H.S. football: Experienced Braves seek playoff return

Shawnee coach Rick Meeks talks to his players during a game against Clinton-Massie on Friday, Sept. 9, 2016, in Springfield. DAVID JABLONSKI / STAFF
Shawnee coach Rick Meeks talks to his players during a game against Clinton-Massie on Friday, Sept. 9, 2016, in Springfield. DAVID JABLONSKI / STAFF

Shawnee football coach Rick Meeks has faced a season many times with lots of good, experienced players. It’s often meant playoffs. But a couple of recent seasons have been derailed by injuries.

You won’t see Meeks standing on the sideline in Saturday’s opener at Welcome Stadium against Thurgood Marshall with his fingers crossed behind his back. But he knows his team has to stay healthy to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013. No one at Shawnee thought that season would end a five-year playoff run.

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The Braves have seven starters back on offense and eight on defense. But lots of those are two-way starters, and the backups are inexperienced.

“If we have some injuries, we could be in trouble,” Meeks said. “But as long as we stay healthy our ones are pretty good. As long as things go well, I like our chances.”

The Braves were 4-1 in the second half of last season and finished 6-4, second in the Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division and 12th in the Division IV, Region 14 playoff race. The Braves are back in Region 16 this year.

“The second half of the year was really good,” Meeks said. “We beat the teams that we should’ve beaten and we beat teams that it could have gone either way. We’d like to win the division and get back to the playoffs. If we can stay healthy, I feel pretty good.”

Meeks’ best team was the 2011 squad that reached the state final behind the rushing of Alex McCrory. The link to that team is his younger brother Jack McCrory. He will carry the football and play inside linebacker. McCrory rushed for 667 yards last year and led the team in tackles. He will play college football at Ohio University.

Offensive line play will be important for the Braves, and Meeks is happy to welcome back four starters. Seniors Eli Wade, Billy Forbes, Tanner VanVelzor and Cole Vasileff will be joined by fellow senior Ka’rell Knox to block for McCrory and protect a young quarterback.

Robbie Glass, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, takes over at quarterback. He has no varsity experience, but he is used to the big stage. He won the Division II state championship as a freshman in the high jump with a leap of 6 feet, 8 inches.

“We have to see how he progresses and not ask him to do too much,” Meeks said.

The deepest position group on the team will be of great help to Glass as he directs the spread offense. Meeks has eight players that he says can all play well in the five receiver spots.

The slot receivers are senior returners Matt Jarzab and Dominic Finch along with Aaron Schack, who is playing football for the first time since middle school. Wideouts are Billy Lord, Cyres Cooper, Hayden Lawhorn and Jackson Smith.

“If our line meshes and our quarterback comes along, we have a ton of potential,” Meeks said.

Most of the names are the same on defense led by McCrory and VanVelzor at linebacker. Lord and Smith will be the outside linebackers/defensive ends. The secondary is also experienced with Lawhorn, Jarzab, Cooper and Finch. Schack will also help in the secondary. The three positions in the middle of the defensive line will be manned by Knox, Forbes, Vasileff and Wade. They all played there last year.

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