Vermilion Valley Conference preview: Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac
FITHIAN — Long before the parts were assigned, the script was set for the Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac football team.
The script comes in nine segments, with the possibility of an encore. The nine segments reflect the number of regular-season football games.
The parts will go to the various athletes who started preseason practice eight days ago.
One of the toughest position battles is at quarterback. Tyler Knight — last year’s top receiver — is contending with junior Brandon Harding.
It creates an interesting dilemma for head coach Gary Denhart, who has had his share of good signal-callers.
“I’ve never had two like this (the same year),” he said.
A third prospect is not far behind.
“Ryan Bott is as good as the other two in running the ball,” Denhart added.
Thus far, the top candidates have been sharing the practice load. “They’re just competing,” Denhart said.
That will change soon.
“Going into the Tri-County week (which starts on Monday), someone has to get all of the reps,” Denhart said.
If that person is Harding, Knight will shift back to receiver. If Knight is the quarterback, Harding will focus on his defensive position, cornerback.
Whoever lands the starting quarterback position, his primary duty won’t be a secret: Get the ball to senior Ryan Strange, who has rushed for 3,235 yards and scored 38 touchdowns the past two seasons and was an All-Area first-teamer as a junior.
Perhaps the best news of all, is that Strange and the quarterback should be well-protected.
“I’m happiest about our offensive line,” Denhart said. “All five of our offensive linemen started at some point last year. We’ve tried to build around that.”
The veteran linemen are tackles Cameron Lee and Cody Deck, guards Eli Davis and Neil Coon and center Glendon Chesser. Tackle Aaron Whitlow is also in the mix.
The fullback position has two primary challengers, Craig Ayers and Hunter Tharp, who will handle the placekicking duties. Tharp hit 32 extra points and two field goals in 2010.
Among the receivers, there’s Shane Foley — who set the Vermilion Valley Conference record last spring in the 200 meters — and Davin Miles, whom Denhart said, “is almost as fast.”
The quickness is not something Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac teams have had in abundance previously.
“We have more speed than I’ve ever had,” said Denhart, emphasizing the importance of breakaway threats. “If we’re going to compete for a conference title, we have to stretch the field.”
Sophomore Shawn Johnson could provide strength at tight end.
Despite significant graduation losses, Denhart said it’s not a struggle to remain optimistic.
“We had a good year last year (7-3 record) and right now, it looks good,” he said. “The people replacing our missing people fit in well. We have a nice mix of veterans and new guys.”
Defensively, the Comets could have several two-way players. Many of the offensive linemen will help shore up the defensive front, where Skyler Slade and Jeremy Watson are also projected as contributors.
In the secondary, Foley and Knight are returning starters. Bott and Connor Jarling are contending for playing time.
The linebacking corps — like many of the positions — still needs to be finalized. Ayers, Miles, Nathan Gayheart and Kayland Luedeke are among the challengers.
Denhart is assisted by Cody Divan, Rob Haslett, Sean O’Brien, Nathan West and Jeff Willaman.
The staff has 42 squad members, 11 of whom are freshmen.
Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac’s opener on Aug. 26 is at Oakland against Tri-County.