The common thread in West Salem High School’s successful football teams over the past half dozen years has been its quality offensive lines.
This year, however, they have one player, junior Lisala Manu, who has played meaningful varsity snaps on the line, and he hasn’t played many.
The Titans return the skill position players — such as junior quarterback Cade Smith, senior receiver Brady Rediger and junior receiver Keegan Hlad — to be successful, but the team has a lot of questions to be answered on its offensive line.
“I don’t think our size is that great this year, but we have a lot of scrappy dudes who are willing to get after it and work hard and do everything right,” Rediger said. “I don’t think that will be a problem for us this year.”
Among the players who look like they will make an impact are senior center Jared Winkel, sophomore left tackle Markus John, Manu, senior Jon Jones and senior Erik Egbert at tackle and guards including senior Anthony Hernandez, junior Ben Folia, junior Joe Yates and junior Donovan Hinkle.
“Really a lot of them were the offensive line for a 9-0 JV team, throw in a couple of really talented sophomores into the mix,” West Salem coach Shawn Stanley said. “I think they’re confident.
“The good part, without a lot of guys back, I think we’re pretty balanced in our depth there. We’re just a little more even in our talent level across the board so I think it’s going to be easier for us to plug guys in and not see a significant drop off at any of those spots.”
A bright spot for West Salem fans is the return of starting quarterback Cade Smith for his junior year.
As a sophomore he was 100 for 164 (61 percent) passing for 1,380 yards and 13 touchdowns against five interceptions and rushed for 325 yards and 10 touchdowns on 104 carries.
“He’s changed his number this year, not that that’s significant,” Stanley said. “Last year he wore 16, he’s 8 or something this year. I think he’s eager to make a name for himself this year.
“He’s earned everything he’s got. He’s had to work as hard or harder than anyone else. He’s done a great job of handling the pressure. Going into his junior year he’s already on some of our record boards. He’s over 300 pounds as a sophomore quarterback is a pretty good lift.”
Running back is an area of concern as the only player on the team back who had any varsity carries last year was Smith.
The players are excited to see junior Gary Garvin, the JV team’s standout last year get varsity carries.
“He’s a guy not a whole lot of people want to tackle and he’ll fight for every yard he gets,” Smith said. “Exact same thing with Michael West, he’s going to be playing a little more defense.
“He’s our No. 1 lifter right now. When you hit him you got to hit him hard and wrap up and just hold on for the ride and hopefully you don’t take too big of a shot.”
The receiving corps, however is not a concern.
Besides the 6-foot-3 Hlad and Rediger, the Titans will line up state track and field champion Tristan James and junior Luke Ferguson at receiver.
The grouping of Smith, Hlad, James and Ferguson have been teammates since they were young.
“I think it will be good mostly because we’ve kind of played, the group of us, our whole lives and so we’ve got a lot of chemistry so we kind of know each other’s attributes and where we are weak so that will work out for the best,” Ferguson.
The defense is relatively inexperienced with three starters returning in Rediger, Hlad and Mattison, but the group is athletic enough to make up for the lack of experience.
“We got great coaches and we have inexperience kind of like last year, but everyone, they know how to do it and we’re going fast and being physical,” said Mattison, who had 13 tackles for loss last season. “A lot of young guys, but we’re ready to go.”
The linebacking group should be a highlight with a strong group of players such as Mattison, Matt Sigmund, West, Hinkle, Hlad and Matt Long.
Rediger has been slowed at practice with an ankle injury, but when he returns he will figure in the mix at defensive back along with Tristan James.
Smith also will play a significant amount of downs on defense at cornerback.
“I feel really good about our back-up quarterback Doug Clem, as our quarterback,” Stanley said. “He was our JV quarterback, has as strong arm as anybody I’ve ever coached. I keep telling people if I didn’t feel really good about our back-up quarterback our starting quarterback wouldn’t be playing defense.”
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