BELPRE - Buoyed by a 4-6 season in 2012 followed by a .500 football campaign last fall. Belpre head coach Greg Adams thinks his Golden Eagle gridders are "ready to take the next step, which - for us - would be to make the playoffs."
After losing only four seniors off 2013's squad, the always-optimistic Adams, entering his fifth year at the Belpre helm, "certainly feels we have the opportunity to do better this year than the last two" - to the extent that "we've been emphasizing 'next step' to our players. The players know and us coaches know, it's time for the football program to take that next step."
Nevertheless, Adams, 10-30 in four years at Belpre, admits that "we're still working on turning it (the program) around. We're not there yet; we've got a ways to go. But we're looking forward to this season - we really are. We're really optimistic about what can happen this year for Belpre.
EVE HEMMELGARN Special to The Times
Belpre Golden Eagles head coach Greg Adams, left, helps one of his players adjust his pads before a practice session. The Golden Eagles open their 2014 season against Fort Frye.
"It would be neat for this team to go to the playoffs. We certainly have the athletes, so the playoffs are certainly in the picture. Anything better than 5-5, though, is another step forward."
But that step will come without of the stalwart services of graduates D.J. Leftwich, last year's leading tackler, Dakota McDaniel and Jamie Barrett. "We will miss them," said Adams, "but I think we have the players who can step into their shoes and make a difference, just like they did in their time here."
Topping the list of returnees are junior quarterback Tavian Miller - back for his third year as a starter, having been at the controls of the Golden Eagle offense since a mere freshman - and senior tailback Manney Tullius.
"This year, we're looking for big things out of Tavian - without question - and he knows that," said Adams. "But he's got to be able to depend on Manney, because if Manney's running the ball, that's going to open up things for Tavian when it comes to passing."
Also back to bolster Belpre this season are 6-2 sophomore wide receiver/safety Deijon Bedgood, juniors Matthew Colvin at fullback/linebacker and Kole Counts at wide receiver/outside linebacker, and offensive/defensive linemen in juniors Nathan Mason (6-3, 240 pounds), Jake Hall, Josh Moore and Trent McCoy and soph Logan Racy. "They've all played, so have been there and know what it takes," said Adams. "But I think ultimately, we've got to keep Manney healthy this year." Tullius got hurt early in the second game last season, missed at least two more games, but still rushed for over 1,000 yards for the second straight year.
But Belpre too needs to get off to a good start on the season, something that's been lacking the last two years. The Golden Eagles were 1-5 in 2012 and 1-4 last year after four losses in a row. Both times, however, they got their act together to finish with a flourish, winning three of four down the stretch two seasons ago and four of its final five games last fall to end up with a break-even 5-5 mark.
Adams expects to have from 27 to 29 players on this year's team - the most since "30 some" his first year. "But after that, it started dropping off, and we've been in the mid to low-20s since," he said
Plus, so far in summer workouts, "there's been three or four players who have really impressed me in practice," said Adams, singling out 6-2, 210-pound lineman Eric Worstell, a move-in from South Carolina, and sophomore guard/middle linebacker Andrew Klinger.