By Brad Morris
When coach Steve Evans looks back on last season, he views it as a step forward for the Circleville Tigers.
The Tigers finished at 5-6, winning their most games in a season since 2015 and securing the final playoff spot in Division III, Region 11.
“We got better as a football team and a program last season. We took a step forward,” he said. “Now, we have clean expectations again with new faces and we have to replace some key players we lost from last season to graduation.
“This season started in the weight room, working to build and become stronger and faster to put us in a position to hopefully have even more success this season. Even though we won five games last season, we only went 2-5 (in the Mid-State League Buckeye Division), so one of our goals this season is to be more competitive in the league and that will help us take care of some of our other goals.”
Evans believes the strengths for the 2023 edition of the Tigers starts in the trenches and backfield.
Circleville expects to utilize sophomore Auri Travis (5-foot-11, 225 pounds), senior Noah Jones (5-10, 185), junior Jack Sorrell (6-2, 260), junior Mason Everts (6-0, 230), junior Lane Barnes (6-2, 315) and sophomore Aiden Spencer (6-2, 260) on the offensive line.
“I like the blend that we have with the offensive line, having some guys that are athletic and can run and also having some size,” Evans said. “We’ve been working three of four guys at center and a few each at guard and tackle. Once we determine the starting lineup and have the group start to gel, I think we will have a solid nucleus on the line.”
The line will have the job of opening holes for junior Jude Blair (5-11, 180), who returns to the lineup after rushing for 946 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Senior Jacob Johnson (5-6, 155) moves from tight end/slot receiver to the backfield and is expected to also get some totes of the pigskin.
“Jude had a really nice sophomore season for us but he got a little beat up as the season went along, so he’s really worked hard in the offseason to get stronger and a little faster,” Evans said. “I’m really excited to see what Jude will do this season as our feature back.
“We’ll also have Jacob in the back field this season. He’s not a really big kid, but he’s athletic and can give Jude a spell here and there.”
With the graduation of Scott Moats, who accounted for 1,488 total yards and 19 touchdowns last season, the Tigers have been working out sophomore Hudson Phalin (5-10, 185) and junior Austin Gray (5-11, 175) at quarterback.
“Both Hudson and Austin bring some different qualities to the team,” Evans said. “Hudson is probably more of a natural thrower and not as much of a running threat as Austin is. Austin has improved his mechanics a lot with throwing the football, compared to his freshmen season when he was last out for football.”
Junior Brody Brisker (6-0, 190) and junior Aiden Blue (5-10, 220) are expected to see time at tight end. Junior Drew Thornsley (6-1, 180) will play a hybrid position and line up as a fullback, slot wing or a wide receiver.
Sophomore Jack Kline (6-1, 170), junior Jake Yancey (6-0, 185), junior Jayden Downs (5-8, 150), sophomore Jacob Reichelderfer (5-8, 155) and sophomore Ben Rolfe (5-11, 160) are all in the mix at wide receiver.
“We feel like our tight ends will be an additional asset with controlling the line of scrimmage and then we have a combination of height and quickness we can use across the field if teams try to load the box to take away our running game,” Evans said.
Senior Sam Crosby (6-2, 210), Travis, Jones, Sorrell, Everts, Barnes and Spencer will help man the defensive line for the Tigers.
“We want this group to be disruptive. Last year, we may have had three or four tipped passes all season and we came away with six tipped passes in our first scrimmage against Madison-Plains,” Evans said. “We have a nice blend of strength and quickness to where hopefully we can get some pressure on the quarterback, generate a few sacks and control the trenches more often than not.”
Yancey returns to anchor a thin on experience linebacker corps that also includes Blue, junior Ashdon Rickard (5-10, 215) and senior Logan Holbrook (5-10, 175)
Kline and Thornsley are slated to be the free and strong safeties for the Tigers, with Johnson, Blair, Reichelderfer and junior Ayden Reedy (6-1, 145) teaming to man the two corner positions.
“At linebacker, we are primarily young or inexperienced, so we will work on helping those guys adapt to the varsity game,” Evans said. “We’ve also moved a few guys back into the secondary, like Jacob Johnson and Drew Thornsley from linebacker.
“Jack Kline is a young man who has natural football player instincts and hands, and Drew is a rally to the ball and hit type of player that we think will do well at strong safety.”
Senior Payton Ford, from the girls soccer team, is expected to handle place-kicking duties and Rickard takes over punting duties from Moats.
The Tigers have two new opponents on this year’s schedule, including Friday’s season and home opener against John Glenn and a Week 2 clash with visiting Vinton County.
Circleville could be meeting Pickaway County rival Teays Valley for the final time on Sept. 22 when it hosts the Vikings, who join the Ohio Capital Conference starting in the 2024 season.
2023 Circleville Tigers Schedule
Date Opponent 2022 Record
Aug. 18 John Glenn 3-7
Aug. 25 Vinton County 6-5
Sept. 1 at Westfall 2-8
Sept. 8 at Logan Elm 8-3
Sept. 15 Amanda-Clearcreek 0-10
Sept. 22 Teays Valley 5-5
Sept. 29 at Hamilton Twp. 6-4
Oct. 6 at Fairfield Union 5-5
Oct. 13 Liberty Union 2-8
Oct. 20 at Bloom-Carroll 14-2