By RYAN BUCK
Last season was a strange one for West Branch. In D.J. Dota’s second year, the Warriors won the Northeastern Buckeye Conference, but missed the playoffs.
Three losses to start the season were painful, but provided a moment of truth that turned their season around.
A matchup at conference foe Carrollton loomed for Dota’s downtrodden bunch.
SDLqIt was right there on the practice field,” Dota said as their practice soundtrack echoed across campus. “We were going into Week 4 and they were 3-0. Practice was not going well. It was a Monday. I blew the whistle about 20 minutes into practice. I kind of told them, ‘You’ve got to let it go. We’ve got to move forward.’ ”
Message received. West Branch won six of its last seven games, including a road win over state-ranked Marlington.
Dota thinks the Warriors’ strong finish carried over into fall camp.
“Being conference champs, now we’ve got a target on our backs,” he said. “They understand how to play in that big game and they know it’s about what we do and how we do it.”
West Branch lost career rushing leader Brenden Wells and quarterback Troy James to graduation. But junior running back Logan Nagy did see plenty of game action last season.
Linemen Logan Sharp, Stephen Sosnick and Jake Zinni are experienced and big. The trio of 300-pounders hope to give new quarterback Jake Evanoff time to find Kip DeShields and open running lanes.
“From what I’ve seen thus far, they are the strength of our team offensively,” Dota said. “We’ve got to build off of that and make sure that our offense works around that.”
Evanoff started last season at receiver and knows the offense. DeShields will have multiple roles within the offense.
Sharp, Sosnick and Zinni will anchor the defensive line.
“I feel like this could be one of the best defensive lines we’ve had here,” he said.
Only one starter returns from the secondary, so production up front will be critical.
Juniors Zach Minich and Jacob Jarvis will compete for kicking duties and there will be a new long snapper and punter.
With just six seniors on the roster, West Branch is young. New starters at linebacker and defensive back will need to mature quickly.
If Evanoff settles in at quarterback and DeShields continues to shine, the Warriors will again be in the mix for an NBC title.