In his first season as coach, Dan McGill took the West Liberty-Salem Tigers to the regional finals.
What’s in store for season No. 2? Much of the same, they hope.
The Tigers return the majority of their offense from a team that averaged 42 points. It’ll be counted on early to put up points in support of the defense, which returns four starters.
“I like where this team’s mind is at right now,” McGill said. “They feel like they have a lot to prove. I don’t think they’re looking back at last year as a feather in their cap, so to speak, but ready to prove they’re a very good team this year.”
The Tigers (10-3 overall; 5-2 Ohio Heritage Conference) reached the Division VI regional championship before falling to OHC rival Mechanicsburg 34-28 in two overtimes. The other two losses? Both came against OHC competition — 32-22 loss to Mechanicsburg and 33-29 to OHC champ Triad.
McGill expects another tough run through the OHC.
Junior quarterback Brandon Upton (2,113 yards passing, 25 touchdowns) has options in seniors Landon Williams (48 catches, 841 yards, 13 TDs) Kam Evans (19/327/3), Trent Thomas (45/584/4) and junior Dusty Moell.
Junior Trevor Anderson returns at running back (350 yards rushing). Senior Dylan Leopard and sophomore Brandon Wolfe will also see carries.
Seniors Drew Smith, Beau Humphrey, Aaron Kindler and sophomore Trent Schumucker are key on the offensive line.
“The offense is getting a good grasp of what we’re trying to do,” McGill said. “It’s another year into my expectations for this system. I feel like offensively they’re executing fairly well in both the run and passing game right now. … The receivers have developed great timing already with Brandon. Those guys worked on their own all summer to continue to improve on that. So far it’s been showing.”
Senior linebacker Ben Burden (116 tackles, six sacks, second-team All-Ohio) leads on defense. The hard-hitting Burden will also provide valuable leadership on a defense that graduated its defensive line.
Smith, Humphrey, Kindler and Schumacker will anchor the line along with Leopard. Wolfe joins Burden at linebacker in the Tigers’ 4-2-5 defense.
Experience is plentiful in the secondary with Anderson (89 tackles), Evans (33 tackles, 3 INTs), Thomas (37 tackles, 2 INTs), Williams and Moell.
“Ben sets a physical tone for our defense. The other guys feed off his physicality,” McGill said. “The biggest concern is we’re replacing all four defensive linemen. So far I’ve been pleased with their progress. Some of those guys we’ve needed to step up, I’m starting to see that now.”
Coach: Dan McGill, second season (10-3)
OHSAA designation: Division VI, Region 22
Playoff history: 6-8 in eight appearances (2013, 2012, 2011, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2004)
2013 record: 10-3 overall, 5-2 in Ohio Heritage Conference (third)
Schedule: Aug. 29 — at Greenon, 7 p.m.; Sept. 5 — Benjamin Logan, 7 p.m.; Sept. 12 — at Riverside, 7 p.m.; Sept. 19 — at Catholic Central, 7 p.m.; Sept. 26 — Northeastern, 7 p.m.; Oct. 3 — Greeneview, 7 p.m.; Oct. 10 — at Mechanicsburg, 7 p.m.; Oct. 17 — Cedarville, 7 p.m.; Oct. 24 — Triad, 7 p.m.; Oct. 31 — at Southeastern, 7 p.m.