They were words unheard of in the recent annals of Manchester football. State rankings, playoffs, winning season. That all changed in 2013 when the Greyhounds put together their first winning season in decades, finishing 6-4, raising the bar of expectations for teams to come. A team that rarely garnered any respect is now a feared bunch who people know about. Just for example, the JJHuddle pre-season playoff predictions for Division VII, Region 26, have the Hounds as one of the dark horse teams to reach the playoffs. Five years ago, who would have dreamed that?
The task of leading this 2014 Manchester football squad now falls to last year’s quarterbacks coach. Dustin Cook, who takes over for the departed Jason Mantell. Mantell certainly didn’t leave the cupboard bare as Cook inherits an experienced team that now as important as anything, knows what it takes to win.
“One of the major strengths of our team this year is our experience,” says Coach Cook. “We are fortunate enough to be in a situation this year that we are able to play a lot of junior and seniors that have been in the program for the last three or four years. I think that will play a major role in our success this season.”
Seven seniors dot the roster of the 2014 Greyhounds, all of whom will spend a lot of time on the field-Nick Hoskins, Brandon Saunders, Tommy Denning, Rylan Woolard, Leevi Francis, Jordan Franklin, and Mason Shively. These seven form the core of inspirational leadership for this 2014 team and have set the example of hard work for the underclassmen to follow. That work ethic has impressed Cook and his coaching staff.
“The staff and I have been very impressed this year by the work ethic of our players,” said Cook. “This stems directly from the group of leaders we have on the team this year. They are very determined to get better every day at practice.”
Thus far in the pre-season the Manchester offense has looked very sharp and that begins up front with an experienced and deep offensive line, anchored by the slimmed-down Denning at center. That o-line will be opening holes for Saunders at running back , who should get a bulk of the carries from that position. Saunders was plagued by injuries in 2013 and is looking to regain his 2012 form where he rushed for over 900 yards. Francis, junior Daniel Hernandez, sophomore Bryan Young, and freshmen James Arias and Mason Bilyeu will also be seen hauling the rock out of the Greyhound backfield.
In the read-option offense that the Hounds will primarily use, junior quarterback Jordan Freeman will be the decision make and likely lead the team in carries. In 2013, Freeman became the first Hound to rush for over 1,000 yards and also set a record for touchdown passes in a season and will be looking to duplicate those numbers in 2014.
“Jordan has been a very good player for us over the last two seasons,” says Coach Cook. “This year we are looking for him to step up in a leadership role and help our younger players along so we can grow as a team.”
After fans get used to seeing Freeman under center, they can take a look at the defensive side of the ball and see the 6’0” junior ball hawking as a member of the Greyhounds defensive backfield.
Back on offense, the passing game will look to replace the graduated Tyler Brummett, who led the team in receptions in 2013. In pre-season practices and scrimmages, a number of players have looked like they may be ready to step up in a receiver role, among them Francis and sophomores Chase Darnell and Arturo Hernandez.
“Offensively we are going to be focused on winning the line of scrimmage up front and taking care of the football,” says Coach Cook. “We feel that if we can accomplish those two things then it will put us is a situation to be successful.”
The Greyhound offense has another weapon that a lot of the teams in the area do not have and that is an accurate placekicker. Jordan Franklin has worked hard at his craft and will give the coaches another option late in the game with good field position.
On the other side of the ball, the Greyhound defense has been dominant in the pre-season, led by senior lineman Hoskins, whose motor never stops running. The Hounds are strong and experienced up front on defense and quick and ball-hawking on the back side of the “D”, with a lot of interchangeable parts that Cook and his staff can use. Linemen Denny Blanton, Jeff Young, Derrick Mingee, plus Franklin along with a host of underclassmen give the Hounds depth at the position. In the secondary, Freeman, Francis, Darnell, and Woolard will be among those haunting opposing receivers.
“Defensively we just want to be aggressive and play good assignment football,” says Cook.
Last year was the first for the Greyhounds in the Ohio Valley Athletic League and though they were not able to win the leagues in its initial year, they are one of the definite favorites in 2014. The schedule maker, though, has made it a tough beginning for the Hounds with their first three games on the road.
Manchester opens on Aug. 29 with a trip to Green High School and comes back on Saturday, Sept.6 with a trip to Portsmouth Notre Dame, a team that the Hounds have never beaten. Both of those contests are non-conference tilts. The first OVAL battle on the Hounds’ schedule is Sept. 12 at Oyler, a team that went 0-10 last season.
It’s non-conference again on Sept. 19 when Sciotoville East comes to town for the first home game of the season. East handed the Hounds a tough two-point loss in 2013, one the Hounds will surely remember. OVAL opponent Riverview East comes to Greyhound Stadium on Sept. 26 and a third home game in a row sees Bethel-Tate from the SBAAC coming to town on Oct. 3.
The season ends with four consecutive conference battles, at Gamble Montessori on Oct. 11, C.C.P.A. at home on Oct. 17, home again on Oct. 24 with Miami Valley Christian Academy, and the regular season ends with one final home date with Hillcrest on Halloween night.
“Our schedule is filled with a lot of very good and well coached football teams,” adds Cook. “We will have to continue to work hard and get better every day out at practice to be playing our best football at the end of the season.”