MINFORD — For the Minford Falcons, likely call it a youth movement — or even, just maybe, a sophomore “jinx”.
But sometimes jinxes can be good things and work both ways, and if these Falcons fly along in everyday improvement, then the 2021 season under sixth-year head coach Jesse Ruby should be considered instead a new beginning.
While Minford must overcome some heavy graduation losses with 35 underclassmen, and featuring 14 sophomores on its 44-man roster, experience in spots is there — although it’s not necessarily known yet in terms of household names.
“Right now, it’s a question of whether these guys can step up and fill those voids. Hopefully they grow into those roles and make some plays for us,” said Ruby.
That’s because those names familiar for Falcons fans —primarily the tandem of Elijah Vogelsong-Lewis and Matthew Risner — have graduated, along with the likes of skilled-position standout Drew Skaggs and two-way lineman Tate Walker.
All four represented the Falcons’ quartet of all-Southeast District Division V selections, including the all-around performer Risner —who was actually a second-team all-Ohio wide receiver as a senior after earning second-team all-Ohio defensive back as a junior.
Vogelsong-Lewis, now playing baseball for Marshall University, was a two-time all-state quarterback — including as a third-teamer two years ago.
Now, as Ruby explained on Minford’s media day, it’s Devin Parker’s ballclub.
Parker, a six-foot two-inch and 205-pound senior, played backup to Vogelsong-Lewis last season —and even saw snaps in the Falcons’ 2-5 coronavirus-impacted fall.
Parker is one of nine Falcon seniors, and per Ruby, is undoubtedly emerging as the unquestioned leader of the flock.
“We did graduate some good players, but I feel really confident about Devin Parker playing quarterback for us. Devin had to step in and play quarterback last year in some games, including the playoff game against Piketon. He was able to step in and play that role pretty well,” said the coach, entering his 16th season on Minford’s varsity staff. “He does everything you ask a senior quarterback to do in terms of showing leadership, helping make sure guys know what their roles are and what they are doing is correct.”
That would include Skaggs and Risner’s wide-receiver replacements —seniors Colin Parker, Ethan Conally, Garrett Koverman and Trenton Zimmerman.
Conally and Colin Parker played several snaps last season, as the 6-4 Zimmerman — a Minford basketball standout which played football formerly — returns to the squad after a couple years away.
“I’m not against throwing the ball around like we did the last two years, but hopefully we can get some receivers to step up and fill the void,” said Ruby.
The other seniors make up actually experienced offensive and defensive lines —Jacob Adkins (6-3, 280), Hayden Henthorn (5-7, 260), Noah Blaine (6-2, 265) and Eli Conn (5-6, 210).
Adkins and Henthorn started up front, as did junior Hunter Pendleton (6-4, 230) — as Pendleton is back at linebacker.
They will be blocking for 5-9, 200-pound sophomore back Jeffery Pica, who may get anywhere over 20 or more touches per game this season —given that’s the Falcons’ overall team strength and experience.
“Jeffrey Pica played running back last year for us and grew into that role as a freshman. He got thrown into it early, but he progressed pretty well throughout the season. He looks really comfortable in that position right now,” raved Ruby. “It was kind of difficult on us last season, playing only seven games and trying to get these guys experience up front. But we’re hoping that experience of playing the tough SOC II (Southern Ohio Conference) right from the get-go has helped them gain experience that they can be ready for this year. I think our offensive line has looked pretty good so far, and we’re looking at a power-running game as more of a possibility.”
Defensively — with pieces of their front seven returning — replacing the back end of Risner, Skaggs and Vogelsong-Lewis won’t be easy, given the mix-and-match of offenses the Falcons face.
Their first two games against Ohio Valley Conference clubs Rock Hill and Chesapeake are run-oriented units, as is Wellston with the Golden Rockets returning to the Falcons’ schedule after a nearly decade-long absence.
Washington Court House is a spread-the-field throwing team, as the SOC II ranges from pass-heavy and defending champion Waverly to T-formation and power-based Oak Hill.
“We’ve had this type of schedule for quite a few years now. A lot of the teams play a different style of offense every week. It’s always been a challenge for us, but we’ve had some success at getting our teams ready to face different offenses,” said Ruby. “Hopefully, this group can pick up on our schemes and things and do that as well.”
It’s just going to be a younger, yet quite capable according to Ruby, nest of Falcons.
It all comes down to execution each and every week, said the coach.
“I feel like we’ll be competitive in our games like we were last year, but we have to eliminate turnovers, penalties and big-play potential,” he said. “We’re working on improving each and every week, and with being lower on numbers, here’s hoping we can remain as injury-free as possible.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved