2015 Football: Coach Mark McHale hopes for strong team at James Wood

James Wood's Tyler Bishop runs the ball during a recent practice. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER — Mark McHale will not speculate on what kind of record his James Wood High School football team will have at the end of the season.

But one thing he is certain of is that it will be a conditioned club, which may be able to overcome its depth issues for another solid campaign.

McHale welcomed 32 players out for football this summer, including 12 seniors.

“I don’t like to give out a record because what if you don’t achieve that, then what?” McHale asked recently at the Colonels’ media day.

“I’m like Nick Saban, we’re just trying to get better every day,” the third-year James Wood head coach.

McHale, a member of the P. Wendell Dick Hall of Fame at his alma mater (’68), has been around big name coaches throughout his career, starting with Walter Barr at both James Wood and Shepherd College and then Bobby Bowden at Florida State. His career has spanned high school, college and pro ball stops. He knows when to pull a punch.

But McHale smiles when he talks about the winter and spring postseason.

It started with a final regular-season-victory over rival Handley and then a playoff spot for the first time since 2011. The overtime thriller against the Judges marked James Woods’ first W over them since 2007 (and just second since 1992). At 5-6, the record included the program’s first quintet of successes since 2010.

For that reason McHale said he expects his players “to think like they can win. I’m sure they’re talking about getting deeper into the postseason. That’s what you want.”

But, as for the coach, he plans to travel just a day at a time.

Still the offseason was worth mentioning. McHale sets up his program in nine-week increments.

After each nine weeks, he checks in with the players about their spiritual, mental (academics) and physical approach. McHale also works in the weight room with his players.

He saw with his own eyes the team was fit.

“We test them every nine weeks. Each week the team tested well in weights, they tested well in their 110s (yard sprints). We had some momentum off of that. There were no missed sessions and, in this day-and-time, that’s big. I talk to them because I have some of them in weight class, and they seem to be in good condition to me,” McHale said.

Now, the Colonels must remain healthy. “If we don’t we’ve got to put someone in there who’s not as big and not as experienced,” said the coach.

Again, McHale staples are running the ball and stopping the run.

He has four veteran two-way players whom he will build around, along with a mammoth surprise.

Seniors Tyler Bishop (running back-linebacker), Ryan Funkhouser (RB-LB) and Asa Brewer (tight end-defensive end) are the “three amigos” of the Colonel football team, according to McHale.

Bishop (5-foot-8, 190), Funkhouser (6-1, 190) and Brewer (6-1, 190) will welcome Central High School transfer RB-LB Cody Polk (5-11, 215), also playing his final scholastic season.

“He can help us,” said McHale.

Otherwise the coach will depend on returning center-defensive tackle Adam Vadell (6-foot, 270) to go with junior quarterback-defensive back Dade Carroll. Carroll played behind departed QB Brady Hepner in 2014, but the signal-caller appeared in a victory over Broadway.

The most pleasant surprise on the roster is 6-foot-5, 285-pound senior two-way tackle Emmett Smith.

“A year ago, you might not have thought he could make it, but he has developed himself in a player who could go to a Division III school,” said McHale.

Senior Brady Burner returns as the team’s kicking specialist. Other final-year JW players include WR/DB Matthew Carico, WR-DB Kyle Hindman, WR-DB Drew Keller, WR-DB Johnny Lanzetta, WR/DB Dillon Manuel, OL-LB Donald Mellott and QB-LB Peyton Miller.

“As always, we’ve got to stay away from injuries. We have a chance to be successful,” McHale said.