A pair of first-year head coaches will get their initial tests when the Whetstone High School football team plays at Watkins Memorial on Friday, Aug. 24.
The Braves are being guided by Tom Jones, who was named coach June 19 after Don Poff stepped down after going 23-35 in six seasons. Jones, who also is the school's wrestling coach, had been a longtime assistant football coach.
"I am excited, but I'm always excited for every season," Jones said. "It's not about me, though. It's about our kids and I'm liking what we've been able to accomplish in the preseason despite our low numbers."
Jake Kuhner was named coach at Watkins Memorial in February, replacing Jeff Severino, who was 43-58 in 10 seasons. Although Kuhner has had a longer preparation period, he came from outside the program. He served as Pickerington North's defensive coordinator last season after going 14-16 in three seasons as coach at Whitehall from 2012-14.
Kuhner, a 2003 Pickerington graduate, brought a handful of coaches with him from North, including former Ohio State fullback Zach Boren, who is coaching running backs and linebackers. Former Buckeyes kicker A.J. Trapasso, who was a teammate of Kuhner at Pickerington and served as his assistant at Whitehall, plans to work with special teams.
The Warriors beat Whetstone 13-6 last season but finished 2-8.
"We've changed things on offense and defense and I think the kids are doing a great job of picking things up," Kuhner said. "We're going to be running multiple packages on defense and we have so many variations that it won't look the same on every play. We're going to be running multiple personnel on offense and we've got an experienced front line to start with."
The Warriors should have an advantage in depth, as the Braves have struggled to get players into the program after losing 22 off last year's roster when they finished 3-7. Among the losses were six expected returning starters who are academically ineligible this fall. Whetstone has 27 players on its roster.
"We're going to have a lot of guys playing both ways, so conditioning is key," Jones said. "We've got to be ready to play four quarters. We do have good chemistry and I think we've answered some questions in our scrimmages. We were competitive with Newark and Westerville North and I think the kids were shocked how well we can compete with what we have. I think they learned and have become more confident in their abilities."
Junior Rashaun Broomfield is a playmaker at receiver or quarterback and is expected to play multiple positions for the Braves. Classmates Lucas Waaland (FB/DE), Ben Paugh (FB/OL/LB) and Diesel Riccio (DE) have been solid in the preseason, according to Jones, and senior Dorian Jordan (RB/LB) and sophomore Darrick McClinton (QB/RB/DB) also have stood out.
Connor Brandon has taken over at quarterback for the Warriors, who lost four of their top five running backs and their top four receivers to graduation. Everett Albin and Mick Walker will anchor the offensive line.
"They have a mobile quarterback and good numbers and (Kuhner) likes to spread the ball around a lot and use the quarterback on draws and options, like he did when we faced him at Whitehall," Jones said. "Defensively, they like to present a lot of different looks and bring pressure from different spots."