LOGAN — With the season roughly a month old, it appeared that 2019 could be shaping up to be a continuation of not only the 2018 campaign but of an entire decade of Logan Chieftain football.
The Chiefs started 0-4, setting a school record with 11 consecutive losses in so doing, and at that point Logan’s record for the 2010s stood at a dismal 32-62... by far the worst single decade in program history.
It was evident early on, however, that these Chiefs weren’t all that far from turning a corner... and then, on a Thursday night in Ross County, things began to change.
Logan defeated former Southeastern Ohio Athletic League foe Chillicothe 18-7 that night in front of a regionally-televised “Thursday Night Lights” audience to begin a stretch of four victories in five games.
A chance to make school history — to become the first Logan football team to ever start at least 0-4 and work its way back to .500 by season’s end — went by the boards last Friday night when the Chiefs lost their season finale to Hamilton Township.
But what the Chieftains didn’t lose was the confidence, heart, passion and optimism they built not only during that five-game stretch but pretty much from the entire season.
Save for a season-opening, 35-7 clunker at Tri-Valley (when they really weren’t ready) and last Friday’s 14-7 loss to Hamilton Township (when they pretty much ran out of emotional gas), in between the Purple & White put together a pretty good season.
No, 4-6 wasn’t a winning season... but going 4-2 over the last six games makes it seem that way.
The Chiefs were only out of the Tri-Valley and Zanesville (a 44-14 week-seven loss) games in the fourth quarter and weren’t all that far from turning last season’s 1-9 record into maybe a 7-3 slate this year.
LHS football historian Spencer Waugh notes Logan had only two above-.500 records in the 2010s while suffering seven losing seasons (with one 5-5) and finished 36-64 for the decade, well behind the previous program low-water mark of 42-42-6 (in the 1950s) for a single decade.
But the decade of the 2020s should open with a wealth of optimism after the 2019 team made plenty of progress under first-year head coach Mike Eddy and his staff.
A team that will graduate 15 seniors learned a number of lessons along the way — not only about football, but about themselves — and began to understand what it takes to win games. The Chiefs won a couple games — a week-nine game at Maysville (14-12) in particular — they may not have known how to win earlier in the season.
“A lot of those basic lessons that we were emphasizing at the beginning of the year there wasn’t much (success) there to reinforce it... there wasn’t really anything there to show ‘this works.’” Eddy recalled. “But they trusted in the process enough that they stayed with it and (by season’s end) it makes sense to them.
“From a buy-in standpoint of being accountable to each other, being great teammates to each other and (doing) simple, basic things we’ve been talking about all along,” he added, “now they can see the benefits to why we do the things we do and why we do them the way we do them. Now they see on their own what they have to do and that if they do the right things, we’re going to have a chance to be successful.”
And once the Chiefs began to take ownership of what they needed to do as a team, “that’s when you can really start talking about building the program,” Eddy pointed out. “The program is its own animal. There’s a distraction between ‘team’ and ‘program.’”
Veteran seniors Colten Castle, Colton and Conner Ruff, Braeden Spatar, Garrett Mace, Nick Anderson, Josh Chapin, Sam Kisor, Trevor Wyckoff, Logan Vincent and Carson Miller brought plenty of valuable on-field experience, with some of them leading by example both on and off the field.
Castle, who played the entire season with a lower-leg injury that kept him out of most practices, was always ready for Friday nights (as well as one Thursday). He tied for the team lead in pass interceptions — including a 60-yard pick-six against Athens — and was the team’s second-leading receiver. Conner Ruff showed his dedication by rehabilitating a torn ACL sustained during a summer basketball game and coming back much earlier than expected. He and his twin brother Colton — who will both be four-year lettermen — were valuable not only as linebackers, but as leaders.
The versatile, elusive Spatar improved his passing (please see Chieftain Notebook for more details), started all 10 games at quarterback and filled in more than adequately as a running back when Caden McCarty went down twice with concussions. Mace led the team in pass receptions, had a couple monster kickoff returns against Athens and was a ballhawk in the defensive secondary. Anderson and Chapin had times when they were dominant on defense, and Wyckoff, Vincent, Miller and Kisor were solid along the O-line. Dakota Banik, who didn’t finish the season, started eight games on defense and had four sacks and four tackles for loss.
As far as the juniors go, McCarty led the team in scoring (12 touchdowns) and, until the final quarter of the final game, was the team’s leading rusher (Spatar bested him by two yards). Henry Pierce (eight tackles for loss and three sacks) could dominate games from his defensive end position and oftentimes harassed opposing quarterbacks into throwing the ball much earlier than they wanted.
Jonny McClelland was quite effective as a defensive back/linebacker, return man and pass receiver and was one of the team’s most improved players. Ian Frasure was quite versatile on both sides of the ball (and as a punter) and showed signs that he’ll be ready to take over as Spatar’s heir apparent at QB. Quinn Walsh and Brandon Heft made key contributions by playing multiple positions and being “next man up” where needed. Cody Carrell was solid at linebacker in the early going before his season ended as the result of an injury. And expect Tyler Kost to make an impact next season.
Among the sophomores, Traten Poling overcame a hip injury that hampered him most of the season to show his stuff — and his speed — when he was at full strength the last few games. Keiton Arledge was the lone underclassman to start on the O-line. Jared Justice wasn’t a starter, but he was a valuable rotation player who was on the field for more than half of the team’s snaps on both sides of the ball before an injury on Logan’s first offensive play of the week-eight Meigs game ended his season.
Mason Linton, Justin Mustard, Wyatt Jordan and Carson Hodson all made contributions, and players like Owen Angle, Trace Sigafoose and Isaiah Campbell will be expected to shoulder increased roles next season.
A couple freshmen even briefly kicked their way into the varsity lineup.
When senior placekicker Israel Bookman went down with an ankle injury early in the season, Zach Chapin came up to boot seven extra points and a field goal. Robby Leffler punted in the pre-season OHSAA Jamboree game against Marietta and was added to the varsity roster before sustaining a season-ending injury a few days later.
“This team developed very nicely and put us in a position where we can start establishing the expectations of a program,” Eddy said. “Whereas before (early in the season) we were still trying to sell that car (his metaphor for getting the team to ‘buy in’ to his coaching philosophies), now we have some proud new owners of this vehicle (the team having ‘bought in’) and you can start establishing the expectations inside the program.
“There’s a lot of different ways to get things done. It doesn’t make my way better than somebody else’s way, or vice-versa,” he continued, “but the people who are at the ground level who have to do it have to believe in it and understand why we do it that way... and when they do, then it takes on a life of its own and it becomes the established expectation. From that you can grow and you can build and find future success.”
Since Eddy, after completing his commitment to Parkersburg South High School last spring, didn’t arrive on the Logan-Hocking campus full-time until late May, he didn’t have much of an off-season with his players or his coaching staff.
That will change this winter and spring, however, as he gets his full amount of OHSAA-allotted off-season contact time.
“This off-season is going to be vital to us,” Eddy said. “We didn’t have an off-season (coaches and players together) last year and we’re graduating a lot of experience. We’re going to graduate two four-year starters (and) probably another six or seven three-year starters.
“There’s a lot of experience and a lot of size on our offensive line going out the door. We’re going to graduate four starting offensive linemen and three of our four starting defensive linemen,” he continued. “There’s a ton of experience to replace going into next year, so this is going to be a very critical off-season in how we approach player development and truly establish what the off-season expectations are.”
Logan athletes quickly learned what their new coach expected of them in-season... but now the underclassmen will have more time to prepare for a full season under Eddy’s tutelage.
“That’s also different,” Eddy noted. “These guys have experienced ‘what coach expects out of us Sunday through Saturday during the season, but what do we do during the off-season?’ I had that question at least 15 times (last week). There’s a whole-new set of off-season expectations.
“That being said,” he continued, “the good news is the foundation has been laid as far as dress code, behavior, punctuality... all of those kind of detail pieces are done. What’s left is what do we do over the next 300 days, so to speak. That will be the part that’s left to learn... but that makes it exciting.”
Eddy’s the type of coach who can make the off-season both meaningful and interesting... and one who also relishes raising the bar and team expectations, to improve from four wins this season to five or six next season and maybe more beyond that.
“The off-season is one of my favorite times of the year because you can really see the development of younger players,” he said. “There’s way too many distractions and headaches during the season for a head coach, so I don’t always get to enjoy the season just because there’s (so many) things to deal with that go beyond coaching football.
“But in the off-season, you get to relax a little bit, spend more time with your players and watch them grow and mature,” he added. “That’s an exciting part of the year.”
Logan opens its 2020 season by hosting Jackson Friday, Aug. 28 — 293 days from now — in Logan Chieftain Stadium. Start making your plans now.
The Chiefs already are.