WELLSVILLE - Despite losing a total of 15 starters off of last year's regional semifinal squad, head coach Rich Wright has high hopes for this year's Wellsville Tigers contingent.
The Tigers open the 2014 campaign hosting Ohio River rival Toronto at Nicholson Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday.
"While we lost 14 seniors from last year's team, we're not really inexperienced," Wright said. "In seven of last year's 12 games, we were able to get our younger players a lot of playing time and they contributed greatly to our success. We will need our freshman to step in and provide depth for us."
A year ago, Wellsville was very balanced in the skill positions as four players had at least 87 carries with none carrying the ball more than 119 times over the course of a 9-3 campaign.
"Last year, every week it seemed as though a different guy stepped up," said Wright. "I think that can happen this year. Plus, we have what I think is a pretty good offensive line."
Zack Mellott topped the Tigers in rushing with a 1,073 yards (9.03 average per carry) in 2013. He returns to the backfield where he will be joined by wingback TyShawn Franklin, fullback Vinnie Giordano and quarterback Alik Bradford.
"First-year senior Devon Smith has been a pleasant surprise," Wright said. "He will see playing time at both wide receiver and cornerback. Freshman Andre Sloan is the fastest player on the team."
Fourth-year starter Seth Bloor and three-year starter Travis Furbee lead the offensive line from their right guard and left tackle spots respectively. Kurt Rosenbaum snaps the ball, with Eric Sullivan lining up at left guard and Branden Valentine at right tackle.
Frank Jackson gets the nod at tight end with Branzen Gradhaus joining Smith at wide receiver.
Furbee and Bloor will be joined on the defensive front by sophomore Hayden Dalrymple. The linebacking corps includes Caleb Kountz and Gradhaus on the outside with Giordano and Jackson on the interior. Bradley Cline and Rosenbaum are in contention for the other inside backer spot.
Franklin, Mellott and Smith hold down the secondary for the Tigers.
"This is Coach (Eric) Meek's fifth year at Toronto," Wright said. "They return a number of players from last year's 5-5 team. Blaze Glenn is one of the best quarterbacks in the Valley. Charles Ross III has great speed. They have good skill people. They have a move-in (Jesse Beckwith at 6-foot-4, 280 pounds) on their line who is really big. With us both being in the same region, this could be game one of two games this year."
Meek was Wellsville's head coach from 1995-2002.
"It seems like we have so many rivals here at Wellsville," Wright said. "In addition to Toronto, we have long-standing rivalries with Lisbon and Southern, who are right next door. The lower tier of the ITCL is really starting to provide some good rivalries, especially Leetonia. That's what makes it fun for the players, the coaches and the community."
These two teams opened the 2013 season with Wellsville winning 31-6 at Toronto. Wellsville had 410 yards in total offense with Marcus Moxley rushing for 99 yards on eight carries. Mellott picked up 78 on just 6 jaunts.
Glenn competed 14 of 29 passes for 79 yards to lead the Red Knights. The versatile quarterback ran for 76 yards on 17 carries. Nate Stewart had five catches for 66 yards. Ross pulled in three of Glenn's aerials.
On the season, Glenn rushed for 725 yards and 12 touchdowns. He passed for almost 800 yards and threw eight touchdown passes.