By Tommy Keeler Jr.
WINCHESTER -- Mark McHale knew it wouldn't be easy turning things around at James wood when he took over the head coaching job last year. With a year under his belt, he and the entire team are in a better position as a new season gets started.
McHale said it takes time for everybody to get used to changes and grow together.
"The players come back, the terminology's the same. The way you do the weight program is the same. The way you flex is the same. ... All that adds to learning and it's called experience," McHale said. "That's a big difference coming in. I think the kids are going into it with a positive feeling. They feel like they're going to have a good year."
The Colonels went 1-9 last year, but they return most of the starting lineup, and with a year of experience under their belts should be much-improved.
One big difference this year should be strength. James Wood had a very high turnout for the offseason weight program, and that has everyone excited for the season.
"The whole team has gone from low weight to high weight," James Wood senior Brady Hepner said. "We're all getting pumped. I think it's going to help a lot to compare with like Sherando last year and like Handley. I think we're going to compare to them."
Hepner will lead the way at quarterback, where he threw for 262 yards in five games last season.
Landon Rutherford and Tyler Bishop will start at running back. The pair ran for a combined 972 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
Nick Manuel will lead the way at wide receiver. Manuel was a second-team All-Northwestern District selection last year.
"He's got a great set of hands and runs really good routes," McHale said.
Adam Bearer will be at the other receiver slot, and Branson Ratlief will be back at tight end.
Cody Feltner, Isaac Schrantz, Adam Vadell, Jesus Correa and Tyler Owens will start on the offensive line for the Colonels. Feltner, Schrantz and Vadell all started at least a few games for James Wood last season.
McHale said they've all been in the weight room and are much stronger this season.
Ratlief will help lead the way on the defensive front for James Wood. Devin Moncrief, Schrantz and Feltner will also be on the line, with Emmitt Smith also seeing time there.
Rutherford, Connor Rhodes and Bishop give the Colonels a strong trio at the linebacker spots. Brandon Johnson, a transfer from Texas, will also be in the mix.
Manuel and his brother, Dillon, will start at the cornerback spots.
"One of the guys that caught my eye in the whole offseason was Dillon Manuel," McHale said. "He's a sophomore, and he found himself a way to start."
Hepner and Reid Barber will be the starting safeties.
The Colonels have only won a combined five games in the last three seasons, and McHale said the key is to get them to believe in themselves.
"Our goal is to get the guys out of the mentality of expecting to lose to [the mentality of] expecting to win," McHale said. "We're going to have to stay healthy because of depth. We're going to have to execute. If we execute, we can be a pretty good football team. These are great kids, and they deserve to win."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd