BOWERSTON -In his first year as coach at Conotton Valley, Eric Schumacher did something that no player on his team had seen before in their lifetime.
He led the Rockets to a .500 finish.
''First non-losing season in 18 years,'' Schumacher proudly said. ''We got the ball rolling last year. Had a great group of seniors that did a good job on the field as well as being leaders in the locker room. I was pretty spoiled with my first group of seniors, that's for sure.''
The second-year coach, however, is still enjoying the spoils of having Colton Cottis under center.
The senior has started every game since Week 2 of his freshman season and earned All-OVAC honorable mention laurels as a junior.
''Colton, I call him a four-year starter although he didn't start the first couple games his freshman year,'' Schumacher said. ''He's matured a lot. He's starting to make better decisions, especially toward the end of last year. His mechanics are right where they need to be and we're expecting a big year out of him this year throwing the ball.''
Freshman Brett Bower will provide depth behind Cottis.
Senior fullback Jacob Hoover will also try to provide leadership out of the backfield.
''He's the only skill guy we have back from last year's team,'' Schumacher said.
Hoover rushed for nearly 500 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
''He did a good job for us,'' Schumacher said. ''We're going to rely on him a good bit.''
Other backs include sophomore Terry Tope, junior Kenny Fiester and freshman Bryden Adams.
''They've done a great job in 7-on-7s, been picking everything up, but they're going to have to carry a good burden this year,'' Schumacher said. ''That's something they didn't have to do last year.''
Sophomore Brandon McCreary will lead a group of young receivers that includes sophomores Zane Mauge and Jordon Masters, junior Shea Jones as well as freshman Trever Russell.
''Brandon is our No. 1," Schumacher said. ''He's doing a good job of picking everything up and catching the ball. That's the biggest thing.''
Offensive line looks to be the Rockets' stronghold as they return four starters to the trenches.
''That's probably going to be our strength, especially in the first couple of weeks,'' Schumacher noted. ''They're going to have to buck up while our skill players start to get their feet under them.''
That group includes senior tackle Alex Chilton, junior guard John Hidey, senior guard Devin Bailey and senior center Zach Ott. Freshman Garret Rice will fill in the other tackle spot, while junior Roger Beckett, freshman Scotch Romeo and sophomore Bryson Bailey add depth.
''He's going to have grow up a little bit in a short period of time, that's for sure, to be a crucial part of our offense like that,'' Schumacher said of Rice. ''He's been to everything this summer and he's been working hard, so right now he's going to be the front runner for that position.''
Chilton and Ott will also double as interior defensive linemen.
''Alex and Zach did a tremendous job last year and are going to be stepping in there,'' Schumacher said. ''I don't think we'll have any letdown there.''
Who will anchor the defensive line was a question yet to be answered.
''We're going to have to somehow find two defensive ends. Justin Sadosky will probably be a good one for us,'' Schumacher said. ''The other one, I just don't know right now. We're going to have to ask someone to step up.''
Other defensive ends listed are Hidey and junior Michael Stojanovich.
Hoover and Bailey will return to their starting interior linebacking spots, while Fiester will play on the outside.
The other outside linebacker spot was still up for grabs.
''I feel pretty comfortable with our linebackers. Brandon McCreary and Brian Adams may have to step into that other position to fill that void that was left by graduation.''
The Rockets also have to replace their entire secondary, but will look for Tope, McCreary and Cottis to take control.
Several changes were made to the Rockets' schedule. In addition to adding Fort Frye and Barnesville, Conotton Valley moved Bridgeport from its regular Week 3 meeting to Week 5 as well as bumping Strasburg up to Week 1.
''Fort Frye, that's going to be one where we don't know too much about them, but we're looking forward to having them come up for Homecoming.''
As always, the Rockets will have their annual matchup with Malvern in Week 3.
''Our biggest one is probably Malvern just because they've been so good the past few years.'' Schumacher said. ''That's a big game for us. It's a crucial week. We start with Strasburg and St. John. If we get on a roll there, that'll be a big win for us and propel us into the middle of our schedule.
''If we stay healthy, we have a chance to compete for a playoff spot. I really do think that. But, with only 18 or 19 kids, if the injury bug bites you, we're going to be in trouble. We were fortunate last year since the injury bug didn't really bite us until about Week 8 with Toronto. Then, it was just downhill from there in Week 8 and Week 9. We were 5-3 at that point last year, so... I'm hoping we are fortunate enough to go all 10 weeks without some type of injuries."