WILLOW WOOD — You will definitely need a program when watching the Symmes Valley Vikings this season.
There will be plenty of new faces and names from the playing field to the man in charge for a program that went 9-1 last season and won the Southern Ohio Conference Division I.
Six-year assistant coach Ben Ferguson takes the helm for his first season as the head coach.
He replaces the program’s all-time winningest coach Rusty Webb, who retired following only the second unbeaten regular season in the program’s history.
Beside losing their veteran coach, the Vikings lost nine starters on both sides of the ball — but Ferguson is undeterred.
“We’re going to have a pretty decent size senior class again this year. Those are guys who have been sprinkled in the past few years and have some serious varsity time,” said Ferguson. “We’re looking for the older guys to lead and we have some younger guys who are ready to step up. We’re just trying to put it all together and see what we can do.”
Although Ferguson is excited to be a head coach, he’s happier for the players.
“I’m excited but more for the young guys and the kids who haven’t played. I’m excited they get to experience this. I tell them all the time, just the fact you guys are out here, that you’re willing to work and contribute to the tradition is great. And if we pick up some wins along the way with that, it’s even better,” said Ferguson.
While other teams won’t feel sorry for the Vikings, Ferguson said the Vikings aren’t feeling sorry for themselves, either.
“We have expectations to go out and do the little things right. If you go 100-percent all the time. you’ll always have a chance,” said Ferguson. “We just want to keep the tradition going and build off the past. We just want to keep them interested and keep getting better.”
Senior Aleck Beckett (6-1 175) has the most experience at quarterback and is expected to be the starter, but Ferguson said it might be a position where the Vikings rotate the signal-caller.
Senior Caleb Ritchie played as a freshman, but is just now getting reacquainted with the position.
“We’re rotating guys in there. One guy might be a better runner or Aleck if we want to pass more. Beckett is our jack-of-all-trades. There are guys who can do a certain specific thing well who we might move around depending on their skill set,” said Ferguson. “Ritchie brings some different dynamics to the position. He can throw pretty well, he can run pretty well. The biggest thing is getting him the reps now where he can learn the offense.”
The backfield has some depth.
Senior Levi Ross headlines the group along with junior Sam McClease.
Also in the running are senior Wyatt Owens, sophomore Willie Jones, freshman Randy Adkins and possibly Ritchie — along with sophomore offensive lineman Caiden Mount.
“We expect Levi to take a bigger role. Adkins is a freshman but he has some of those natural gifts you look for,” said Ferguson. “Mount loves contact, sometimes even too much. Traditionally, we’ve been a run-first offense. Depending on how we progress during the season, I still feel we’ll be a run-first team, but we’ll try to get a little more balance with it. Again, that all depends on our skill set and how we develop.”
Freshman Tucker Ross is taking the most snaps at center, but Ferguson said there are other candidates.
Freshman Zander Hurn has taken some snaps, but he has rotated around the entire line.
Senior Bradley Skaggs hasn’t played for several years, but “he’s coming along nicely. He’s in a nice spot because physically he’s in a nice spot.”
Right guard is a battle between either Mount and senior Jacob Thompson.
“They are back and forth every day,” said Ferguson.
On the other side will be between juniors Alex Adkins and Jacob Callicoat.
The left tackle will be senior Isaac Ross — a returning starter — while the right tackle is up in the air.
Skaggs and Callicoat have rotated at the spot, while sophomore Cody Stapleton is getting a look along with junior Alex Adkins, who has had a couple of starts in the past.
“Adkins is an older guy who hasn’t played the last couple of years but he has the frame and footwork for it,” said Ferguson.
Senior Wyatt Owens is getting the most looks and should be a starter, and on the other side could be senior Josh Saunders who had a lot of varsity snaps at the end of last season, but also spent some time in the backfield.
Other candidates are sophomores Colt Pancake and Branson Edwards.
“They’re both young guys and just feeling their way around,” said Ferguson. “Saunders had a lot of varsity time last season.”
The Vikings won’t change their 4-4 alignment look, but will adjust depending on the opposition.
Isaac Ross returns at one tackle with Callicoat and Adkins on the other side.
Junior Ayden Taylor will draw some consideration along with Stapleton.
Owens played some defensive end in the past and has the upper hand, but Ferguson said he could move to linebacker.
Sophomore Austin Dement and Mount are in a battle on the other side, but Ferguson said all three will play.
“We like to give our linemen some rest. As long as they play their technique and don’t get pushed off the ball, they’ve got a shot at playing,” said Ferguson.
Beckett — who played inside last season — will return and direct the defense.
Jones also got some varsity time last year.
On the outside could be Owens if he doesn’t play end.
Definitely returning inside will be McClease, Saunders gives the Vikings a versatile player at linebacker, and freshman Andy Strow is another possible candidate.
“McClease is a veteran and a very smart kid,” said Ferguson.
Levi Ross is a two-year starter and will be the mainstay at cornerback.
“He’s had a lot of snaps and he helps the younger guys. He sets the pace for them,” said Ferguson.
Edwards is expected to be the other corner, while Adkins could be a swingman at corner and safety.
Pancake and Ritchie are also taking reps there.
“Safety is an open position right now,” said Ferguson.
After open tryouts with 15 candidates, Beckett won both the place-kicking and punting jobs.
Mount will be the backup at placekicker, and Jones is the backup punter.
Ferguson doesn’t see a clear-cut favorite, and expects a tough battle each week.
“The league will be pretty strong. Northwest has a big back who is hard to stop. Notre Dame will be good again. They’re so disciplined you never overlook them. Green is moving in the right direction,” said Ferguson. “East will be tough and Eastern can play in space. We lost nine guys and you can’t expect to replace them wholly, but they’ve been in big games and they respond really well.”