HUBER HEIGHTS — The State runner-up Wayne Warriors, coming off of a near perfect season, open their 2016 campaign with a lot of great expectations, but also a few questions.
“It’s a new year, we just have to make sure we aren’t living on the past and we focus on the future. Our senior leadership is really focused on what kind of legacy we can leave with this 2016 team,” said Wayne Head Coach Jay Minton.
While Wayne’s accomplishments echo far beyond the Miami Valley, making a third straight trip to the Division I finals, capped off with the team’s first State Championship would be quite a legacy for this 2016 season senior class.
Though Wayne has many of its offense returning, the main question on offense coming into this season is, “who will be the starting quarterback?” Over the last ten years quarterback has been the one position Wayne has come into the season without much of a “quarterback controversy”. This year the offense has returning players at just about every position, but still has not settled on a starting quarterback. Whoever takes over as the new signal caller is going to be a distributor to what may be Wayne’s deepest offense in terms of talent. The depth chart is stacked deep with playmakers at every position.
The three main competitors for the starting role are Sophomore Rashad McKee, Junior Diante Lesperance and Senior Tyler Carter.
“The key is consistency and we haven’t had a lot of that, but I know that comes with reps,” Minton said.
Each one of these young men brings different skills to the table. Rashad McKee is the most mobile of the three, and that may play into the decision. In the end, the Warriors are looking for the quarterback that makes plays.
There is a fourth quarterback in the mix. Kevin Wright, a transfer from Florida runs well and can throw the deep ball well. Wright’s and McKee’s skill sets will give Wayne the running capability from the quarterback position that has been missing over the last few years.
Coach Minton believes there is enough senior leadership on the team that the quarterback doesn’t necessarily have to be the leader. Though the quarterback is a leader on offense Minton is confident in the leadership he has on offense in players like L’Christian Smith, Fred Pitts, Matt Wilcox, Josh Foster and Ben Jackson to help lead the offense.
The return of seniors Fred Pitts and Josh Foster should solidify Wayne’s running game and take a lot of pressure off of Wayne’s new quarterback.
“It’s great to have those guys back, especially with the line in front of them… I think we’ll have an outstanding run game this year,” Minton noted.
The quarterback this year should benefit from the running ability of Foster and Pitts keeping the pressure on linebackers and safeties.
Wayne also has a speed option. Minton says he has the option to put some more quickness in the backfield in the form of Matt Wilcox, Xenia transfer, Ray James or Kevin Wright.
“Ray James has great instincts of getting outside and knows when to cut it up, much like Matt Wilcox… Kevin Wright is spectacular with the ball in his hands,” Minton stated.
This unit is led by the dynamic junior, L’Christian Smith. Smith is a Rivals 4 star recruit with interest from virtually all of the Big Ten and many of the top SEC teams. Don’t let all of those accolades thrown on Smith overshadow the fact that Wayne is loaded with playmakers on the outside and in the slot. Any of these guys can take it to house. Matt Wilcox, Trew Davis and Ray James will give Wayne’s quarterback plenty of options and defensive coordinators a lot to think about. Coach Minton made special mention of Stephen Victoria as a player set to make an impact.
This year’s offensive line is anchored by three-year starter, senior, All-Greater Western Ohio Conference and All-District center, Ben Jackson. Also returning on the offensive line are Joel Crain, Max Morgan-Elliott and Sean Martin.
“This could be one of the best offensive lines we’ve ever had here, and we’ve had some pretty good offensive lines,” Minton stated.
Joel Crain started a little last year throughout the season, Max left tackle was moved over from the defensive side of the ball last year started 13 games last year. Sean Martin was a solid starter last year. Minton said some felt Crain was the team’s best lineman last year.
Minton says that this defense will be the team’s “trademark, or whatever you want to call it… defenses are identified in different ways… ours will be… one word “quick”.
This defense is indeed quick and it’s not afraid to hit. This defense will be remembered as quick and physical. I don’t see a spread offense being a problem for this year’s defense.
Minton agrees, “Now the big test for us will be if someone just lines up and tried to run it down our throat.”
He truly believes that this defense can handle the test, but that is the area he feels will be a test. This defense is quick and physical enough to pass any test thrown at them; they just need to get to the football.
DeWayne Morris has taken major strides in his ability and leadership this year.
“DeWayne can probably cover sideline to sideline from the linebacker position as well anyone I’ve seen at Wayne,” Minton said.
That is saying a lot, considering the linebackers that have come through this program. DeWayne is indeed very quick and instinctive.
Fellow inside linebacker, senior Nyem Wilson is set to step up and contribute as a starter after waiting patiently in the wings. Minton believes he can make a major impact this year if he stays healthy. Much like Morris, Wilson is very athletic and can get to the football.
Justin Harris returns to the defensive backfield after starting last year as a freshman. Minton believes he is going to be one of the next great defensive backs you see from Wayne. He just needs to keep that drive and stay focused to get better.
“Some players have limitations in their abilities that you have to work around, but Justin’s [abilities] are limitless,” he said.
Harris plays corner, but he is being tried out at safety, much like the way Tobias Gilliam was utilized.
Wayne has the luxury of having the depth at defensive back in Ray James, Kevin Wright and Devonte McKee. Demetreus Ross. All of these players are capable starters, making for healthy competition at all defensive back positions. Another player mentioned as a defensive back is Jordan Hardrick, who is described as a hybrid, nickel, slot safety/linebacker.
The words best to describe the Wayne secondary are deep, versatile, quick, athletic and physical. All that’s left is to make the plays on the field.
Anchoring the Wayne defensive line are senior, Mazon Walker and junior, Alex Reigelsperger. Reigelsperger’s quickness on the edge and Walker’s outstanding leverage in the middle make these two returners a solid foundation for a strong defensive line. Coach Minton praises them as a foundation that allows for a dominant unit.
Wendell Wheeler is a defensive lineman that has started to make an impact. His quickness is a perfect complement to Walker on the inside. On the opposite side of Reigelsperger is junior Joseph Crain. Minton is high on his defensive line and puts much of his high expectations of his defense squarely on his believe in them.
When asked which relatively unknown players on offense he thought would have a breakout year, Minton mentioned sophomore defensive back/flanker, Steven Victoria and freshman offensive lineman, Jacob Padilla. He also said he expects the starting quarterback to have a great year too, considering the weapons he will have at his disposal.
On the defensive side of the ball, Minton said he really had too many to settle on one, but then said Justin Harris should have a big year. He said that newcomers Ray James and Kevin Wright should also have great years. Ray is a lockdown corner so he can make a big contribution the defense.
Wayne was unsure of who would be handling the kicking duties, until junior Garrett Russell came over from soccer to help the football team out. He will handle the place kicking duties for extra points and field goals. He has never kicked field goals before so he is rather new to kicking duties but he is very accurate.
Since Russell is new to football style kicking he is a work in progress. Though he is accurate he still needs to develop the leg strength to take over kickoff and punting duties. Both kicking duties will be handled by the winner of the camp competition.
The return game will future some great talent at the deep return position. One of the options to return kicks is Ray James, who returned punts for Xenia last year; even winning some games for them last year in the return game. Another option is Kevin Wright, who is explosive in the open field. Trew Davis and Matt Wilcox have been getting some reps as returner. There are many more that can handle the return duties but these are the main returners. In short, there is no shortage of playmakers available to return kicks.
There is good reason to believe in this year’s edition of Wayne Warriors football. On offense there is a solid offensive line, flanked by a plethora of playmakers. If the quarterback can distribute the ball effectively to these weapons, this is as dangerous an offense that we’ve seen at Wayne.
The defense is quick and athletic; instinctive and physical. This team has the ability to be special. It has a strong leadership base that is mature and battle tested. All that remains is to see if that ability translates to plays on the field.
Reach Robert Williamson II at RobertWilliamsonII@hotmail.com