WHEELING - The injury toll is mounting for Wheeling Central.
When the Maroon Knights take the field Saturday against Renaissance Christian Academy, they will be without three Opening Day starters in the backfield in quarterback Parker Henry (torn ACL), tailback C.J. Burch (broken hand), and fullback Jeff Gwynn (torn ACL).
''Parker Henry and C.J. Burch, they'd be my first picks if we were picking teams,'' Wheeling Central coach Mike Young said. ''And they're on the sidelines. We have kids that are going to step up and answer the bell. We've had that. They believe in our system, our coaches, and themselves.''
This reminds Young of 2010, when leading rusher Marcus Clifford injured an ankle that cost him part of the regular season. The Knights wound up winning a state title that season, their eighth.
''I've seen it happen,'' Young said. ''We're going out and play our team football. We told our players, 'If you can weather the storms, you can live the good life.' ''
Renaissance, located in Phoenixville, Pa., a five-hour drive from Wheeling, isn't a total stranger to Ohio Valley high school football fans.
Most figured it would be a sacrificial lamb for a St. Clairsville team that was coming off a state-championship game appearance in Week 3 of this season. That wasn't the case, as the Red Devils had to hang on for dear life. The Tide had a dropped pass late in that game that could have made things that much more interesting.
The Maroon Knights saw that game - and a few others - and RCA's Troy Simons was the central figure in everything they saw.
''He's a wideout,'' Young said, ''but they put him at quarterback in the Wildcat and he's deadly.''
Against St. Clairsville, Simons finished with 126 yards and scored all three touchdowns.
Simons isn't the only player on that team. Not only do opposing coaching staffs show up to watch the Tide play, so do college recruiters.
''They've got some division I athletes on that team,'' Young said.
The Maroon Knights haven't played since a 34-7 setback to Shadyside two weeks ago.
Their other loss came to Madonna in Week 2.
''We lost to two good teams,'' Young said. ''We beat five good teams. It's definitely not a lack of competition. You can't take anything away from Madonna and Shadyside. I can remember being on the other side of those. I'm very, very proud of our kids and how they've responded and the coaching staff and how they've coached.''
Joey John is the only player in the backfield that started the season there, though freshman quarterback Isaac Rine has taken over at QB and looked nothing like a rookie.
''Our freshman quarterback has worked his tail off,'' Young said.
If the Knights are going to go anywhere - and Young certainly thinks they will - it will be up to guys like Rine, John, and Brandon Angalich to get them there.
''Our kids have been able to play hard and rise to occasions and play relentless team football,'' Young said. ''Since 2000, we've won eight state championships. I'm not saying we're going to win the state championship. Class A is the toughest I've ever seen it. But it's not unrealistic, and it shouldn't be something (our players) are not thinking about.
''We can't look past this Saturday. We'll be playing two more games after that. Our hope is to be playing seven more games from this (week) on.''