WAVERLY — When Waverly had Payton Shoemaker running, Grayson Diener kicking, Haydn’ Shanks throwing, Will Futhey catching and Zeke Brown tackling, the Tigers —more times than not — were on the prowl and difficult to stop.
But what will Waverly, despite graduating just six seniors and returning a multitude of talent, do for an encore —and especially without Shoemaker’s feet or Diener’s leg?
Well, the Tigers still have Shanks’ arm, Futhey’s hands and Brown’s body — and a year older and more experienced —Waverly will be expected to certainly challenge for the Southern Ohio Conference Division II championship.
The Tigers will aim to continue the momentum from last season’s 9-3 campaign, which included a Division IV regional quarterfinal playoff victory — the first for the program since back-to-back triumphs in 2006 and 2007.
With the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s decision to automatically enter all 2020 teams in the state playoffs —should they so choose —Waverly will be making its fifth consecutive postseason trip.
But first things first, it’s the Tigers’ non-league season opener against visiting Granville —before going after six-time defending champion Wheelersburg and the SOC II crown.
“Our kids are excited about what’s in front of us. This group has played together for a while and have had a lot of success,” said eight-year Waverly head coach Chris Crabtree. “We’re getting to the point in our program where we have high expectations every year.”
Waverly will have numbers once again with 61 players on its roster, including a third of them (20) being juniors.
Futhey, standing six-foot five inches tall and weighing 205 pounds, was a third-team Division IV all-Ohio wideout as a sophomore —as six-foot, 200-pound Dawson Shoemaker stands to replace his brother.
The younger Shoemaker, Crabtree explained, is a bigger back but features a different running style.
While at Waverly, the older Shoemaker became one of the most prolific Tigers ever — and set single-season school records in rushing yards (2,378) and touchdowns (34) as a senior.
For his Tiger career, Shoemaker amounted 3,427 rushing yards including 4,821 all-purpose yards, toted 48 touchdowns and made 16 interceptions as a defensive back.
He was named first-team all-Ohio —automatically earning the honor after being selected as the Southeast District Division IV Offensive Player of the Year.
“Payton Shoemaker is obviously a huge void to fill, but I think we’re going to be fine,” said Crabtree. “We have guys that can and will jump in there, even though they are probably not going to be as dynamic as what Payton was.”
The Tigers must also replace Diener —who captured first-team all-Ohio accolades as a kicker.
But Shanks (6-3, 190) is back under center — or rather in the shotgun — in Waverly’s fast-paced, hurry-up, waste-little-time spread offense.
Despite playing on an injured knee all last season which limited his mobility, Shanks still posted first-team all-Southeast District honors.
Now, Crabtree said, he is back healthy —and throwing to a quartet which includes Futhey, fellow junior Penn Morrison (6-3, 195), returning senior Phoenix Wolf (6-3, 185) and the senior tight end Brown (6-3, 215).
“Haydn’ (Shanks) has done very well and looks really good. He had his last appointment at the end of July and has been cleared for contact and is ready to go. It will be nice to have him be able to move around. We are very long (at wide receiver) and all of those guys are at least 6-3 and 180 to 195 pounds,” said the coach. “Pretty excited to see what those guys can do.”
While the Tigers are lengthy on the outside, they are large on the interior — and senior-heavy.
Andrew Welch (6-0, 330) was an all-district first-teamer, as Spencer Pollard (6-0, 205) — despite his smaller size — made Special Mention.
The others up front are sophomore Brock Adams (6-2, 305) and seniors Blaise Reader (6-4, 270) and Aiden Diehl (6-2, 330).
Brown, an all-district first-team linebacker, leads an improved Tiger defense —which also includes returnees Pollard and J.T. Barnett (6-0, 195) at linebacker and Morrison at cornerback.
As part of their front, Futhey will play at one end and add length, while Wyatt Crabtree (6-2, 185) offers an athletic option on the opposite side.
Like all other programs throughout the state, the Tigers have had to deal with the coronavirus-impacted off-season, but Coach Crabtree said they bounced back from the spring stoppage —and are ready for another fall on the prowl.
“Our summer preparation, especially in June, was really good. For our guys to come back from that time period when school shut down in the spring and get back in the flow like we did, I was pretty happy,” he said. “Kids are excited about having a season and seeing all what we can do.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved