SIDNEY — There’s a slightly different look to the schedule this season for Sidney and there will similarly be a slightly different look for the team on the field with about a dozen new starters.
One thing Sidney senior Ryan Cagle is confident won’t change: the Yellow Jackets being a contender.
Sidney opened football practice earlier this week to kick off its first season as a member of the reformed Miami Valley League. The Yellow Jackets and nine other schools left the Greater Western Ohio Conference to restart the MVL, which originally existed from 1926 to 1975.
Sidney hopes to continue and surpass the success it enjoyed in its last four years as a GWOC member. The Yellow Jackets went 24-18 from 2015-2018, including a 9-3 campaign in 2017 in which the squad earned its first playoff berth since 1989. The program has also had multiple players go on to play at all levels of collegiate football in that stretch.
Cagle, a linebacker, will try to help lead continued success. He’s one of three players looking to earn their fourth letter this year, along with receiver/defensive back Darren Taborn and kicker Hallie Truesdale. Seniors receiver/DB Lathan Jones, quarterback Ryan Dunham and safety Clay Carter are among other returning multiple-year letterwinners.
“We’ve got a great group of guys coming in, and we’ve been doing a lot of work all summer with lifting and everything,” Cagle said. “I think we’ve got something special going on.”
Sidney returns 13 letterwinners from last season, which is a bit low compared to recent years. Over a dozen relative newcomers will have a chance to start or see significant playing time this fall.
“It’s definitely different from what we’re used to in the past, with typically more older guys,” Cagle said. “But now that I’m older, I have to step up, and all the other older guys have to step up more and be more leaders and help coach (the younger guys) too.”
Thursday was the first day Sidney and all fall sports teams across were permitted by the Ohio High School Athletic Association to start preseason practice.
The Yellow Jackets have been on the field since Monday, though. The OHSAA allows football teams to have 10 days of on-field instruction during the summer before the start of official practice, and Sidney used its last three camp days immediately leading up to Thursday.
“It kind of just blended in,” Doenges said of leading up to practice with the last camp days. “I was kind of worried about the week being long, but it’s been a really, really productive week. We did a nice job of blending some of our testing as far as lifts and running with the practices.
“I’m really, really happy with where we’re at right now. We’re leaving the field each day wishing we had a couple of more minutes — the kids are wanting more time. I think if the kids are wanting more (practice), we’re doing a good job.”
No contact is allowed in the first five days of practice per OHSAA regulations. Helmets are the only equipment allowed on the first two days, while shoulder pads can be worn on the third day. Full equipment is allowed on the fifth day. Full contact is allowed on the sixth day, which is Wednesday.
Cagle will be ready for full contact to begin, as he’s used to it. He led the squad with 61 tackles in 2017, including three sacks. He was second on the squad with 51 tackles last year, including one sack and one fumble recovery.
Cagle said the squad will be looking to continue the defensive progress it saw last year. Sidney allowed 362 yards and 25.3 points per game in 2017 and lowered those averages to 290.5 and 19.1, respectively, last season.
“We want to lower those points, keep more points off the board,” Cagle said. “We definitely want to stop the run game more than we did last year.”
Cagle also will look to be a part of what has been a rock-solid extra-point crew again this year.
Leading the extra-point crew is Truesdale, who set many single-season records in 2017. She made 24-of-29 extra-point attempts last season and 4-of-4 field goal attempts. Cagle has been the special teams long snapper for the squad since his freshman year and Dunham has been the holder since his sophomore year.
“That really helps when you work on your special teams that three of the most vital parts of PATs are coming back and veterans,” Doenges said. “We really just have to focus on the line play for that in practice with those three veterans.”
Sidney has multiple returning starters in all position groups except for running back, which will likely be the most interesting position battle of preseason.
The Yellow Jackets will be looking to replace Caleb Harris at the position. Harris, who was also a starting defensive back last year, ran for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns.
Sophomore running back EJ Davis looks to be the leader to get most carries this year, though several other players are in contention. Davis was a phenom quarterback in middle school and played a bit at the position last year, mostly in a 31-28 Week 2 win over Bellefontaine. He ran for 96 yards and one touchdown in that win and threw for 50 yards.
“We’ve had some pretty good running backs with Caleb and Isaiah Bowser the last few years, and EJ has positioned himself to be that guy,” Doenges said. “We’ve still got other guys that are threats to run the ball. …He’s new to that position, but he’s not new to Friday nights.”
Sidney will travel to Beavercreek for a tri-scrimmage with Toledo St. Francis next Friday at 6 p.m. — though Doenges said it will be as much a joint practice as much as it will be a scrimmage.
The Yellow Jackets will travel to Edgewood for a quad scrimmage on Aug. 17 and host Chaminade-Julienne in a scrimmage on Aug. 22.
Sidney will open the season on Aug. 30 against St. Marys at Sidney Memorial Stadium.
The MVL will consist of nine league games starting next year. Sidney is one of many MVL teams will play adjusted schedules this year due to still having nonconference contracts that need to be finished.
The Yellow Jackets will travel to Bellefontaine in Week 2 and host Dayton Belmont and Week 3 before beginning MVL play in Week 4. They’ll play all MVL teams except for Vandalia-Butler and Tippecanoe this year.
The Yellow Jackets will be in the MVL South Division and compete against Xenia, Fairborn, West Carrollton and Stebbins for divisional titles. Troy, Piqua, Butler, Tipp and Greenville will make up the North Division.
All of the league’s 10 teams will play each other once in football and twice in all other sports. All league games will count toward divisional standings. An overall MVL champion will be crowned each year for each sport, too, based on standings of all 10 teams.
Cagle said the team’s biggest goal is to win the inaugural MVL South title.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.