NAUGATUCK — A changing of the guard occurred at Tug Valley High School during the off-season as longtime Mingo County football coach Tony Clusky retired from his position as head man of the Panthers and was replaced by former Matewan and Mingo Central assistant coach Hady Ford.
Heading into his first season as a head coach, and first season at Tug Valley, the former Matewan standout can see good things happening in Naugatuck.
"If we come with the right attitude, I think we can do some really, really good things," coach Ford said at the TVHS Media Day. "We've got all kinds of athletes, all the skill guys and even the big guys up front. It's everything that you are looking for to make a good run at the playoffs."
Coach Ford will be bringing a new style offensive attack with him in his first season as he will be using the popular spread offense, which uses multiple wide receivers and is designed to spread the defense out along the line of scrimmage.
He will have a new quarterback running that offense as Ethan Varney will grab the starting spot for his senior season after backing starting QB from a year ago Tyler Chaffin, who transferred to Belfry in the off-season.
"Ethan is a good athlete, and a smart quarterback," coach Ford said of his first-year signal caller. "He makes good decisions. Of course, with a new system and a new offense there will be some learning curves, but overall he's getting the grasp of it really quick."
Varney, who is a standout on the baseball field, has a good arm and should be able to sling the ball all over the field. He started every game on defense at safety in 2018 and picked off three passes, including one for a pick six, and figures to start again in the secondary in 2019.
Varney will have Tug Valley's leading receiver back from a year ago as junior Caleb May will more than likely be his top target. May hauled in 31 passes for 672 yards and six touchdowns in 2018, all of which led the team.
He is talented once he gets his ball in his hands as he had 265 yards after catch a season ago and ran the ball 40 times for 188 yards out of the backfield.
"Caleb is a really talented athlete, you can use him in so many different ways," Ford said. "He's going to have to step up for us this year. Dustin Balentine has also been looking good for us as well as Kendrick Allen who didn't play last year but came out this year."
Balentine, who is a senior, was second on the team in carries a year ago with 67 and finished with 284 yards rushing and hauled in four passes for 22 yards. He is expected to be used more this season in the passing game.
At running back, the Panthers took a big blow when they lost leading rusher and leading tackler Parker Brewer after he was ruled academically ineligible and could not play his senior season.
But sophomore Zack Savage is ready to step in and fill the shoes of Brewer as the bruising runner that the Panthers will need to rely on when they need yards between the tackles.
"Zack is just a good solid runner, he runs with power and runs with force," Ford said. I think he will have a good year for us and with him running the ball up the middle it will just open up everything on the outside a little more."
Savage will be running behind an offensive line that has a lot of experience returning in seniors Jared Webb and Corey Pack but also welcomes newcomer Grayson Spaulding over from Tolsia.
Those three are expected to see plenty of action along the offensive front along with sophomore senior Aaron White, junior Shane Russell, and basketball standouts Ethan Colegrove and Easton Davis will add much needed size along the front line.
Colegrove is expected to step in and have a huge impact after not playing a season ago. He averaged close to a double-double during his freshman season in basketball last season and is expected to add some physicality to the Panthers front five. Davis did play as a sophomore and will see some action at tight end as he caught five passes for 60 yards and a score a year ago.
Being a small Class A school and numbers on the squad being low, with only 25 guys on the 2019 roster, a lot of guys will have to play two ways and also go defensively for the Panthers.
Coach Ford, who was a standout defender for the Matewan Tigers when they made three straight Class A State championship games from 1991-93, will expect his team to play a hard-nosed brand of football on that side of the ball.
"Defensively we've got to be physical, we're big up front and we've got two big linebackers," Ford said of his front seven. "Just being physical up front and not giving the opposing offense a chance to do what they want to do; we want to force our will on opposing teams. We're a little small in the secondary but we're also very athletic. I think speed for speed we will be able to match-up with most teams pretty good."
Tug Valley was dealt a blow with their schedule just two weeks before the start as Clarksburg Notre Dame announced they were not having a team in 2019, which left them with only nine games.
Now the Panthers will have to scramble to find another game or they will be left with a ninr-game schedule, which could hurt them at seasons end when it comes to seeding for the WVSSAC playoffs.
Tug Valley finished 4-6 in 2018 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013. They had qualified for the playoffs five out of the last six years and six of the last eight, until they fell short again in 2018.
Coach Ford said he thinks the Panthers are in a good spot to make it a seventh trip to the playoff in the last 10 years with a successful season in 2019.
"As long as we come with a good work ethic this season and work hard, I truly believe the sky is the limit for us. I think we can make the playoffs and even make a good push in it, if we come with the right attitude," he said.
Tug Valley is set to open the season on the road at the Hurley, Virginia on Friday, Aug. 30, in a 7:30 p.m. start time.
Jarrid McCormick is a reporter for the Williamson Daily News. He can be reached by email at jmccormick@HDMediaLLC.com.
2019 Tug Valley High School Football Schedule:
Aug. 30: at Hurley, Va., 7 p.m.
Sept. 6: Sherman, 7:30 p.m.
Sept 13: at Hannan, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 20: at Van, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 27: at Tolsia, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 4: Pike Central, Ky., 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 11: Man, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 18: at Mount View, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 25: Richwood, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 2: OPEN DATE
Nov. 8: OPEN DATE
2019 Tug Valley Panthers Roster
No. Name Gr.
2 Kendrick Allen So.
4 Tanner Kirk So.
9 Ethan Varney Sr.
13 Easton Davis Jr.
15 Austin Howell Jr.
20 Destin Evans Jr.
22 Caleb May Jr.
28 Dustin Balentine Sr.
34 Zack Savage So.
44 Ethan Colegrove So.
50 Blake Brewer Fr.
52 Kayleigh Marcum Fr.
53 Blake Davis Sr.
55 Shane Russell Jr.
56 Grayson Spaulding Sr.
59 Josh Brewer Jr.
60 Gage Deskins Fr.
63 Bruce Dillon Jr.
64 Blake Miller So.
73 Jared Webb Sr.
74 Caleb Jude So.
75 Aaron White Sr.
79 Corey Pack Sr.
88 Logan Murphy Sr.
89 Robert Spurlock Sr.