Pios hoping to overcome injuries in season opener

Photo by Jordan Holland Marietta College’s Maguire Morris, left, runs after a catch during a college football game against Muskingum last year in New Concord. The Pioneers open the 2019 season against Hiram at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Marietta College is banged up.

Heading into Saturday’s season opener against Hiram, the Pioneers will be without a handful of players who entered the preseason as projected starters, while several others will try to play through minor injuries. Still, MC head coach Andy Waddle is optimistic the Pioneers will field a competitive squad for the 7 p.m. kickoff.

“We’ve battled some injuries and things like that,” said Waddle, whose team is coming off a 7-3 campaign. “It’s been a little bit hard to get what we hope to be our starting units all out there. We hope to get most of those guys back. The guys we’ve had out there have all stepped up.”

The biggest blow injury-wise was to junior linebacker Caleb Boy, who will miss the entire 2019 season. Out for week one are safeties Ian Kouba and Caleb Craig, as well as offensive linemen Brevin Webb, Noah Hammond and Josh Egan. That trio up front were all expected to battle for starting spots.

Max Tice, Boone Jones, Kyle Folkert and Darius Hatch are all candidates to fill in at safety, though Tice is dealing with a concussion and Folkert is recovering from a broken hand. On the O-line, all-conference performer Pat Taylor will start at center with Raysean Stewart at left tackle, Caleb Browning at left guard, Joe Rutheford at right guard and Cleveland Wilder at right tackle.

Marietta’s receiving corps is also dealing with injuries, but Waddle said they should all be available on a play count Saturday.

Needless to say, having his receivers and offensive line hobbled hasn’t made things easy for new quarterback Kyle McSweeney in the preseason. However, the senior signal-caller has handled everything well.

“Kyle’s doing a good job,” Waddle said. “We’ll see how he does in live action. It’s a little different when you’re standing back there with no fear of getting hit.”

Marietta also has Tanner Clark in the backfield, and all he did last year was rush for 1,446 yards and score 23 total touchdowns. He’ll be a big part of the Pioneers’ week one game-plan.

As with every non-conference season opener, Waddle isn’t too familiar with Hiram. The Terriers, coached by Henry Stanford, went 2-8 in 2018.

“They return most of their offensive line,” Waddle said. (Dominic Dualan) is a good offensive lineman. They’re talented and athletic at receiver. They have a new quarterback and a new running back. Defensively, they’ve got a talented middle linebacker, a veteran secondary and have some depth on their defensive line.

“Week one, you just kind of prepare for the unexpected. That’s a challenge every year. Going into game one, (from the previous year) teams can go from a four-man front to three-man front, teams can go from 10 personnel to an 11 or 12 personnel. You always prepare for the unexpected. We want to be sound in our execution and not overthink what we want to do.”

Despite all the injuries and the adversity, Waddle is confident in his team’s depth going into the first game.

“It’s not a great situation, but we have a little bit of depth maybe this year for the first time ever,” he said. “We’ve been able to kind of manage it a little better, but it’s been challenging. Hopefully we’re going to be able to get everybody back. Hopefully some of these problems will not be long term problems.

“We’ve got an exciting, athletic team. I’m excited for the season.”

Jordan Holland can be reached at jholland@mariettatimes.com