NEW RICHMOND — It's been a few years since there was this much excitement around the Wyoming East football team.
The Warriors return a veteran team, and there is a new sheriff in town, as Larry Thompson made the move from Mount View to Wyoming East.
He has brought in a new energy and confidence, and already in a young career (he just turned 30) has turned around the fortunes of one program.
Last season at Mount View, the Golden Knights were atop the Class A rating and advanced to the second round of the playoffs after years of missing the playoffs.
Now he is on board, and the expectations are the same at Wyoming East.
The Warriors return four of five offensive linemen and will start a line that averages 234 pounds per player.
That's not as big as Wyoming East lines in the past, but it has the potential to be better.
"This is the strongest line I have ever been around in my life," Thompson said.
Across the front are senior left tackle Tanner Jenkins (6-foot-6, 275 pounds), senior left guard Noah Francis (6-0, 240), junior center Josh Reilley (5-11, 230), senior right guard Brandon Morgan (6-1, 210) and senior right tackle Isaac Perdue (5-11, 215).
"They know it all starts with them," Thompson said of the line. "They know we win and lose with them. We don't expect them to drive opposing linemen 20 yards down the field. When I say that I think of the scene in (the movie) "The Blind Side" where Michael Oher drives a kid all the way down the field and dumps a kid over the back stop. I don't expect a player to do that. It's an unrealistic expectation. But I do expect them to give relentless effort on every play, whether it is a pass play, a run play or some type of RPO (run-pass option) system or trickery. If these kids understand their blocking assignment and do it relentlessly this line will be devastating."
It starts with Jenkins, who was named the King Lineman at West Virginia State's camp over the summer and was offered a scholarship on the spot. The other returning starters are Reilley, Francis and Perdue.
"I think Tanner has a chance to be the best lineman in the state," Thompson said. "These guys have a chance to be a special group."
Senoir Hunter Sammons (6-0, 220) and freshman Charlie Stewart (6-2, 240) will provide depth on the line.
Senior Seth Ross returns as a three-year starter at quarterback. He has seen a lot over his first three years, but will be running some new offense, including an RPO package, this season.
In the past two years, Ross has thrown for 2,099 yards and 15 touchdowns. Last year, with the emergence of Caleb Bower and the run game, Ross's production dipped but he threw for one more touchdown (eight, compared to seven in 2017) in 60 fewer attempts.
"I don't want to say he wasn't challenged in the past, but Ross was confined to doing certain things and he didn't really get to open his wings up and play like I know he can play," Thompson said. "This summer (in the June practice session) we gave him the freedom and ability to go out there and do what he wanted to do in regards to decision making and play calling. With Ross being that tenured quarterback he comes with that in-game experience. He knows when stuff is running the right way and when stuff is running the wrong way."
Freshman Chandler Johnson (6-4, 210) is being groomed as the heir apparent and senior first-year player McQuade Canada can be used in emergency situations.
Ross won't have a shortage of playmakers at his disposal.
First, he returns his top three receivers from a year ago.Jake Bishop, the team's leading receiver last season with 28 receptions for 452 yards and five TDs, returns along with Caden Lookabill 9-131-2) and Bower out of the backfield (19-145-1).
Joining the team are first-year players like Brandon Simpson, Canada and Matt Caldwell (all three basketball/baseball players at Wyoming East and tight end Mason Houck
"Bishop is a very big target with a lot of experience," Thompson said. "We can line him up inside and we can line him up outside. Bishop is a great receiver who has had some college interest. He is one of those guys who can play tight end, inside, outside, he can do it all at the receiver position. I love the fact that he is a big-body receiver. He knows how to use his body well and he made a lot of plays for Seth last year."
Lookabill is now in his second year and Thompson his high on the junior.
"Caden is smooth," Thompson said "He is a great route runner and he is a ball hawk. He is our probably our best route runner out there on the edge."Canada, Simpson and Caldwell are all the unknown, having no played on the high school level."I'm not afraid to go to any of those guys," Thompson said. "They can all make plays. They will all make plays for us this season."
Bower is coming off a phenomenal sophomore season when he rushed for 1,290 yards.
Bower had seven games where he topped 100 yards rushing including a career-best 222 yards against Oak Hill. He scored 13 touchdowns last season, 12 on the ground, where he averaged 5.3 yards per carry.
"He will be our workhorse and he will get his carries," Thompson said. "But we want to make sure we keep him fresh as well. I like to have a lot of backs, be able to to keep a fresh runner out there."
Alex Hall will be there with Bower in some sets, and he has experience as a fullback with 65 carries for 252 yards in 16 games over the last two seasons.
Other potential backs in the backfield are freshman Nathaniel Ford, a player upon whom Thompson is high, even comparing him to Bower on the field, newcomer Chase York, Clay Lester, Ethan Walls and Canada.
"I really think we are going to be a team that is seven to eight runners deep," Thompson said.
There is a lot to like about the defense on the athletic and strength side but again this team gave up 323 points (32.3) last season.On the defensive side of the the ball, the teams athletic linebackers lead the way.
"I think the linebacker corps is the strength of the defensive unit and we want to put those guys in positions where they can make plays," Thompson said
Among the linebackers will be Bower and Chase York will be the outside linebackers with Alex Hall, Clay Lester and and Josh Reilley in the middle.
Lester averaged 7.3 tackles per game last season.If Lookabill looks to be the breakout player on offense, that player on defense is York.
"Physically, we have a multitude of those kinds of kids, strong and as fast as ever but York just brings a mindset, a meanness to this team that has not been here," Thompson said. "It's something that coaches can't coach. It's in a player."
On the defensive line, Jenkins, Francis and Hunter Sammons will be the top three interior linemen and Dakota McBride and Brandon Morgan will be defensive ends.
Lookabill is the top corner on the team as well.
"He's a basketball guy, he's been playing man-to-man defense his whole life and it is time we put that skill set to use," Thompson said. "Honest to God, and I don't think this is a reach, but I don't he had a pass caught on him all summer (during 7-on-7 play)."
Brandon Simpson is the other corner.
"He is a kid who plays with a chip on his shoulder," Thompson said. "He plays with swag, he plays with confidence. It's how you harness it, how you use it. You can't play the game at a high level without a chip on your shoulder."
Canada will also have a shot at starting at safety.
Matt Caldwell will serve as the kicker, and was 6 for 6 on PATs in practice early in the season. Bower will be the backup. Lookabill and Lester are doing some punting.
Depth is being sought on both sides of the ball.
"We take what we know from film, what we see in the weight room, what we saw in June and during the three week period to develop that depth chart," Thompson said. "Right now our job as a coaching staff is to add to the list. If we can be 5-6 deep at the interior defensive line that's great, that's what we want. If we find four stud defensive ends instead of two that is exactly what I want. Competition breeds success."
The Warriors last made the playoffs in 2014. The program's last playoff victory was in 2001, two years after the school's lone state championship in 1999. Wyoming East is 7-8 all-time in the playoffs.
2019 Wyoming East High School
Aug. 30: OPEN DATE
Sept. 6: Westside, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 13: at Nicholas County, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 20: at Oak Hill, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 27: James Monroe, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 4: at River View, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 11: Shady Spring, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 18: at Man, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 25: Pikeview, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 1: at Independence, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 8: Liberty Raleigh, 7:30 p.m.
2019 Wyoming East High School Roster
1 Ethan Walls 5-9 185 RB/MLB So.
2 McQuade Canada 5-10 190 WR/S Sr.
3 Matt Caldwell 6-1 155 K Sr.
4 Caden Lookabill 6-1 180 WR/DB Sr.
5 Chase York 5-9 190 RB/LB Jr.
7 Seth Ross 5-11 200 QB Sr.
10 Chandler Johnson 6-4 210 QB/DE Fr.
11 Christian Sams 5-6 160 WR-DB Sr.
12 Nathan Ford 5-6 160 RB/MLB Fr.
15 Brandon Simpson 5-9 190 RB/DB Jr.
20 Gabe Riling 5-4 150 RB/DB Fr.
21 Chase Griffith 5-8 150 WR/DB Fr.
22 Caleb Bower 5-9 175 RB/LB Jr.
24 Hunter Walker 5-8 145 WR-DB Fr.
25 Alex Hall 5-10 215 FB/MLB Sr.
30 Kyle Preece 5-9 160 WR/DB So.
31 Tristan Hall 5-7 220 FB/DL So.
35 Dacoda Cooper 5-4 105 WR/DB Fr.
42 Brian Johnson 5-7 155 FB/LB Fr.
44 Josh Cameron 5-11 200 TE/DE So.
45 Gabe Simms 5-7 205 TE/DL Fr.
50 Matt Allen 5-11 220 OL/DL Jr.
51 Charlie Stewart 6-2 240 OL/DL Fr.
52 Josh Reilley 5-11 230 C/DL Jr.
53 Clay Lester 6-1 215 OL/MLB Sr.
54 Charlie Price 6-0 230 OL/DL So.
55 Joseph Watson 5-10 230 OL/DL Jr.
56 Blake Cook 6-5 270 OL/DL Fr.
60 Noah Francis 6-0 240 OL/DL Sr.
61 C.J. Stacy 6-0 220 OL/DL Fr.
66 Tanner Jenkins 6-6 275 OL/DL Sr.
68 Hunter Sammons 6-0 220 OL-/OL Sr.
70 Brandon Morgan 6-1 210 OL/DL Sr.
71 Dawson Thames 5-8 260 OL/DL Jr.
72 Colton Repass 5-10 190 OL/DL Fr.
75 Conner Bradford 5-10 300 OL/DL Sr.
76 Isaac Perdue 6-1 215 OL/DL Sr.
77 Noah Perdue 5-9 220 OL/DL Jr.
78 Collen Lane 5-10 220 OL/DL Fr.
81 Zach Cook 5-10 185 WR/DB So.
82 Caden Cook 5-9 160 WR/DB So.
83 Sam Hunt 6-2 165 WR/DB Jr.
84 Mason Houck 6-3 205 TE/DE Jr.
85 John Patrick 5-8 135 WR/DB Fr.
88 Dakota McBride 6-0 200 TE/DE Jr.
89 Jacob Bishop 6-4 180 WR/DE Sr.