Vikings working on incorporating new offense

By Brad Morris

ASHVILLE — A new coach typically brings new terminology and expectations for a program.

And that’s certainly the case for first-year Teays Valley coach Brian Cross, who has been pleased with the work ethic of the Vikings during the preseason and their work with incorporating a new spread offense.

“We have a good group of likeable, hardworking kids who got after it with strength and conditioning coach Josh McDanel during the offseason,” he said. “We’re incorporating a new offense that comes with new terminology, so you have to gradually implement that so we don’t overwhelm the kids.

“The kids have done a nice job of learning and working to understand what we have put in place so far and we will continue to build on that moving into the season.”

Cross took over the helm of the Vikings back in January following the resignation of former coach Mark Weber last November after nine seasons. Weber left Teays Valley as the program’s winningest coach with a 60-31 record and led the Vikings to five Mid-State League Buckeye Division championships.

An inductee into the Ohio High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 2020, Cross is beginning his 26th season as a head coach with previous stops at Canton McKinley, Grove City, Bishop Ready, Eastmoor Academy, Olentangy Orange and Pymatuning Valley, where he compiled a career record of 248-146.

Cross inherits a roster thin on experience with just two returning starters on each side of the football.

Junior Tristian Graham (6-foot, 270 pounds) is the lone returning starter on the offensive line and is slated to play right guard. The Vikings are also looking to incorporate juniors Gideon Dixon (6-5, 210), Brody Mann (6-2, 210) and Tyler Tietz (6-1, 220) at tackle, junior Payton Conrad (6-3, 245) at tackle or center, juniors Aiden Flowers (6-0, 195) and Gabriel Zedlitz (5-9, 190) at guard and sophomore Jaylen Ivey (6-0, 250) at center.

“Tristian is a very strong young man and one of the strongest players that I’ve been fortunate to coach,” Cross praised. “He’s going to be the leader on both the offensive and defensive lines and help our younger guys get their feet wet.”

Senior Peter Kale (6-1, 200) and junior Luke Burgett (6-2, 200) are expected to see snaps at tight end.

Sophomore Kole Nungester (6-0, 190) moves from wide receiver back to quarterback, where he played in junior high, following the departure of Kaden Hines to Springfield. Sophomore Brady Farmer (6-4, 180) is slated to serve as the backup.

“Kole is picking up the offense and terminology pretty well and he’s the type of player that he is going to lead by example and help his teammates out,” Cross said. “He’s the type of leader that you want playing quarterback, plus he is a pretty athletic young man. Once Kole gets full command of the position, I believe he has the chance to be a really solid high school quarterback.

“Brady is learning our signal system and also picking up the different terminology, routes we are running and learning to read the different coverages, the same as Kole is. We feel pretty good about the quarterback position with those two young men.”

Nungester will have one of the top receivers in the Mid-State League Buckeye Division to throw the football to in senior Harrison Payne (5-11, 160), who made 51 receptions for 687 yards and scored four touchdowns.

Teays Valley is expecting a big senior season from Harrison Payne.

Junior Griffin Gray (5-9, 150), junior Weston Gray (5-9, 155), junior Dai’Preece Weaver (5-9, 150) and sophomore Cavin McDowell (5-10, 155) will join Payne at the other receiver spots.

“It’s nice to have a big play guy like Harrison out there,” Cross said. “We want to get the ball in his hands as many times as we can, because he runs solid routes, he understands coverages and he gets yards after the catch.

“We like our overall group of receivers. We believe we have a nice combination of speed and athleticism, and those guys are also committed to blocking and doing the little things needed for us to have team success.”

Cross expects the Vikings (5-5, 4-3 in 2022) to incorporate four running backs, including senior Lane Schooley (5-8, 165), senior Jeremiah Fabbro (5-10, 175), junior Ethan Schwalbauch (5-10, 195) and sophomore Spike Woods (5-11, 180).

“The big key early for this group is learning the new offense, where to run the football, the pass protections and catching the football out of the backfield,” Cross said. “Lane and Ethan are more physical runners, Jeremiah does a great job of picking his holes, he has good lateral movement and can catch the football and Spike is probably the most explosive of our four backs. They really do a nice job of complimenting each other.”

Kale, Mann and Tietz have been working at end, with Graham and Zedlitz playing tackle and Flowers rotating in for some snaps.

Schooley and Schwalbauch are expected to play inside linebacker and will also be aided by junior Mason Dowell (5-11, 170) and Fabbro. Junior Tyler Mathews (5-11, 175) is slotted in at outside linebacker.

The Vikings expect to utilize Payne and McDowell at corner, with Weaver rotating in for some snaps. Gray and Woods should anchor down the two safety positions.

“I was pleased with the way our defense played overall as a unit in our first scrimmage against Jonathan Alder,” Cross said. “We are using the same front as Teays Valley has used in past years, so our guys just have to worry about being gap sound and filling properly.

“Our secondary is on the same page, and they understand that we don’t want to give up the home run ball. That’s an improvement we want them to make over last season.”

Payne is slated to handle punting duties and junior Maxwell Spencer will be the place-kicker and kickoff.

The Vikings want to vie for a final Mid-State League Buckeye Division championship before making the move to the Ohio Capital Conference for the 2024 season.

“We’re not a very experienced or a very deep team, but we like our group of guys and their commitment to put the work in,” Cross said. “Getting a good feel for how we want to run our offense, and making teams put together drives on us defensively and not giving up the big play will help determine how successful we can be this season, along with staying healthy.

“If we can do those things, then I think we’ll have a pretty competitive team, and we can be in the mix in the Mid-State League.”

2023 Teays Valley Vikings Schedule
Date Opponent 2022 Record
Aug. 18 at Lancaster 2-9
Aug. 25 Logan 4-6
Sept. 1 at Watkins Memorial 9-2
Sept. 8 Liberty Union 2-8
Sept. 15 Hamilton Twp. 6-4
Sept. 22 at Circleville 5-6
Sept. 29 Amanda-Clearcreek 0-10
Oct. 6 at Bloom-Carroll 14-2
Oct. 13 Logan Elm 8-3
Oct. 20 at Fairfield Union 5-5

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