SCIOTOVILLE — In his first year as East’s head football coach, Adam Bailey inherits a roster consisting of mostly underclassmen.
Those underclassmen are the present and future of the Tartans’ program — with just one senior and three juniors on East’s 22-player team.
Of the 19 other Tartans, 10 are freshmen and nine are sophomores.
After an off-season of uncertainty in the realm of fall sports in the state of Ohio, East will be looking to groom its young roster for this year’s six-game season — and also for their entire high school football careers.
“We’ve been pretty competitive, they’ve been working each other hard,” Bailey said of his young team. “I think our kids are going to get better. They’re eager to learn and willing to work hard. It’s just one of those things that when you’re a team with one senior and three juniors and you’re going up against a team that’s got 20-30 junior seniors combined, it’s something that we’ll have to adjust to.”
Despite its youth, East does return three key differencemakers on the offensive side of the ball.
Sophomore quarterback Austin Baughman returns for his second year after starting in the same position as a freshman.
“Austin is one of the keys,” Bailey said. “Everyone always looks to the quarterback to be the leader, and he’s embraced that role.”
Leviticus Justice, one of three East juniors, will play both running back and linebacker in his third season for the Tartans.
Baughman and Justice established themselves as leaders of their young roster during the off-season and early-season practices in Sciotoville.
“He’s one of our big leaders on the team,” Bailey said of Justice. “He doesn’t miss practice, comes in and works as hard as anyone we’ve got. I think his role will probably increase from what we’ve seen in practice.”
Landehn Pernell, a sophomore two-way player, will serve alongside Justice as a linebacker in the Tartans’ defense — as well as a stark offensive threat after a strong freshman season.
“He’s a kid that’s grown a little bit, put on some weight,” Bailey said of Pernell. “With him being bigger and stronger, being as productive as he was as a freshman, we’re hoping we can put him in different spots and try to get him touches in different areas.”
Freshman running back Dylan Fitzgerald will be one of several first-year Tartans who will look to make an immediate impact on the field, Bailey says.
“Big, strong kid whose got good speed for his size,” Bailey said of Fitzgerald. “We’re hoping that he gives us another dimension offensively that we haven’t had here for a couple of years.”
Where the Tartans have strengths in their youth and in their skill positions, Bailey says the offensive line has been somewhat of a concern in early practice — and will be a focus of improvement as East marches through its regular season.
“Our big question right now is just finding linemen,” Bailey said. “We have a couple of kids with size, but overall team size we’re not real big. Hopefully, we can get some guys that want to go down there and block, block their assignment.”
As of six days before the start of the regular season, East is without a week-one opponent following the OHSAA Board of Directors’ vote to shorten the regular season from 10 games to six.
Starting week two, East begins its Southern Ohio Conference Division I schedule with a road trip to Eastern.
After spending time around the game of football with family members who coached during his youth, and he himself coaching at the junior high and high school levels, Bailey is looking forward to his first fall as a head coach for the Tartans’ historic program.
“I’ve been around football my entire life. I’ve enjoyed this summer, early season as much as anything I’ve done,” Bailey said. “There’s going to be things during our first season we’re going to have to learn from, hopefully we’ll learn from those mistakes like our kids do.”
© 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved