WILLOW WOOD — Don’t be surprised if Rusty Webb is wearing a hat with an “E” on the front instead of an “SV.”
The “E” in this case stands for experience, which is something the Symmes Valley Vikings have to lean on this season.
“We have a lot of experience which is something we don’t usually get to hang our hat on,” said Webb. “We also have playoff experience which helps us and we’ve played in a couple of SOC championship games the last two years. We take no one for granted, but we hope the experience will help us.”
The Vikings are two years removed from a Southern Ohio Conference Division I championship, and were 5-3 last season as they finished third in the league race during the COVID-19 marred season.
But Webb noted that the abbreviated season still enabled his players to gain some valuable experience, especially when ravaged by injuries that forced some younger players to step in and fill the voids.
Webb said that experience is paying off early.
“We’re a little ahead of where we’ve been the last couple of years. Staying healthy will be the key, just like for every team,” said Webb. “We’ve been very happy with our young kids. They don’t have a lot of experience, but they’ve been giving us great effort.”
The offensive line is an area of strength with a senior-laden group.
Returning at center will be senior Tanner McComas (6-0, 265), who has the versatility to play guard or tackle if needed.
Isaac Ross — who missed last season with an ACL injury — will be one tackle with senior Gavan Yates (6-0, 290) as his running mate.
Yates also suffered an ACL injury last season, but Webb said “he’s 100 percent healthy.”
Senior Eli Patterson (6-01, 205) is back at guard and will be a three-year starter.
“All these kids started when they were sophomores, so we have some experience there,” said Webb. “If we stay healthy, we’re hoping our offensive line will be a strength.”
Sophomore Brayden Webb (6-4, 225) and junior Alec Beckett (6-1, 175) will play at tight end, and Beckett can split out wide.
Webb has also played at the three inside line positions.
Senior Nick Strow (5-10, 170) is expected to get plenty of playing time at tight end, and also may play some in the backfield.
“Last year we had two good-sized tight ends. We normally don’t have that and this year we have two who are 200 pounds-plus and both of them can catch the ball,” said coach Webb. “We don’t throw a lot, but we’ve been able to throw effectively. If people crowd the box, we can throw the ball.”
Senior Grayson Walsh (5-10, 185) and senior Levi Best (6-1, 170) are in a battle to replace all-Ohio standout Luke Leith, who is now at Centre College.
“One is faster and one has a better arm. They both bring something to the table. There are certain things we can do depending on which one is the quarterback,” said Webb.
The Vikings have a solid stable of running backs led by senior Ethan Patterson (6-2, 165), senior Levi Niece (5-7, 180), junior Levi Ross (5-6. 165) and sophomore Sam McClease (5-8, 155).
All are expected to see time at running back.
Niece should be the fullback with the versatile Strow also a possibility.
Walsh and Best can also play as running back when not playing quarterback.
Yates, McComas and Ross will rotate at the defensive tackle spot.
Niece and Eli Patterson should be the ends.
“Those guys are really interchangeable,” said coach Webb.
Inside linebackers will be Walsh and Brayden Webb along with freshman upstart Caiden Mount (5-9, 170).
On the outside will be Strow and McClease with freshman Will Jones in the mix.
“We’re a little young at the linebacking corps. Three of the four are at different spots than last year. The only one in the same position is Strow,” said coach Webb. “Walsh was outside last year and this will be a new spot for Webb and McClease.”
McClease played in the secondary last season, but has added weight and strength.
Ethan Patterson, Best and Ross will comprise a veteran secondary group.
“Patterson is in his third year starting and brings a lot of experience. Best started last year and has experience and Ross didn’t start but played a lot,” said coach Webb.
Jones will also help in the secondary, along with junior Wyatt Owens (6-0, 155) and senior Seth Ulery (5-6, 145).
Yates will handle the placekicking again with Niece as the punter.
“Gavan has had 10 to 12 touchbacks with his kickoffs and Niece averaged 38 yards a kick, so we feel our kicking game will be a strength,” said coach Webb.
Brayden Webb will be the long snapper with Walsh the holder.
SOUTHERN OHIO CONFERENCE
Webb expects Northwest to defend its title from last season.
“Northwest has to be the favorite. Eastern lost some guys but they’ll be up there. The rest of the league will be a dogfight,” said Webb.