- By Jeff Gilbert Contributing Writer
Everything feels like a shiny new helmet to the Greenon football team. The almost-40-player roster has 25 sophomores and freshmen. There are three new assistant coaches. The head coach is in his second year.
The newest and most welcome aspect is an attitude that says, “We can win.”
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When Josh Wooten took over the Knights’ program last year, no one knew if that was true. But in their third game, the Knights rallied from 14 points down to defeat Triad 42-35 and end a 32-game losing streak. They finished the season 3-6.
“It’s definitely different and it’s going into the season with positive momentum,” senior Levi Morrison said. “We actually have something to step off of now.”
Coaches are optimistic but guarded. Players, however, aren’t afraid to dream.
“We want to go to the playoffs,” sophomore running back Cam Cox said. “That’s our main goal.”
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The playoffs have rarely been within reach and a place Greenon has never been. That’s why Cox isn’t afraid to say the word.
“You can’t set your goals low,” he explained. “If you put them low and get there, you’re just going to stay still. But if you put them high then you keep achieving.”
By midseason the Knights will know if they are ready to attain lofty goals such as the playoffs or to challenge defending champion Greeneview for supremacy in the Ohio Heritage Conference South Division. The Knights face Shawnee, West Jefferson and West Liberty-Salem in three of their first five games. Then Greeneview to start OHC South play.
“How we’re going to respond to those wins or losses is very important,” Wooten said.
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Wooten’s culture change has been marked by attitude changes and changes in the day-to-day way of doing things. He preaches that they can always control their attitude and effort. He told them to embrace the competition.
The fieldhouse next to the stadium and practice field now houses a player lounge with cornhole and video games. Thursday night team meals have been moved from the school to homes and the players watch football. And beating Triad made it all feel like it was making a difference.
“After that win, everyone came out with more intensity for the games,” said sophomore quarterback Cade Rice. “We were a lot more excited in the locker room – the energy and the atmosphere was a lot more positive.”
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Rice, a 6-foot-2, 195-pounder, is back to lead the spread offense with his legs and his arm. He put in a lot of time in the weight room.
“He’s one of the best I’ve seen,” said Wooten, who has coached at Fayetteville-Perry, Centerville and Fairmont. “I’ve been a lot of places and seen a lot of Division I athletes and he’s capable of making every throw. ”
Cox was a receiver last year and will be the featured running back this year. He’s played with Rice since middle school.
“His decision-making has gotten a lot better,” Cox said. “He really knows where to throw and when to throw it.”
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Rice said he is more comfortable in the offense and is becoming a vocal leader. He’s also benefiting from the arrival of offensive coordinator Brian Blevins from Wayne. Blevins and Wooten once coached together at Fairmont. Blevins has spent the last eight years at Wayne tutoring quarterbacks, including former Ohio State star Braxton Miller.
“He’s really improved my mechanics,” Rice said. “I’m throwing a lot prettier balls, and he’s been great with me. Just glad to have him.”
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Rice’s receivers are led by Luke Downing, a 6-3, 195-pound junior who led the team in catches and receiving yards last year. Two newcomers, senior Nick Traylor and freshman Clay Hough, will also help lead a large group that the Knights hope will keep the defense guessing.
Seniors Morrison (right tackle) and Josh Johnson (left guard) lead an experienced line that also returns Noah Mize (right tackle) and Dylan Bardnell (center).
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Morrison at linebacker and Johnson on the line will lead a defense also populated with young players that should be a key factor in how much the program continues last year’s momentum.
“It’s a new team, new year,” Wooten said. “Hopefully those things carry over, but I’d like to say they feel 10 times better about themselves than in years past.”