PORTSMOUTH — After qualifying for the OHSAA football playoffs in back-to-back seasons, it’s a new year with the same high expectations for the Portsmouth Trojans.
Portsmouth’s 2019 senior class consisted of 14 seniors — a class headlined by the school’s all-time leading rusher Talyn Parker and first-team all-OVC wide receivers Eric Purdy and Bryce Wallace.
Entering the 2020 season, the Trojans return all-Southeast District Special Mention quarterback Drew Roe for his junior year, first team all-district linebacker Christian Keys, as well as senior captain Rex Smith.
With those playoff appearances, Roe, Keys and Smith each discussed the lessons that come from winning games at the high school level — as well as learning from previous senior classes which helped lead Portsmouth in head coach Bruce Kalb’s first two seasons on the sidelines.
“We learned a lot, especially last year,” Roe said. “My group of seniors last year and this year, they taught me a lot to be on the field and to understand how to be a leader. In the offseason, I learned a bunch from Coach Kalb. We spent a lot of hours together learning.”
“The past couple groups of seniors have shown us what it means to be a senior, how to lead,” Keys said. “How to take control of a situation when no ones wanting to. They’ve also showed us how leadership can win or lose games.”
“Before we started playing varsity as sophomores and juniors, we looked up to everybody and we picked little things from them,” Smith said. “But whenever it was our turn to step up, we really hammered down on those things we learned. And we try to get the underclassmen to look up to us, take them under our wing and try to help everybody out.”
With the absence of Parker and three senior linemen all who graduated, Portsmouth’s running game may look starkly different in the 2020 season.
That’s not to say that the Trojans’ speed will be lacking, however.
Keys and Smith both said they see the strengths of this year’s Trojan team as its speed, while Roe believes it’s its ability to play as a team.
“Strengths would be how we always play together. Always stay focused, always on the same page,” Roe said. “We understand what we’ve got to do to win.”
“Our speed, 100-percent over our size,” Keys said. “We’re going much quicker than 90-percent of the teams we play and when we’re not, we’re going to make up for it in the strength we’ve been gaining in the weight room.”
“I think our main strength would be speed,” Smith said. “We don’t have too many big bodies this year, but we do have a ton of speed. We’re really going to work on technique this year to help us get those wins.”
The OHSAA Board of Directors voted to shorten the length of the 2020 regular season from 10 games to six on Aug. 7 — and additionally voted to qualify all teams in the state for the playoffs, if they elect to compete past the regular season.
In preparing for the uncertainty of the 2020 campaign, Roe, Keys and Smith said their focus has remained on being as prepared as they can for their now week-one game against longtime rival Ironton.
“It’s been kind of weird not knowing whether you’re going to play because all of this work could be for nothing,” Roe said. “But we just have to stay focused and understand that we might have a season.”
“It’s been rough not knowing if we’d have a season or not,” Keys said. “But we’ve been getting after it in practice and our coaches have been hard on us to keep us focused.”
“It’s been a little bit stressful not knowing if we’re going to have a season or not. I think we all have a little bit of doubt in our minds that what if we’re putting in all this work for nothing?,” Smith said. “But at the end of the day, you’ve just got to think what you’re doing it for, what’s the purpose. My purpose is I’m putting in some Trojan pride and I’m going to come out here, do my job and get it done.”
If the Trojans are to vie for a third straight winning season in Kalb’s third year as the head coach, pending a final decision on the fall sports season in Ohio, it’d mean another season of showcasing their Trojan pride — on and off the field.
“It’d mean everything,” Roe said. “Not playing this season would hurt a lot of people, we just hope we get the opportunity.”
“It’s going to mean everything to me,” Keys said. “It’s my senior year, I’m going all out. I just hope that we get it because I know it’s going to put a lot of us in a bad spot if we don’t.”
“It would mean a lot to me being able to go out here and put a show on for everyone,” Smith said. “Fight with my brothers, get some wins in. And even if we don’t win, we’re still fighting for a really good purpose and that’s to be a Trojan.”
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved