By John Bombatch
XENIA — The 2014 high school football season takes on a bit of historical significance for the Xenia High School Buccaneers, and coach Bob DeLong and his staff hope to make it a fun one.
This season marks the 115th season for Buccaneers football. The team has already held a workout session with the U.S. Marines, and a game against two-time defending state Division I champion Cincinnati Moeller is on the schedule. Moeller will play at Xenia’s Cox Stadium, both this season and next.
Danny Naylor, an all-South Division Special Mention pick in the Greater Western Ohio Conference last season, returns as starting quarterback for a Xenia offense that should be exciting to watch.
“We’ve kind of opened up our game. Anything can happen at any time,” DeLong said. “We have a lot of true speed on this team, and we plan on using it to the best of our ability. If we can get our athletes in open space, that will be a good thing.”
Speedsters Bobo Jones and Khalil Capers get the early nod at running back, with Ray James and Lawrence Dudgeon seeing time at slotback, and Ryan Hudson, Tanner Steward and Dan McCray in at halfback.
While Dan Beam, Andrew Worthington, Kelton Gray and Ian Jones will see time at offensive line, look for Montana Coates, Zach Loar, Cody Smith, Trevor Jackson and Devin Hatfield to get the starting nod.
“The strength of our defense is going to be determined by how our defensive linemen come along. Of course, they’re replacing three pretty good ones for sure. The defense’s athleticism is going to be their strength, and hopefully those D-linemen will come along as the season progresses.”
Trevor Jackson, Kenton McWharter and Cody Smith will man the D-line, with Kai Johnson, Kyle Lawson, Sherman Thatcher and Zane Cukovecki on the depth chart as well.
Tanner Steward, Mark Thomas and Roman Johnson are penciled in as the Bucs linebackers, with Ryan Hudson also expected to see action.
The defense’s speed and athleticism is prominent in the secondary, with Rocky James, Khiyani Harris, Jones and McCray in as safeties. Capers, Elijah McGee, Ray James and Meechy Harris will all play as cornerbacks.
Watch Rocky James as the team’s long snapper. DeLong says the junior defensive back has a natural gift at snapping the ball, and should garner looks from several college programs.
Watch for trickery in the kicking game, too. Xenia has implemented a Swinging Gate extra point and field goal team. “It’s kind of exciting to watch, but a little nerve wracking to coach sometimes,” DeLong said. “It’s aggressive, but we’ve coached our team to be aggressive and to take the initiative.”
Naylor will also serve as the team’s punter, along with Tanner Steward. So look for some potential fireworks there as well.
Sabrina Gregory gets the early nod as the placekicker. Spencer Lockwood and Matt Myers may also placekick on occasion, depending on the situation.
In terms of local pride, and maybe some bragging rights, Xenia’s first two games of the season should be a lot of fun. They’ll open Aug. 29 at Beavercreek, with the Backyard Battle Trophy at stake. It is believed that the series between the two Greater Western Ohio Conference neighbors is all even at 6-6. Beavercreek won the last matchup in 2011, 21-14.
The Bucs will then play their home opener Sept. 5 against another Greene County neighbor, Bellbrook. Xenia has won two of the last three meetings between the schools.
And then Xenia is in for what should be quite a test. Two-time defending Division I state champion Cincinnati Moeller comes to Xenia for the first of a two-year agreement to play regular season games between the two teams at Cox Stadium.
Xenia’s non-division slate continues with back-to-back contests against GWOC teams Butler and Troy, then they’ll close the second half of the 2014 season against their GWOC South Division foes.
The finale should be another fun game Oct. 31 between Greene County South foe Fairborn, at Cox Stadium. Since 2010, Xenia has won three of the last four meetings between the schools.
As is true with many high school football programs, health is always a key concern. DeLong and his staff are working many players into many positions in hopes of providing some team depth.
“You’ll notice that a lot of times, we’ll have 2-3 guys listed in each position. One of our Achilles’ heels is probably going to be that we’ll be playing a significant number of guys on both sides of the ball. We try to sub them out on one side or the other, depending on where our next best player is, or where our strengths are. One of our missions, as coaches, will be to monitor rest during each contest and keep as fresh as we can be, while still keeping the pressure on, with the way that we can play,” DeLong said.
There’s an ongoing attention to detail in the Bucs’ practices, even to the point of lacing their shoes a certain way, similar to how a recent Marine paratrooper, who was on hand for a day of training with the team, laced his shoes. The coaches tried it and noticed that their shoes felt better and their feet weren’t as sore. So they started doing it with the players, and they’ve learned that the players’ shoes are performing better.
“Attention to detail is here, and I credit our staff for that. If it’s on our film, we’ve either coached it or allowed it. The kids understand that standard. You put it on tape and you review it. All our practices are on tape. And if you don’t do the job on tape, there will be a day of reckoning the next day,” DeLong said.
If the Buccaneers’ uniforms look brand new, that’s because they are. Thanks largely to the Adams Fund, nearly $16,000 was spent on new uniforms and helmet decals in celebration of the team’s 115th year in football.