BEVERLY - Hopeful of a return trip to the state playoffs, the defending co-Pioneer Valley Conference-champion Fort Frye High football team hit the practice field for the first time this season Thursday.
Head coach Eric Huck and his Cadets enjoyed the school's most successful football season in over a decade last fall, posting an 8-2 regular season record and a 5-1 PVC record before falling to Kirtland in the first round of the Ohio Division V playoffs.
Fort Frye is now in Division VI, and while a number of talented players from 2012 were lost to graduation, the Cadets are hoping some of last season's success carries over to this fall.
JORDAN HOLLAND The Marietta Times
Fort Frye’s C.J. Huck, left, gets ready to smack teammate Luke Yates, right, during a line drill in Thursday’s first practice of the season at the high school in Beverly.
JORDAN HOLLAND The Marietta Times
Fort Frye’s Chandler Lang backs up during a coverage drill in Thursday’s first practice of the season at the high school in Beverly.
"Certainly, we've got high expectations," Huck said Thursday in between the team's 2-a-day practice. "We're hoping to build off of what we did last year."
At this stage of the season, Huck is just trying to get his players back into football rhythm.
"We're early," he said. "Without pads on right now, we're just trying to learn as much of the offense and defense as we can. Once we get the pads on, we'll work on technique, blocking tackling, that sort of thing."
The Fort is counting on another big season from quarterback Chandler Lang, a third team All-Ohio selection as a junior last season. Lang threw for 1,304 yards and rushed for 808 more last season. He accounted for 31 total offensive touchdowns.
This season, Lang will have to find new weapons to go to, as the team's top two rushers and top three receivers from a year ago are gone.
"Last year, Chandler was an important part of the offense and the defense," Huck said. "He was our leading tackler. He will certainly be a big part of our team again this year. We've got a lot of other players that I think are gonna step up for us as well this year."
Another big plus for the Cadets will be returning four out of five starters on the offensive line. Guards Garrett Hall and Tyler Wittekind, center Drew Layton and tackle Branden Close all led the high-powered Cadet rushing attack last season are back again this season.
The talent is certainly there for another successful run.
In 2012, Fort Frye was dominant in the cozy confines of Beverly, going 5-0 at home. The Cadets weren't bad on the road either, going 3-2, but they were clearly a different team on their home turf.
2013 presents an interesting challenge, as Fort Frye will play just four games at home and six on the road, including an unheard of five road games in a row from weeks two through six.
The Cadets open up the slate by hosting River before traveling to Belpre, Waterford, Conotton Valley, Monroe Central and Frontier. They finally return home in weeks seven and eight against Buckeye Trail and Caldwell, respectively, before going back on the road against Shenandoah and then ending the regular season at home against Rosecrans.
Huck thinks the schedule will test the mettle of his squad.
"If we can get out of those five (road) games okay, I think we'll be in good shape for the final four weeks," he said.