SIDNEY — Losing a Mr. Football finalist, a quarterback that accounted for over 2,000 yards of offense and a Division I defensive end is tough for any high school team. Sidney not only loses three such players in Isaiah Bowser, Andre Gordon and Devan Rogers but also 16 others from last season’s 10-2 campaign.
When the Yellow Jackets take the field on Monday for the start of preseason practice, though, they won’t be without a plethora of key players from last season’s team.
With preseason practice starting Monday for all Ohio teams, here’s a position-by-position breakdown of Sidney’s returnees, along with a few newcomers that also should see playing time.
Junior Ryan Dunham is the frontrunner to direct the offense this year. Dunham appeared in five games last year and completed 10-of-32 passes for 154 yards with three touchdowns.
“Ryan’s going to have to be the man this year,” Sidney coach Adam Doenges said. “He didn’t throw the ball as well as maybe we wanted him to in some of those varsity games last year, but he’s still got experience under the lights and overcoming adversity, and that’s nice.”
Sophomore Cedric Johnson and freshman EJ Davis have seen time at the position this summer. Doenges said another freshman is in the quarterback mix.
“Those kids have to continue to get better, because as the season goes on, injuries are going to happen, and Ryan knows every day he’s got to keep fighting for his job,” Doenges said.
Bowser carried the load for Sidney the last three years and racked up about 5,500 rushing yards and 68 touchdowns in that time. Doenges said he expects several players to share the load this season and for the team to throw more, since an experienced group of receivers is back.
“Coach (Greg) Snyder, our offensive coordinator, said it best — we’ve got a lot of guys that can make plays in space, but we don’t have a kid that can carry the ball 15 to 20 times a game,” Doenges said. “We had the last three years (with Bowser), but not this year.
“It’s probably going to be a little bit more by committee, and we’ll probably be true spread out on offense this year. We’ll probably throw the ball a little bit more than we run it.”
The receiving unit is far and away the most experienced for Sidney. Leading receiver Ratez Roberts returns for his second varsity year. Roberts, a senior, led the team with 459 receiving yards on 22 catches for six touchdowns.
Junior Darren Taborn (22 receptions/288 yards), senior Caleb Harris (12/211), senior Keith Lee (5/76) and junior Lathan Jones (5/86) also return.
“We’ve got a lot kids that can make plays in space,” Doenges said. “We’ve got six guys back and only lost one from last year’s receiving crew. We’re going to move kids around a lot this year and put kids in the best position to make plays.”
Offensive and defensive lines
Sidney has four returning starters on both of the lines. Cooper Collingsworth and Dylan Vanderpool started at offensive guard last year and look to lead the corps this year. Braydon Dean and Joey Bishop are returnees and will start at defensive end. Dean was tied for third on the team with 64 tackles a year ago.
“Those four kids are good, quality football players that we’re going to rely on a lot,” Doenges said. “I say it a lot, but to me the number one predictor on how your season is going to go is senior lineman. Last year we had 12, and we had a good season. Those kids bought into being lineman. They understood they had a role to play and they weren’t all-stars.”
Doenges said the coaching staff has an idea at who will start at the other line positions, but the final determination won’t come until after a few weeks of practice.
Though Sidney will have to replace three defensive lineman, the squad returns eight players with experience at linebacker or defensive back.
Though the Yellow Jackets gave up an average of 25.3 points and 362 yards per game last year, they were tied for third in the Greater Western Ohio Conference in interceptions (11).
“On defense, we struggled a little bit, but we play fast on offense, so our defense is on the field more than most teams,” Doenges said. “A St. Marys defense or a Tipp City defense, they control the ball on offense so the defenses aren’t on the field as much as our kids are.
“So our numbers are a little bit higher because of that, since we take a lot of chances on offense because we go for it in the middle of the field and stuff like that.”
Among the team’s leading returnees at linebacker are senior Christian Townsend, junior Ryan Cagle and seniors Joshua Harlett and Seth Klingler.
Cagle led the team with 94 tackles and had three sacks. Townsend had 41 tackles, two sacks, one fumble recovery for a touchdown and one interception while Klingler had 57 tackles and two fumble recoveries. Harlett had 54 tackles.
The Yellow Jackets return all-conference defensive back selections in Harris and senior Josiah Hudgins. Taborn is also a returning starter.
Hudgins had 37 tackles and two interceptions while Taborn had 28 tackles and three interceptions. Harris had was tied for third with 64 tackles and led the team with four interceptions.
Record-setting kicker Hallie Truesdale returns for her junior season. Truesdale made 55 extra points last year and one field goal, and Doenges said she’s boosted her range to over 40 yards. She’ll be aided by the return of Cagle, who’s her long snapper.
Three of the team’s top four kickoff returners are back in Harris, Taborn and Townsend. Harris returned 12 kickoffs for 139 yards, while Taborn returned 11 for 231 yards.
Most of the rest of the kickoff and punt return units are back.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.