SIDNEY — Sidney junior quarterback Ryan Dunham has an easygoing personality — or “goofy,” as Sidney coach Adam Doenges describes.
But even if he’s normally carefree, playing in front of packed stadiums several times in 2017 brought out the nerves.
“I was a little shaky at first,” Dunham said. “The coaches helped me through it and my teammates helped through it. I started progressing a little bit, and it came natural.”
There will be many new players starting in skill positions when area football teams kick off the 2018 season on Friday night. Six of the eight area squads will start new quarterbacks, including Sidney and Anna.
Sidney and Anna’s new quarterbacks aren’t without varsity experience, though, and Doenges and Anna coach Nick Marino hope that helps alleviate jitters from other first-year varsity players on Friday.
“He’s been there, and that helps him and helps some of the other guys,” Doenges said of Dunham. “Ryan’s a goofy kid and a fun kid, and we’ve been talking with him that there’s a point of being too goofy and a point of being relaxed. He needs to be relaxed and needs to be goofy a little bit.”
Dunham played in five games last year, including extensively in three when starter Andre Gordon was dealing with a shoulder injury. Against Carroll, Xenia and West Carrollton, Dunham completed 9-of-30 passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns.
He’s had a busy offseason, spending a good bit of his time in the weight room or practicing either formally or informally.
His growth was on display in a scrimmage at Chaminade-Julienne last Thursday. In three quarters of play, he unofficially completed 10 of 14 passes for 262 yards and one touchdown.
“I’ve been pleased with the progress he’s made, especially the last two weeks,” Doenges said. “We were a little worried a couple of weeks ago, but he’s stepped up the last couple of weeks, and we’re excited to see what he can do.
“He knows his job. He’s got playmakers all over the place. He doesn’t need to be an all-state quarterback, he just needs to be a good high school quarterback and get the ball to our playmakers.”
Dunham has a ton of experienced receivers to choose from, including seniors Ratez Roberts, Caleb Harris, Josiah Hudgins and Keith Lee as wells as juniors Darren Taborn and Lathan Jones. He said the offense has learned a lot this preseason.
“Just play fast, get to the ball and help our teammates out,” Dunham said. “We’ve got a great line, and they’re helping us. In our scrimmage against CJ last week, they were awesome. I think we’re ready.”
Anna junior quarterback Bart Bixler enters his first season as the team’s starter with similar experience as Dunham. He played extensively in three games last year when starting quarterback Travis Meyer dealt with an ACL injury.
“Having that experience is big,” Marino said. “He know how to compete. He’s a three-sport athlete, so that’s great. I usually like having guys that play multiple sports. Usually if you’re a multiple-sport athlete, you know how to compete in tough situations.”
Marino said he’s looking forward to seeing Bixler excel this season, starting in Anna’s opener Friday at Middletown Fenwick.
“He’ll step in — he’s already stepped in,” Marino said of Bixler. “He’s doing a good job, and I’m not worried about the Friday night aspect for him.”
Doenges isn’t worried about Dunham in that aspect either when Sidney travels to St. Marys on Friday. The Yellow Jackets’ other young players?
“You really never know if those guys are going to be ready until those lights come on,” Doenges said. “The CJ scrimmage was kind of run in game situation, but it’s completely different. There’s maybe 200 people there that night, there’s no band, it’s quiet. It’s completely different.
“We’re going to go to St. Marys with a large following, and it’s going to be loud with everyone right on top of us. I love going there — you can hear everything they say. You can’t prepare a kid for that — you just continue to tell them to turn your attention to your job, just put the blinders on and worry about your job.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.