certain spot, we'd be in trouble. It's probably no different at many schools in the valley."
Senior Zack Meadows (5-11, 266) anchors the line at center. He's been a three-year starter.
Senior Cory Banco (6-3, 278) is back at a guard spot as a three-year starter. The other guard is junior Jacob Spencer (5-9, 290). One tackle is slated to be junior Colton Campbell (6-3, 260). Senior Hunter Hammond (5-10, 246) is ticketed for the other tackle.
The offensive line depth is provided by juniors Austin Pedelose (5-11, 264), Zane Otto (6-1, 206) and Eli Henderson (6-3, 292), along with sophomores Dante DeFelice (5-9, 222), Zane Merryman (5-10, 136), Eli Karkowski (6-1, 280) and Devin Nelson (6-0, 215).
On the defensive side, the Tigers will again utilize a 4-3 alignment. It's the secondary that concerns Holenka the most because the entire group was lost to graduation.
"When you get wiped out at an entire level, it leads to growing pains," Holenka said. "I like that our front two levels are pretty experienced. Actually, our defensive line is totally intact."
Meadows and Banco are back at the tackles with Scott Hammond and Howell back at the ends.
In the linebacking corp, Duvall is ticketed for one of the outside positions. Littell is the other outside linebacker while Krupa and Otto have been battling in camp and scrimmages for the middle linebacker job.
In that secondary, Dorris is moving back from a starting linebacker to a corner spot.
"We didn't move him just because of the secondary, but also to save his legs a little bit from getting hammered as a linebacker," Holenka said. "We did that more for a need for his health."
Price is penciled in at the strong safety with Nardo ticketed for the free safety. Newhart is battling for corner action. Haswell is another in the mix at corner.
"Our speed on the perimeter is a concern, too," Holenka said. "We'll have to play smart, tactical-type football to offset our speed. We'll mix up coverages and things, but overall we're just not fast. We've got people on levels one and two who are faster than people on level three."
Special teams have been an area the Tigers have spent a solid amount of time working on this preseason, since Hudson was the placekicker and punter last season.
"We've been pretty blessed on special teams," Holenka said. "Special teams will be a little bit of a growing pain."
Haswell is expected to handle the PATs and field goals. The kickoff duty has been a battle between Scott Hammond and Dorris. The punting job has been a battle between Price and Gibson.
Included in the roster is a 14-man freshman class that will dress with the varsity, but Holenka hopes to be able to maintain a freshmen schedule.
Freshmen include Collin Hunter (5-3, 111), Gregory Quinn (5-6, 119), Cody Hawthorne (5-5, 146), Jesse Cain (5-6, 153), Chaz Davis (5-11, 153), Evan Blacker (5-10, 194), Brandon Hunter (5-11, 184), Donnie Meadows (5-10, 230), Taylor Prickett (5-5, 169), Cody Dixon-Rushman (5-8, 198) and Corey Strope (6-0, 250).
For the first time in several seasons, Shadyside is playing an all-OVAC schedule.
The Tigers won't play on Fleming Field until Week 4 when Shenandoah visits. On top of Friday's trip to the turf at Meadowbrook, Shadyside has road trips to Monroe Central and Bellaire awaiting right out of the gate.
"If you're willing to keep going up in size, teams will play you and you can fill your schedule," Holenka said with a smile. "It's a double-edged sword because the more you win, the more teams your own size shun playing you and you have to keep on going up in levels. Eventually, that'll bite you because your schedule is to the point where it's extremely tough. It's good to have some reach games though, because kids want to play in those kinds of games."
The entire community has been abuzz since it was announced in January that the Tigers and Big Reds had inked a two-year deal for the third week of the season. It'll be the first time since 1950 the two schools separated by a shade more than 4 miles meet on the gridiron.
Also back on the slate for the first time since the 1990s is Union Local. The Jets will visit Fleming Field in Week 8.
Gone from last year's schedule are Strasburg, Buckeye Trail and Linsly.
The coaching staff underwent a few changes for this season. Both Mark Bonar and Gregg Bonar stepped down from their roles with the Tigers.
John Grinch returns as one of the top assistants and will work with the defense. Michael Kernik, a former standout QB at the school, will take over the offensive coordinator duties.
B.A. Holloway, Chase Grinch and Jeff Campbell comprise the remainder of the varsity staff. Holloway and Campbell are also the freshman coaches.
At the junior high level, Randy Merryman and Kurt Glasser will coach the eighth grade team. Kinemond and Dustin Sadlowski will coach the seventh graders.
Cory Banco, Jake Duvall, Hunter Hammond, Jake Haswell, Chris Littell, Zach Meadows, Robert Newhart.
Colton Campbell, Bryce Clark, Austin Dorris, Scott Hammond, Eli Henderson, Eric Howell, Matt Krupa, Luke Nardo, Zane Otto, Austin Pedelose, Logan Price, Wyatt Skapik, Jacob Spencer, Zach Vaughn.
Austin Allen, Mason Campbell, Logan Cline, Dante DeFelice, Stevie Doughty, Eli Karkowski, Zane Merryman, Devin Nelson, Matt Shaw.
Evan Blacker, Jesse Cain, Chaz Davis, Cody Dixon-Rushman, Shadow Gibson, Cody Hawthorne, Brandon Hunter, Collin Hunter, Billy Johnson, Donnie Meadows, Taylor Prickett, Gregory Quinn, Corey Strope, Chase Wade.