Greg Bonifay was drawing an understandable blank on a bit of program history and his paperwork was nowhere in sight.
Cell phone in hand, he made a hurried and apologetic trip outside to search the cluttered confines of his car — the filing cabinet of necessity for guys on the go.
“That’s where I throw all my junk,” the Southeastern High School football coach joked. “As long as I have two spots cleared out for my little girls to sit, I’m good to go.”
The personable educator seems happy and relaxed heading into his sixth season in South Charleston, where any hint of exasperation from a 1-9 season has vanished.
“I really think last year motivated our kids to go the extra mile this summer,” Bonifay said. “As far as workouts and conditioning and overall team strength, we’re stronger than at any time I’ve been here.
“They’re hungry,” he added. “This group of seniors is motivated and that’s fed down to the underclassmen. It feels like everyone’s buying in.”
Southeastern returns 16 lettermen on a squad of 33. Seven starters on offense and most of its defense are back from an injury-plagued squad that finished 1-6 in the Ohio Heritage Conference – one that sent four teams to the state playoffs.
“Three freshmen lettered last year,” Bonifay said. “That’s usually not the greatest of things in terms of the present. It’s good for the future, though.”
A former teacher and assistant coach at Stebbins and Miamisburg, Bonifay had never before seen so many injuries on such a small squad.
“At one point last year we had eight starters out,” he said with dismay. “That’s the equivalent of losing 16 of 22 starters with them all going both ways.”
One of the biggest hits the Trojans took was the four-game loss of quarterback Ben Miller, who suffered a concussion at Madison Plains.
“It was frustrating to me,” Bonifay said of the team’s misfortunes. “But at the same time, we had to stress to our kids the importance of, ‘What are you going to do in the face of adversity?’
“You’ve got to play with the hand you’re dealt.”
A year later, Miller’s tough luck hasn’t yet passed. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior took a helmet to the back and herniated a disc during the Trojans’ second scrimmage.
“There was a personal foul and spearing call, but that didn’t help us much,” Bonifay said. “It was just one of those things. Ben sees a specialist on Friday. He hasn’t been able to walk without crutches.”
Standing in for the injured Miller is dual threat Hayden Toots, a 6-1, 175 freshman who’s quarterbacked his way through the pee-wee and junior high ranks.
Key to any Southeastern revival are senior wide receiver/running back Gabe Xayathone (6-0, 175) and senior linebacker / defensive end Kyle Rowe (6-2, 235).
A capable fullback gaining interest from several Mid-American Conference schools, Rowe sat out five games last season after transferring from Madison Plains and still led the Trojans in tackles with 81.
“Defensively, we’re experienced. We pretty much have our whole front seven back,” Bonifay said. “Offensively, we’re trying to get a little faster up front. We’ve got some experience on our offensive line.”
Xayathone, Rowe, freshman Jaden Jenkins (6-1, 205) and senior Ben Crum (5-8, 170) will run the ball “by committee.”
Senior Austin Spears (5-8, 125) and sophomore Trevor King (5-11, 145) return and are joined by basketball and track standout Jake Bertemes.
“It only took me three years to talk him into it,” Bonifay said of Bertemes. “He was our leading receiver the other night with three catches for 65 yards.”
The 5-10, 150 junior newcomer will also see time at corner.