SIDNEY — Sidney had what has been a once-in-a-generation type of the season last year. Those returning to the program in 2018 want to help make similar seasons occur more frequently.
With six returning all-conference players back from last season’s 10-2 team, Sidney is already working towards keeping expectations high this year.
The Yellow Jackets wrapped up their seventh day of summer practice on Wednesday and will compete in three 7-on-7s over the next two weeks before preseason practice starts July 30. The Ohio High School Athletic Association allows teams 10 summer practice days before preseason practice begins.
Adam Doenges, who’s entering his eighth season as the program’s head coach, said the big goal was to acclimate new players to the expectations of varsity practice. The Yellow Jackets are without 19 players from last year’s 10-2 campaign, which was the program’s first playoff year since 1989.
Sidney loses 18 seniors off last year’s team, including running back Isaiah Bowser and defensive lineman Devan Rogers, who are now playing at Northwestern and Toledo, respectively. The team is also without three-year starting quarterback Andre Gordon, who transferred to Huntington Prep to continue his basketball career.
“Our biggest concern coming into this year that we’ve talked to the kids about is we’re without three big-time athletes,” Doenges said. “That’s three superstars that won’t be on this team anymore. But we brought it up once, and it’s not so much of an issue, because we’ve got kids that want to be that superstar. We’ve got a lot of kids that want to take that next step in that direction, be the guy that we can depend on.”
Sidney has six returning players back that were all-division selections a year ago: senior receiver/defensive back Caleb Harris, junior receiver Darren Taborn, senior receiver Ratez Roberts, junior kicker Hallie Truesdale, junior linebacker Ryan Cagle and senior defensive back Josiah Hudgins.
Gordon and Bowser accounted for most of the team’s offense a year ago. Sidney won’t be without speed and explosiveness on offense this season, though, with most of the team’s receiving corps back.
Roberts led the Yellow Jackets with 459 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Taborn tied with Roberts with a team-high 22 receptions for 288 yards and four touchdowns, while Harris had 279 receiving yards and five TDs, including two in the team’s 46-33 playoff win over Belmont.
The biggest area Sidney will be working on before the Aug. 24 season opener at St. Marys are its offensive and defensive lines. Aside from Rogers, the Yellow Jackets are without 11 other lineman from last year.
“There’s a big void to fill when you’re without 12 guys from the middle of that line,” Doenges said. “That was the biggest thing with camp, and we made some strides. You try to put some new things in, you try to put some kids in different situations to see what you can do.
“We’ve come out of these camp days with some questions answered, but we’ve still got some more questions on different things.”
Doenges said he expects about 80-90 players in the program this year, about the same as the last several years.
“Our numbers our steady,” Doenges said. “We’re going to have a freshman team, and some of the teams in our conference and area are questionable on that or already know they won’t. So I’m pretty proud we’re still maintaining three teams that will play each week at the high school level.”
Among those players will be a freshman class Doenges said is the most talented from top-to-bottom since he joined the program as an assistant 13 years ago. The incoming freshman were 7-0 as eighth graders last year and 8-0 as seventh graders in 2016. They captured Greater Western Ohio Conference North titles each year.
“It’s not just one or two stars — there are six, seven players that can be really, really good football players, and there’s going to be a bunch of kids that are good football players,” Doenges said. “A lot of times when those junior high teams win games, it’s because they’ve got the biggest player out there that will just run everybody over. We’ve got four of five of those types of kids.”
Sidney will host 7-on-7 passing camps next Wednesday and July 25 and will travel to one at Urbana on July 26. Wednesday’s passing camp also will feature Lehman Catholic, Anna and Covington. In 7-on-7’s, squads face off without lineman and use only passing plays.
Sidney’s three upcoming 7-on-7’s will be a good chance for junior quarterback Ryan Dunham to get more experience in game-like situations. Dunham was Gordon’s backup last season and is the frontrunner to earn the starting spot this year. He played in four games last season and threw three touchdown passes.
“We’ve started all the quarterbacks on the same level, and Ryan’s pulling away from them so far, which was what we expected,” Doenges said. “He did know how to manage the offense, even though most of it was handing it off, but he’s still been under the lights and had people in his face. …He’s got one sophomore and two freshman that are going to keep pushing him. He’s going to have to keep fighting for that spot.”
Preseason practice begins for all teams across Ohio on July 30. Sidney will play in a multi-team scrimmage at Edgewood on Aug. 11 and travel to Chaminade-Julienne for a scrimmage on Aug. 17 before opening the season at St. Marys.