SIDNEY — Ryan Cagle isn’t afraid of taking a hit. As Sidney’s top tackler last season, he saw plenty of contact by leading the team with 94 tackles and three sacks in regular season.
And though he doesn’t fear contact, he’s happy he still has a few more days before he’ll have to worry about feeling the brute force of Cooper Collingsworth or Dylan “Tank” Vanderpool.
“They’re just big, and they pack a hard punch,” Cagle said of the two returning starting offensive lineman after a Tuesday practice.
The punching will have to wait until Saturday.
Monday was the first day Sidney and all prep football teams across Ohio were permitted to start preseason practice. No contact is allowed in the first five days of practice per OHSAA regulations.
“Two-a-days is that next step in that long process that starts in the winter (with weightlifting),” Sidney coach Adam Doenges said. “Each day, each process, you enjoy it, you embrace it, you have fun with it and you keep moving on.”
The Yellow Jackets took to Sidney Memorial Stadium early Monday morning for their first practice. They were back in the afternoon and Tuesday morning and afternoon for more practice.
Helmets were the only equipment players could wear the first two days. Shoulder pads are allowed on the third day, and full equipment is allowed on the fifth. Starting on the sixth day, contact is allowed.
“The days can be kind of long at times, but we’re still kind of fresh right now,” Doenges said. “Every day is moving day, every rep is moving day. We tell our kids, every day is a chance to move up the depth chart or down the depth chart. There’s a lot of inter-position battles right now for guys to get to that second line, get to that third line, move up on the freshman line.”
Cagle, who was special mention all-Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division last year, doesn’t have to worry about clinching his middle linebacker spot. His main concern, which is shared by seven other returnees in the backfield, is helping lead an improved defense.
The Yellow Jackets’ offense lit up the scoreboard last season during a 10-2 campaign. Opponents often did as well — Sidney allowed an average of 362 yards and 25 points per game.
“This year, I think our group is a lot better than it was last year,” Cagle said. “I feel like we get after it more, have more guys rushing to the ball. …We have a lot of depth in many areas to keep us fresh.”
Doenges was pleased with Cagle’s ability of stopping potentially big plays last year. That said, he’s not necessarily hoping Cagle will have to make over 100 tackles again — because many of those tackles came on plays where opponents gained seven or eight yards.
“Sometimes tackles can be a little bit deceiving, because if you’re making a tackle after a one- or two-yard gain or a seven- or eight-yard gain, it’s still a tackle,” Doenges said. “He had to make a lot of tackles after six-, seven- or eight-yard gains when they were already in the backfield.
“… The goal of this year is to pile up those tackles as one- or two-yard gains. In order for him to do that, everybody’s got a job to fill. As long as everybody does their jobs, now those tackles are a little more meaningful.”
Cagle is one of several upperclassmen slated to start on defense, and Doenges said he’s liked what he’s seen through the summer from the unit. He compared what he’s seen so far as similar to the 2015 squad, which ranked fifth in the GWOC by allowing an average of 283 yards and 18.9 points per game.
“Some of these (returning) guys were starters their sophomore and junior years, and now they’ve got to start playing really, really good football,” Doenges said. “We haven’t been good the last two years on defense. It needs to be better.
“I’ve talked over and over that we move really fast on offense and our defense is out there a lot, but it still hasn’t been good the last two years. Three years ago, we were a really, really good defense. We were also a senior-dominated defense, and we’ve got to get back to what we looked like three years ago.
Sidney will continue its two-a-day schedule through much of the next week. Players will first get to see an opponent on Aug. 7, when Lehman Catholic will come to Sidney Memorial Stadium for a combined practice/scrimmage that will be closed to the public.
All other fall sports will begin preseason preparation on Wednesday.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.