BEAVER — In the age of the expression ‘it is what it is’, Eastern High School’s football team has seen some Eagles leave the nest.
Actually, it’s quite a few.
That’s because, following fielding 42 players a season ago including eight seniors, the Eagles’ numbers —after a 5-2 coronavirus-impacted campaign — have fallen all the way to 25.
Indeed, it’s not ideal for Eastern, or head coach Scott Tomlison, especially when only two seniors replace those graduated eight —with one never even having played football before.
Tomlison, on Eastern’s media day, talked quite candidly about the hand the Division VII Eagles have been dealt.
“We lost eight seniors, so that’s definitely going to hurt us for this season. We’re basically replacing all of our skilled kids. Then this year was a crazy year, because not only did we lose seniors, we had a handful of our starters transfer out to other schools, for whatever their reasons were,” said Tomlison. “So that hurt us, because most of those kids were multi-year starters for us. We’ve lost quite a bit, not just our seniors. Crazy circumstances and small-school issues.”
Hence, it’s a rebuilding year and a true youth movement underway at Eastern —as Tomlison, in his 10th year with the program and the head coach for now all seven of the Eagles’ varsity seasons, tries to replace upperclassmen with a roster stocked and stacked with youngsters.
In fact, the only experience exists with senior wide receiver Devon Conley.
“Not a lot of varsity experience among our skilled kids outside of him (Conley), who has been a starter for a few years,” said Tomlison. “Our skilled kids are really really young and we’re lacking depth with only 25 kids. Last year with 42, you could take some injuries and keep on moving. This year, we can’t afford the injury bug or we’re in trouble.”
The Eagles’ only regular-season setback was a blowout loss at eventual champion Northwest in the de facto Southern Ohio Conference Division I championship tilt, before the Orange and Brown fell in the final seconds against Berne Union in its only state playoff game.
Speaking of Berne Union, the Rockets appear on Eastern’s non-league schedule prior to its SOC I slate, but Berne Union will be seeing a distinct makeover upon the Eagles’ roster.
Graduated are two-time all-Southeast District Division VII selections Logan Clemmons and Dillon Mattox, as Clemmons was a two-time first-teamer as a defensive back —while Mattox made first team last season as a running back with over 1,100 yards in seven games.
Another two-time first-team all-district end, Kyle Beasley, transferred for family reasons to Alabama to play his senior season.
A couple of what would-be starting linemen opted not to play, as did senior to-be quarterback Wyatt Hines — a three-year starter.
“It’s really tough to replace those types of kids. We’ve got some good kids coming, but they are freshmen and sophomores right now, and are a year or two away from putting up those types of numbers,” said Tomlison.
As for their replacements?
Offensively, they include sophomore starting quarterback Dillon Morton —who was the Eagles’ junior varsity signal-caller a year ago, when the Pike Countians could field a reserve unit.
“Dillon did a really good job of quarterbacking the JV team. He has the mentality for it,” said Tomlison. “Good kid, good size at six-foot and 215 pounds. We’re looking for a lot out of him.”
The coach explained that his Eagles are transitioning from spread-the-field formations to a 50-50 spread or under-center balance.
“We will not stay in the spread. We will jump in and out,” said Tomlison. “If we face a team when their front six or seven is undersized and small in the box, we’re probably going to be under center and pound the ball. Against Northwest or somebody that has more size than us, we may have to spread it out and throw the ball a bit to combat that size or numbers.”
K.J. Reinsmith, who returns at inside linebacker, is a six-foot four-inch and 275-pound junior tight end —and can also play H-back or even fullback.
Teaghan Werner will be a primary wide receiver, as he follows in the footsteps of former Eagle standout and recent graduate Evan Leist — who played football for Friday nights and excelled in cross country meets on Saturdays.
He is a sophomore, along with running backs Landen Reinsmith and Jace White.
“These kids we’re talking about are only going to be sophomores, and they played no varsity last year because we were loaded last year with numbers and experience,” said Tomlison.
The Eagles’ offensive and defensive fronts are also junior and sophomore-heavy, but at least they are sizable and saw varsity snaps a year ago.
“The only silver lining is that our offensive line probably averages 290 pounds. None of them are seniors, and most of them do have a lot of varsity playing time. They are big, they put the work in the weight room,” raved Tomlison. “If we have a strength on both sides of the ball, it’s our offensive and defensive lines. They have size and experience and are big boys that can move.”
Defensively, in the Eagles’ 4-2-5 set, junior Jacob Johnson (6-2, 290) and sophomore Justin Bradley (6-1, 285) return as the tackles —with K.J. Reinsmith anchoring again at linebacker.
“Outside of those three, we just don’t know. It’s all young and unproven kids, I will be honest with you. Our outside linebackers, our secondary, you’re talking all freshmen and sophomores that’s never played varsity,” said Tomlison. “We’re sticking with the 4-2-5, but will make some adjustments here and there. It is a pretty good defense to cover the spread or cover power. We’ve ran that defense the last few years and feel like we’ve had success with it.”
The 4-2-5 can cover the gauntlet of the Eagles’ schedule — which includes, besides Berne Union, their opener against Division V Alexnder and Division VI squads Southeastern, Huntington and Valley.
Northwest, Symmes Valley and Notre Dame —the top tier of the SOC I — are all run-oriented teams.
“Our non-conference schedule for such a small school is pretty tough,” said Tomlison. “Hopefully, it gets us ready for Northwest (Division V) and Symmes Valley (Division VI) and the rest of our league. Those two teams you’re going to have to knock off if you’re going to win the league title.”
Which, for these Eagles, might be down the road —as 2021 looks to sincerely be a season of change.
“Lots of questions right now that need to be answered with Eastern football,” said Tomlison. “Our lines are our strength and our young skilled kids have a long way to go.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved