WEIRTON - Weir coach Tony Filberto did something last season that he's not a fan of by starting nine freshmen by the end of a winless campaign.
"I do not like to start freshmen or even play them in varsity games and I rarely had done that over the course of my coaching career," Filberto said. "We were forced into it because of the injuries. It was a new experience for me, one I'd never been in.
"Last year wasn't a bad team, it was just inexperienced. They were just pups, but they never gave up and kept battling until the end."
Filberto is counting on that experience, another year of maturity plus a lot of talented players to begin to get the Red Riders back on the winning trail.
"We have 46 kids out this year and that compares to 27 last year," Filberto said. "That's the first battle. You need numbers before you have anything else. I commend our coaches. They worked hard informing the Weir High students of the benefits of playing football and the positive goals that we have."
Using all those freshmen and sophomores a year ago could pay dividends as the Red Riders have 16 letterwinners returning.
"We made strides last year," the coach said. "They had to learn the hard way and because of it I think we'll have a pretty good football team this year. We're still going to be young. We have only eight seniors and that's our smallest class, but we're building a good foundation and that will pay off."
Heading the list of returnees is junior William Larch, who will be entering his third season as the starting quarterback.
That would lead you to believe that he is experienced, but injuries have played a role in his development. Larch broke his collar bone in the second quarter of the second game of his freshman season and he didn't return until the final game. Then, last year he started the first five games before getting injured against Oak Glen. So Larch has played in only eight of Weir 20 varsity games the two seasons.
Since sophomore Jake Wypasek replaced Larch for the final five games at quarterback last year and Filberto says he has two promising freshmen, there is much more depth at the position this year.
Sophomore Kameron Davis is another of those freshmen that got a lot of playing time. He'll be the starter at running back and Filberto said he has come back with 30 more pounds on his frame and is listed at 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds.
Matt Hartman, a junior transfer from Brooke, adds depth at running back, along with senior Nick McCartney (6-0, 190), who is out for for the first time. Sophomore Danny Sarles is in the mix.
Filberto said he is blessed with a lot of depth at receiver, too. JoJo Rice, a junior and the leading receiver returns, along with senior Clarence Bennett.
Bennett (6-1, 175) is a two-year letterman who left the team midway through the season in 2012 because of personal issues.
Vying for playing time on the outside are juniors Dylan Keyes, Josh Kolling and Jacob Nation.
The Red Riders use another receiver who also can become a running back in certain schemes called an H-back. Filberto says Wypasek, Hartman and Davis all are interchangeable as running backs and receivers in that formation.
C.J. Reed, who lettered as a freshman, also is in the mix.
John Frankovitch (6-0, 200), a three-year letterman, returns at tight end. Backups are Jeremy Freeland, a junior, and sophomore Patrick McCoy.
Graduation hit the Red Riders hardest in the offensive line, but with a couple of starters back, Filberto thinks there will be improvement there.
Seniors Devin Dollison (6-2, 230) and Dan Moorcock (6-1, 275) lead the line group as returnees at tackle and guard respectively.
Mark Parr (5-11, 180), who lettered on defense as a sophomore, is the other guard, with senior Isaac Wetterau (5-11, 235) in the mix. Wetterau was on the team three years ago as a freshman and decided to give football another go.
It looks like sophomore Matt Thompson (5-10, 235), who started last year at defensive end, will get the nod at the other tackle. Also in the mix is sophomore Brandon Taylor (6-3,320), the biggest of the Red Riders, who transferred from Midland, Pa.
On the defensive side, Kyle Baldwin (6-3, 260), who started as a freshman, returns at defensive tackle. Davidson will man the other side with Taylor expected to get some time there.
Thompson and Dollison return at defensive end with a year of experience under their belts and Mark Parr is vying for playing time.
Frankovitch, who started at defensive end, will move to inside linebacker where he'll be joined by McCartney. Jacob Parr and Sarles are backups.
The outside linebackers on the strong side will be Reed, who got so me starts at free safety, or Sarles, while the weak side will be manned by Rice, who started at cornerback. Wypasek will share time on the weak side as well.
Kam Davis and Bennett will be the cornerbacks with Wypasek as a backup, and Hartman will get the call at safety. Filberto doesn't want to play Larch on defense, but if necessary, he can return to the safety position he played last year until being injured.
In a surprise move, Filberto has named senior Alyssa Shingle as the placekicker. Shingle, who has been a starter on the soccer and basketball teams since her freshman year, actually got her tryout for kicker late last season after volunteering as a team manager and ball girl.
Larch and Davis will handle the punting and Cody Enrietti, a freshman, will do the kickoffs.
Kick returners will be Rice, Bennett and Davis.
Chris Baldwin, Clarence Bennett, Devin Dollison, John Frankovitch, Nick McCartney, Daniel Mohoroski, Alyssa Shingle, Isaac Wetterau.
Chase Crow, Jeremy Freeland, Matt Hartman, Dylan Keyes, Josh Kolling, Jacob Nation, Mark Parr, Jonathan Rice, William Larch.
Kyle Baldwin, Joe Caldwell, Cole Davidson, Kameron Davis, Pat McCoy, Jacob Parr, Own Pearson, Dillon Reckner, C.J. Reed, Danny Sarles, Brandon Taylor, Matt Thompson, Sam Williams, Jake Wypasek.
Jordan Allen, Owen Boyd, Adam Cowden, Tyler Dulaney, Cody Enrietti, Alvyn Hernandez, Dustin Kegs, Blade MacGregor, Michael Mills, Domenick Murphy, Isaac Piatt, Donovan Spencer, Lyric Washington, Jimmy Whitlatch.