Chiefs will have a different look this season
By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
LOGAN — While rightfully regarded as a wide-open, high-octane passing team, it’s a bit surprising to note the Logan Chieftains actually ran the ball 5.6 times per every 10 offensive plays last season.
Expect that ratio of running plays to pass attempts to increase this fall.
A team has to be adapted to fit its personnel, and that’s just what fourth-year head coach Billy Burke and his coaching staff are doing as the Purple & White prepare to open their 2016 campaign Friday night against Dublin Jerome in Logan Chieftain Stadium.
“Sometimes last year we could take some things for granted. We had to go back to basics and fundamentals this year,” he continued. “It’s really the dynamic of your team each and every year that dictates how you attack practice and what your plan is.”
Many coaches — not just in football, but in other sports as well — either flat-out refuse or simply are unwilling to adjust their schemes and try to pound a square peg into a round hole.
Burke and his coaches, however, are both flexible and intelligent enough to know they have to fit the needs and abilities of their athletes to what they can and cannot do and make adjustments.
“One coaching philosophy is that ‘I know the greatest scheme on earth and we just plug the kids this year into that scheme,’ ” Burke said. “Well, I’m of the philosophy that ‘how adaptable is your scheme to still stay within the philosophy that you have as a coach.’ We’ll stay in the philosophy that we have, but at the same time adapt to the abilities that we have.”
The reason for all the adjustments, of course, is that the 2016 Chiefs will be far less experienced than past teams.
Eighteen seniors — including 12 who won multiple letters — graduated from last season’s 8-2 club. There are only nine returning lettermen on the 2016 roster, which includes 12 seniors, 15 juniors and a whopping 23 sophomores, as Logan lost most of its key skill-position players and linemen. Seven ninth-graders are also listed on the varsity roster.
Among others, the Chiefs graduated Bryce McBride, Tommy Hayden, Lane Little, Josh Rardain, Isaiah Smith, Zac Buckley, Brendan Karns, Eddie Lanning, Domonic Micochero, Brandon Skinner, Colton Stilwell, Corey Wilson, Bryan Black and Tyler Blount, key contributors all.
Led by the dynamic aerial duo of quarterback Little and receiver Smith, Logan had 2,140 passing yards and 30 touchdown passes in 2015, with Little accounting for all of the TD tosses and all but six of the team’s passing yards.
This season, junior Brady Walsh (6-0, 185 pounds) — a tight end last year and the team’s third-leading receiver (15 catches for 189 yards and a game-winning TD reception against Meigs) — takes over behind center for Little. He threw just one pass last season.
Smith, a Division I first-team All-Ohio selection and a participant in the North-South All-Star game, caught 58 passes for a school-record 1,004 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Senior Jenson Wallace (6-1, 165) had 34 receptions for 564 yards and five touchdowns and was a dangerous bookend receiver to go with Smith. He’ll now be depended upon to be Walsh’s primary target, with assistance from fellow senior Riley Nelson (6-0, 170).
And McBride — the school’s first four-year football letterman in more than 50 years — accounted for 1,056 of the team’s 1,784 rushing yards in just over six games before sustaining a season-ending knee injury for a second-straight year.
Sophomore Preston Yates (5-10, 180) and senior Jeremy Minor (5-11, 170) become the team’s primary running backs. Minor is the team’s leading returning rusher (82 yards on nine carries, with 45 of those yards coming on one play) and possesses breakaway speed.
Yes, times, they are a-changing in Chieftain Football Nation.
Little, Smith and McBride alone took more than 81 percent of the Chiefs’ total offense with them when they departed LHS. The top four rushers (McBride, Stilwell, Wilson and Little) accounted for 96 percent of Logan’s rushing yardage, and Little threw all but two of the Chiefs’ 242 passes.
The trio of Little, Smith and McBride set numerous single-game, single-season and career records and also broke into the all-time top 10 in several other categories.
It all means that players who accounted for a tick more than 98 percent of Logan’s rushing and passing yardage in 2015 have graduated, necessitating an overhaul with many players who don’t have Friday night experience.
That lack of experience was an obvious drawback in the Chiefs’ 54-9 loss to Sheridan in last Friday’s OHSAA Jamboree scrimmage.
“I’ve been coaching long enough to where I’ve seen that before,” Burke said. “A lot of guys don’t have any room to play, so sometimes guys bow out of the program because they don’t foresee any playing time, or in this case some guys are a little older now getting their first significant varsity time.
“Really, the biggest thing right now is that we’re trying to figure out what we’re good at,” he continued, “and part of that is the confidence we can gain from live repetitions. Some of the things we’ve seen on film aren’t necessarily lack of want to, but it’s (not) having 100 percent confidence in performing” their jobs.
“The ‘it’ factor was missing (in the team’s first two scrimmages), but on film it doesn’t look that bad. We knew something was missing. A little bit of that is the kids’ gaining the confidence, and the ‘it’ factor will come with that confidence.”
The Chiefs will transition from a quick-strike offense that was capable of scoring from just about anywhere on the field to a team that will stress ball control and patience.
“The more confortable in the scheme with repetitions the better we’re going to get,” Burke stated. “We have pretty good moments, and then there’s moments where you can tell guys step with some uncertainty.
“As soon as we get over that hump, we can have a very productive ball-control style offense,” he added. “If we can throw a short pass and it can be broken for 80 yards and do a quick-strike, we’ll call it quick-strike too. But chances are it isn’t going to be an air-it-out style like last year.”
Having lost Hayden, Rardain, Buckley, Lanning, Skinner and Stilwell — most of whom played on both sides of the ball — the Chiefs are also having to rebuild their offensive and defensive lines.
However, they do return senior lineman Kory Henthorne (6-4, 265), who is being looked at by a number of Division I schools. Henthorne, the only returning Chieftain with multiple varsity letters (two), will anchor both sides of the Chieftain line.
“Kory Henthorne is learning what it takes… he’s got a pretty good reputation,” Burke praised. “He’s going to have a target on his back, so to say, but he’s learning to play under that pressure. High school boys are like ‘when the cat’s away, the mice will play,’ so you know when you think you’re pretty good sometimes you forget to do the things that got you there in the first place.
“I’m not letting him slide one bit,” he added, “because he can be better — just like everybody else can be better, just like I can be better as a coach. It’s always a work in progress. We know Kory’s going to give us everything he’s got. He’s a great kid, he’s been a great leader, (and he is) a reminder of what’s made you good is what you have to continue to do.”
The Chiefs are coming off a season during which a lot of things went right as they won eight games and posted the program’s best record since the 2008 and 2009 10-0 regular-season teams.
Logan committed just seven turnovers all season (throwing only five interceptions and losing just two fumbles) and actually only officially fumbled the ball four times in 10 games. They ran their last 382 plays from scrimmage without losing the ball, and ran their last 307 plays without dropping it at all.
The Chiefs defeated two playoff teams (Teays Valley and Shadyside) and rolled up 61 points in a season-opening victory over Athens, which had reached the state Division III finals the previous season.
But, after a 6-0 start, things started to come apart in week seven when McBride went down for the season with a knee injury against Jackson, and Logan lost the following week 44-7 at Columbus DeSales.
Both Jackson and DeSales finished with 9-1 records, and the Ironmen reached the Division III elite eight. But, the way things turned out, Logan needed to defeat one of those teams to reach the Division II playoffs for the first time since 2009, as the eight teams Logan beat went just 29-51.
No team can be expected to commit just seven miscues for an entire season or to run more than 300 straight plays from scrimmage without losing a fumble, and it’s rare to get 30 TD passes from a QB or to have a 1,000-yard receiver. Little and Smith, respectively, were the first in LHS football history to accomplish those feats.
And that was with an experienced, senior-laden team.
While Logan has nine returning lettermen (Henthorne, Tommy Breining, Kamryn Carter, T.J. Meyer, Tomas Wright, Minor, Nelson, Wallace and Walsh), most of the 2016 Chiefs were either in backup roles or played junior varsity or freshman football last fall.
“The biggest difference is that a lot of those guys who were seniors on the team last year had a lot of playing experience as juniors also,” Burke noted, “so with so many guys having so much experience — and they were a pretty good group — there wasn’t a whole lot of room for other guys to fall in place because they had it covered.
“The biggest thing we’ve been working on this year — and we can’t work on it other than get live reps — is that we have to gain experience that will translate into confidence in performing our job,” he added.
Logan looks to win one last Southeastern Ohio Athletic League championship before the 92-year-old conference folds after the current school year.
After winning the title in 2013, the Chiefs lost the championship to Jackson in 2014 and 2015 and will compete with the Ironmen one last time in an effort to claim the ’16 crown.
With Logan, Jackson and Warren the only three teams left, the Chiefs face both of their league foes on the road, meaning they won’t play a league home game for the first time since the conference began in 1925.
By the time the Chiefs play Jackson (week seven), most of the current Chiefs will have six important games’ worth of valuable varsity experience under their belts.
“The other day we were depth-charting offense and defense, and at one point I looked at all our varsity kids… I think we had eight kids who had meaningful varsity experience,” Burke noted. “Some guys may have lettered, but I don’t know how much meaningful experience they necessary had.
“Then we counted again and we were at eight sophomores” with varsity ability, he added. “We have some sophomores who have worked really hard and earned their positions, not necessarily just filled in somewhere.
“That goes back to the theme of this… we’re just learning how to play in live-fire situations.”
The Logan Daily News continues its comprehensive preview of Logan Chieftain football on Wednesday with a look at the players who will make up the offense, defense and special teams. The season debut of the weekly “Chieftain Game Night Countdown” preview section follows on Thursday.