NEW MANCHESTER - After two straight trips to the West Virginia Class AA playoffs, Oak Glen fell on hard times in 2012. Second-year coach Ian Whittington is looking to get the Golden Bears back on the winning track this season.
Last season Oak Glen had most of its interior linemen back from a playoff team, along with a couple of skill players, but injuries played a big role in a disappointing 4-6 record.
Whittington has 11 lettermen returning, but only one starter from the offensive line. He feels that while this club is younger and inexperienced, it has much more speed and athleticism.
"We're very young and very inexperienced," he said, "but our kids are ambitious to win and each one of them is striving to be the best football player he can be. We just want to get better each day."
Fifteen seniors picked up diplomas last May and starting quarterback Vincent (Bub) Haddox, who was injured through most of the second half of last season, decided he wanted to pass up football in lieu of playing fall baseball.
Whittington's toughest job will be replacing the departed Preston Murray, a four-year starter and two-time Class AA first team all-state selection at tackle. Other seniors gone are Nate Wright, Tyler Steed, Josh Weltner, Jeffrey Stivason, Justin Stivason, Zach Staley, Clayton Flowers, a special honorable all-state selection, Cole Holloway, Cody Howell, Trey Smith, Nation Whittington, Richie Davis, Brady Pittenger and Logan Curtis.
Whittington re-turns Chase Hartley at quarterback. He started several games last year as a sophomore when Haddox was injured.
"Hartley throws the ball well and really excelled last June in 7-on-7 drills," Whittington said. "He can run when needed and is a hard-nosed kid.''
Hartley was Oak Glen's second-leading tackler last year at linebacker.
Whittington again plans to feature the running game and is looking for senior David Campbell, a returning starter, and sophomore Alec Swiger to get most of the calls. Another sophomore, Ryan Cunningham, who started three games last year at linebacker, moves into the fullback slot. Lakota Grimes, a junior, will spell him.
Six players are vying for playing time at the receiver positions. They are Tyler Cambell, Micah Swiger and Nathan Bebout, all juniors, along with seniors Chris Burnham and Josh Cornell, and Cyle Perez, a sophomore.
Whittington says Colton Speece (6-foot-2, 190), a senior tight end, is one of his best receivers. Skyler Fluharty, another senior, will get some snaps at tight end.
"Since we have only one starter returning on the line, we don't have a depth chart there yet," Whittington explained during the first week of two-a-days. "Noah Mills is the only returning starter."
Mills is a 6-foot, 240-pound junior. Others battling for starting spots on the offensive line are seniors Michael Shenton, Cody Wishon, Drew Bailey and Keith Orr; junior Joe Wells and sophomore Justin Cornell. Orr is the biggest of the group at 6-2, 275.
On the other side of the ball, Orr, Michael Shenton and Wishon will be the defensive tackles while Bailey, Mills, Skyler Fluharty and Tyler Campbell are the ends.
Cunningham returns at inside linebacker and will be joined by Alec Swiger, Grimes and Patrick Arneault, a junior.
The outside linebackers will be Hartley, who is the leading returning tackler, and senior Colton Speece.
The defensive backs will be Burnham, Bebout, sophomore Josh Cornell and Micah Swiger, a junior.
"Our linemen aren't as big as they were last year, but they are quicker and more athletic, especially on defense," Whittington said. "Our strengths will be the run game and getting the ball to some of the playmakers on the outside. We definitely have more overall speed than in the past two years."
Speece returns as the punter and Alec Swiger, who did most of the kickoffs a year ago also returns.
Drew Bailey, Chris Burnham, David Campbell, Tyler Campbell, Dalton Champ, Josh Cornell, Skyler Fluharty, Keith Orr, Mike Shenton, Colton Speece, Cody Wishon
Patrick Arneault, Nate Bebout, Lakota Grimes, Chase Hartley, Noah Mills, Addison Sayre, Micah Swiger, Joe Wells
Kalib Bailey, Justin Campbell, Michael Campbell, Devon Chadwick, Justin Cornell, Ryan Cunningham, Noah Flowers, Edison Gatrell, Aaron Gray, Tommy Hawken, Bradly Hitt, Ron Moore, Cyle Perez, Zac Porter, Brandon Skeeles, Alec Swiger
Richard Bowen, David Devoux, Taylor Edgell, Lance Collins, Stevie Cool, Chase Crago, Logan Kranis, Travis Lowther, Kaleb Merton, Solan Mueller, Dakota Price, Isaac Rosohac, Shane Theiss