Gahanna Lincoln: Lions tackled challenges head-on

Jarrod Ulrey
ThisWeek group
Gahanna senior quarterback Trey Burger completed 86 of 149 passes for 1,042 yards and seven touchdowns in his only season as the starter. The Lions finished 4-4 after going 3-7 last season.

The competitive attitude he saw from the Gahanna Lincoln football team was one of the things that most impressed coach Bruce Ward this fall.

The Lions, who had new offensive and defensive coordinators in addition to not putting on helmets until Aug. 10 because of school district protocols involving the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, finished 4-4 overall after going 3-7 in 2019.

“(I’m) so proud of the way our kids through such hardships continued to show up and compete week after week,” Ward said. “(This season) offered a built-in excuse and our kids never blamed COVID, the lack of an offseason, the lack of a preseason. … Our players still held themselves to the standard that has been set here.”

Following the OCC’s latest realignment, the Lions went 3-2 for the second consecutive season in the OCC-Ohio Division as Pickerington North won the title at 5-0 and Westerville Central finished 4-1.

Gahanna’s best regular-season win came when it beat New Albany 42-41 in overtime Sept. 11. The Eagles went on to reach the regional semifinal round of the Division I, Region 3 playoffs.

After being seeded eighth for the Region 3 playoffs during a season in which every team was eligible for the postseason, the host Lions lost 21-7 to ninth-seeded Hilliard Darby on Oct. 9 in a first-round game.

They then picked up a regular-season game Oct. 16 at Lancaster and won 31-14 to close their season.

Sophomore middle linebacker Jaden Yates should be among the top returnees for Gahanna after emerging as a leader on defense.

“First of all, it was just about having a season when it didn’t look like we were going to have one,” sophomore middle linebacker Jaden Yates said. “Going through the season, it didn’t end up how we wanted it to. We never want to go out on a loss, but knowing how much we fought through and never giving up, I was proud of how we got through the adversity and kept on fighting.”

Yates, who missed two games with a knee injury but returned for the final three games, was the team’s leading tackler, according to Ward.

He should return to lead a defense that also includes junior Kane Baker, who started at wide receiver and in the secondary, juniors Avain Johnson (DB), Tyree Johnson (LB), Elijah Smith (DL) and Alipate Tuitavuki (LB) and sophomores Kamari Burns (DL) and Romearo Wells (DB).

Among those Gahanna is losing defensively are seniors Ricky Alli (LB), Mondra Curry (DB), Mykohl Martin (DL) and Shawn Ugbana (DL).

“The first couple games we were (allowing) 40-some points a game and a ridiculous amount of yards, but that trend didn’t stick,” Yates said. “As the season went on, we really embraced what we wanted to be, and that was one of the top defenses.”

Yates took practice reps at running back, where the Lions will need to replace one of the area’s top rushers in senior Ronald Blackman. He had 1,159 yards and 16 touchdowns on 145 rushes.

Juniors Zachary Nelson and Jaylon Williams and freshmen Dior Hubbard and Jayden Lewis all could compete for carries next season, according to Ward.

Gahanna also will have a new quarterback after losing senior Trey Burger to graduation. He completed 86 of 149 passes for 1,042 yards and seven touchdowns in his only season as the starter.

Sophomore Maxwell Cummings, who saw action in five games, and sophomore Tommy Bakes could be the top candidates to take over behind center.

Jordan Lowery was the only key senior among the wide receiver unit after finishing with 17 receptions for 300 yards and four touchdowns. Baker (23 receptions for 176 yards) and junior Brendan Raymond (26 receptions for 293 yards) lead the expected returnees.

Junior Garrett Helsel and sophomore Isaac Perkins should be the top returnees on the line, where Gahanna will lose seniors Tommy Bailey, Martin, Adam Sophocleous and Marcus White.

“We have a few kids returning that have significant time under their belts,” Ward said. “Although we didn’t reach all our goals, our kids gave everything they had day after day. I like that after the playoffs we picked up a game and it allowed us to see some younger guys under the lights.”

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek

FOOTBALL

Record: 4-4 overall

OCC-Ohio standings: Pickerington North (5-0), Westerville Central (4-1), Gahanna (3-2), New Albany (2-3), Grove City (1-4), Westland (0-5)

Seniors lost: Ricky Alli, Tommy Bailey, Ronald Blackman, Kevin Blackwell, Mylin Brown, Trey Burger, A.J. Crim, Mondra Curry, Job Dangerfield, B.J. Fabusoye, Dale Jones, Jordan Lowery, Mykohl Martin, Adam Sophocleous, Shawn Ugbana, Khaleb Watson and Marcus White

Key returnees: Kane Baker, Kamari Burns, Maxwell Cummings, Garrett Helsel, Tyree Johnson, Brendan Raymond, Elijah Smith, Romearo Wells and Jaden Yates