According to coach Jim Worden, heading the Whetstone High School football program provides the best of several aspects.
Worden, who held his first players meeting with the expected returnees April 17, is a Clintonville resident who is a head coach for the first time after spending the past eight seasons as an assistant.
"I've been in (Columbus Public Schools) for eight years and Whetstone was always the head-coaching job I knew I'd go after," Worden said. "It's a great place to teach, they've got great community support and a great booster club. When the opportunity came open this year, I got all of my references together and they happened to have a social studies teaching position open so it worked out."
Worden spent six seasons as an offensive coordinator at West and the last two years in the same capacity at Walnut Ridge.
Worden, a 1986 Sullivan Black River graduate, played at Wittenberg and then served as a graduate assistant at Virginia. He returned to central Ohio as an offensive line coach at Capital for five years before joining West's coaching staff.
The Cowboys had one of their most successful seasons with Worden on staff in 2004 when they went 6-4 and averaged 25.0 points.
Worden then joined Byron Mattox's first staff at Walnut Ridge in 2006. After going 4-6 that season, they improved to 7-3 and averaged 35.3 points last fall. Their offense was centered around junior running back Brandon Rice, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards.
Worden will take over an offense which should return junior running back Mike Haynes (1,003 yards rushing, 15 touchdowns), junior quarterback Mario Dovell (584 yards, 14 touchdowns rushing; 26-for-62 passing, 314 yards) and junior linemen Jeremy Althouse (honorable mention all-district) and Adrian West.
Worden also expects to return four of last year's assistants, including defensive coordinator Jim Lafferty, as well as several key players on defense including junior linebacker DeShawn Booth, sophomore back Marcus Penn and junior back Marcus Willis.
The Braves were crushed by eventual City League-North Division champion Brookhaven (6-0 final league record) 55-0, but gave up just 97 points in their other nine games. They lost to City-North runner-up Beechcroft (5-1) 27-21 and to third-place finisher Northland (4-2) 26-19 on the way to going 3-3 in the City-North.
He replaces Todd Boyd, who stepped down last January after leading Whetstone to a 26-24 mark in five seasons. The Braves went 6-4 overall last season.
"It's good that I'll have some of the guys who played in those games with Northland and Beechcroft last year," said Worden, who also coached West's baseball team for six years before spending the last years heading the Scots' program. "They kind of got a little sense of what it takes, and that experience is going to be big in the summer. The North Division is strong and Whetstone is one of those good football teams. I believe in changing the offensive package to suit the players. We're going to be real simple, real physical, we're going to run the ball and have a high-percentage passing game.
"Our focus is going to be academics. I'm going to have teachers e-mail me with the players' grades and we're going to make sure they're strong academically."
ĽALSO ON BOARD -- Boys soccer coach Kerry Nixon will coach at the prep level for the first time.
Nixon, a Peoria (Ill.) Richwoods graduate who played for Bradley University's men's club team, coached at the club level in St. Louis and has been involved with the People to People Sports Ambassador program the past three years.He coached teams which have traveled to Australia and Holland. This summer, Nixon will coach a team which will go to Vienna, Austria.
Nixon, who coached an indoor team in Dublin in the winter of 2006-07, is a social studies teacher at Ohio State School for the Blind.
"I just moved to Columbus in the fall of 2006, and several of our students (at the School for the Blind) spend time at Whetstone," Nixon said. "I talked to several of the students and after learning about the school felt it would be an ideal place to coach."
Nixon replaces Chris Williams, who led the Braves to an 11-15-5 mark in two seasons and stepped down last October after Whetstone went 5-6-4.
The Braves, who finished 2-2-1 in the City-North behind Northland (5-0) and Brookhaven (4-1), will lose nine seniors. Top expected returnees include all-City performers junior Justin Kurtz (honorable mention) and sophomores Doug O'Malley (second team) and Kevin Zahler (honorable mention).
"The one thing I want to do is bring a positive attitude to the program," Nixon said. "The No. 1 thing I'm looking for is players who love to play the game. Hopefully I can pass on some of my passion for the game to them."