Young offensive line key for Johnnies
Coach Mike Carter will need to insert inexperienced players into key roles on the Johnstown-Monroe High School football team.
The Johnnies, who have moved from the MBC to the Licking County League, have to replace all but three starters on offense from last year's team that finished 10-3 overall after losing to St. Clairsville 37-29 in the Division IV, Region 15 final.
Senior center Aaron Davis (5-foot-9, 220 pounds) is the only returning starter on the offensive line, but he played guard last season. Junior tight end Marcus Nogaj (6-1, 180) also returns, as does junior running back Cody Farley. The 5-11, 190-pound Farley was special mention all-state and first-team all-district last year after rushing for 1,792 yards and 16 touchdowns on 285 carries.
"We have to get game experience up front as quickly as possible, which is a point of emphasis for us," said Carter, who is in his 12th season. "But I like how hard this group of kids has been working. They are good, young kids with good values."
Senior Josh Kirkpatrick steps in at quarterback for Tyler Thompson. The 2013 graduate was special mention all-state and first-team all-district after rushing for 1,184 yards and 20 touchdowns on 171 carries and completing 34 of 90 passes for 655 yards with six touchdowns and nine interceptions.
"After going deep into the postseason, it really motivates you to want to get back there," Kirkpatrick said. "Now I have to take charge as captain of the offense and make sure we stay together. We have to be a family out there on the field."
Rounding out the offensive line will be junior tackles Jonathan Cox (6-2, 225) and Jake Taylor (6-0, 185), junior guard Joey Norris (5-9, 200) and freshman guard Jeff Nogaj (6-4, 280). Senior Harrison Johnson and junior Eli Dowell will rotate at fullback, with senior Nathanael Ashbrook at wingback. Seniors Sam Branstool and Zach LaRue are wide receivers.
"The guys have been working to become a cohesive unit," Carter said. "They understand that they need to be responsible on the field and play for one another."
The Johnnies return six starters in their 4-4 defensive set in senior defensive ends Clayton Bullard (6-5, 210) and Taylor, senior outside linebacker Brendan Barasch, senior defensive back Alex Workman, junior defensive back Zack Fleming and sophomore tackle Alex Catalogna.
"As a senior, you have to make sure to do everything right the first time because the younger kids look up to you," Bullard said. "If they see you slacking off then they will think that's OK, which is something you can't let happen. You have to set the example."
Bullard was special mention all-state and first-team all-district after compiling 20 sacks, 117 tackles and two fumble recoveries.
"We have a taste for (going deep into the postseason) and it makes you want it more," Bullard said.
"You know how hard you have to work to get there. It also kind of puts a chip on your shoulder because a lot of people think we lost too many people (to graduation) to get back (to a regional final). We want to prove them wrong."
Rounding out the defensive front is senior tackle Logan Writesel, with Johnson and senior Loren Queen filling out the linebacking corps. Also expected to see action is junior linebacker Ethan Clift, a move-in from Coshocton.
Senior Dalton Herren completes the defensive backfield.
The Johnnies return senior Charles Benton as a place-kicker and punter. Benton was special mention all-state and first-team all-district last year after averaging 35 yards per punt. He also made 35 extra points and three field goals.
A year ago, the Johnnies went 6-1 in the MBC to finish second behind Danville (7-0). This year, they will compete in the LCL's Small School Division with Heath, Newark Catholic and former MBC foes Northridge and Utica.
The LCL's Big School Division features Granville, Lakewood, Licking Heights, Licking Valley and Watkins Memorial.
"These are backyard rivalries," said Carter, whose team opens Friday, Aug. 30, at home against Chillicothe.
"The kids know each other. The parents know each other. The communities are familiar with each other. It's going to be exciting."