WHEELERSBURG — The four-year cycle within a high school program can be brutal to endure at times. Luckily for Wheelersburg, its football team isn’t sure what that means.
Over the past four years, the Pirates have compiled an overall record of 52-4 with a state championship trophy to show for in 2017, a year where they finished 15-0. The four years prior to that run? An overall mark of 37-10 with three state playoff appearances.
In terms of all-time postseason play, the Pirates have clinched 30 playoff berths alongside a mark of 37-28 after Week 10, and seven state semifinal appearances.
The bottom line? Wheelersburg has never had to rebuild. It just reloads.
This fall should be no different.
After suffering losses to graduation at key positions — including quarterback Trent Salyers, receiver Tanner Holden and linebacker Evan Dahm, among a host of others — the Pirates’ river of seemingly never-ending talent isn’t running dry in the slightest bit.
Two weapons that return to Wheelersburg’s offense this year are seniors Evan Horsley and Makya Matthews, who are both a threat to take it to the house any time they touch the ball.
It’s a new year, there’s a new roster, and it will have to highlight new names to lean on. But the expectations remain concrete.
“We lost some talent in a few spots, but heart and work ethic is much more important than talent and that’s what we have this year,” Matthews said. “I’m so confident and have so much faith in the guys that will be filling those holes. There is a completely different mindset this year with the guys on the team. We have a team full of extremely hard workers and we understand that’s what it takes to be successful.”
Matthews, a running back and slot receiver, and Horsley, a quarterback candidate and backfield commodity, know what it takes to be successful because they’ve played in big-game situations before. When their number has been called, they’ve answered the bell.
However, the Pirates’ younger talent corps can’t say the same. That’s where they’ll look to leaders like the aforementioned duo for advice on how to get the job done.
“As a senior, your focus becomes completely different. It changes from working to contribute to working to contribute, as well as leading the kids who are below you,” Horsley said. “That’s been my main focus this year; to work my hardest to lead the younger kids, give them a path to follow, and hopefully show that when they need it, I’ll be there.”
Horsley may be giving advice sooner than later, given the Pirates’ schedule.
This year’s gauntlet includes dates with Ironton, Columbus Bishop Hartley, Ashland Blazer (Ky.), Greenup County (Ky.) and Jackson in non-conference play.
Then, of course, there’s always familiar foes within the SOC II … and everybody always wants a shot at Wheelersburg.
But it’s that type of competition that drives this year’s team.
“Having a tough schedule is extremely important going into the playoffs. It prepares you for the challenges of the playoffs,” Matthews said. “Teams that make the playoffs but have easy regular season schedules usually lose in the first or second round. Playing challenging teams will be very beneficial for us this season.”
So far, in camp, Horsley said things are starting to come together.
With a mix of veterans and newcomers, and with coach Rob Woodward still in charge, the Pirates are still looked at as the favorites to win the SOC II and head into Week 11 with a chip on their shoulders.
“Everyone is working and contributing well. Most of our offensive line is returning, so they have a pretty good grip on how things move,” Horsley said. “We have a good handful of receivers and backs, and younger kids who haven’t gotten reps during a varsity game. They’ll have some struggles and they’ll have some triumphs. But that’s the game of football. They’re starting to understand that they must learn from their struggles and work to get better.”
Wheelersburg begins its season on Aug. 30 at Ironton.
“Obviously, every team’s goal is to make it to Week 15. But our main goal right now is to prepare for Week 1 and then move from there,” Horsley said. “As a team right now, we just talk about how we want to accomplish playing together and being one solid unit. So far, everyone is giving in on their part and putting their piece of the puzzle on the table.”
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