Essential reporting in volatile times.

Not a Subscriber yet? Click here to take advantage of All access digital limited time offer $13.95 per month EZ Pay.

Interested in Donating? Click #ISupportLocal for more information on supporting local journalism.

sissonville ftbll defenders

Sissonville defensive backs Dylan Griffith (left) and Braeden Murray go after a pass during practice Wednesday.

A season ago, Sissonville was fairly reliant on an experienced defense as it held opponents to one touchdown in three of its first four contests, all of which were wins.

But this year, the Indians are trying to figure out how to fill some major holes on the defensive side of the ball and could lean on an offense that returns three starters on the line and skill to spare. Quarterback Jackson Foster (969 yards rushing, eight touchdowns, 469 yards passing, five touchdowns) is back, as are running back Dylan Griffith (1,083 yards, 15 touchdowns) and receiver Nick Haning (26 catches, 355 yards, three touchdowns), among others.

“We feel like we’re probably going to be a stronger offensive team than defense,” coach Marc Wilson said at a three-week-period workout on Wednesday. “Losing a few of the guys we lost, it’s going to be tough for us to replace. We’ve got kids working hard, but it’s been tough for us losing the weight room time [to coronavirus restrictions]. The development, especially for the linemen — that learning curve and physical development is going to take a while.”

Jameson Shaffer led the team with 71 tackles a year ago from the safety position and is now gone. Up front, the Indians lost stalwarts Gavin Shamblin and Cole Hughart, both three-year starters who helped Sissonville control the line of scrimmage.

“Those were anchors of our defense from when they were sophomores on,” Wilson said of Shamblin and Hughart. “Both of those guys were critical players for us that entire time. It’s definitely going to be a new thing for us. Both of those guys contributed on many ways on offense as well.”

Junior linebacker Jacob Carter will be the team’s leading returning tackler after making 55 stops a year ago. Dylan Griffith (32 tackles) and Tyler Young (31 tackles) will also return to that linebacking corps, and Wilson mentioned Dylan Lucas as a possible player to watch there as well.

Up front, Stevie Carpenter and Ethan Wiseman both had significant playing time a year ago and Braeden Murray, a speed rusher off the end, could be looked to for help as well.

In the Cardinal Conference, with backs like Ethan Payne at Poca, John Covert at Winfield and rush-heavy offenses at Wayne, Scott, Herbert Hoover and elsewhere, stopping or at least slowing the opponent’s run game is paramount. That’s a fact not lost on anyone at Sissonville.

“We’ve got to teach the younger kids — we’ve got to push the younger kids to get stronger to make sure they can come in and replace what we’ve lost,” Young said. “Gavin and Cole were really good at keeping them in the box and since they’re gone, we’ve got to make sure we keep them behind the line of scrimmage.”

Like all coaches, Wilson is in the process of making minor adjustments to offensive and defensive game plans to fit his personnel. Part of that is trying to play with more tempo, speeding the offense up in an attempt to score more points and to take advantage of the team’s experienced and dynamic weapons.

Being successful in that aspect has already begun as conditioning will be of the utmost importance in keeping defenses on their heels.

“We’re changing up our philosophy a little bit,” Wilson said. “We tried to reduce the number of plays we ran by holding the ball a little longer last year. We want to increase the volume of plays per game. Last year we were about 155, this year we want to be around 175 and 180, which we look at as hopefully an additional 20 offensive plays.

“We’ve got to be able to run, we’re going to speed up the tempo a little bit. We’ve done that in the past, it’s nothing new for us, it’s just kind of playing to the strengths of our team.”

But though the practice period has brought with it an additional burden in terms of conditioning, like most student-athletes who have returned to the fields and courts this week, Young said it is a relief to be back with teammates and back to playing sports.

“I’m excited to be able to play this season,” Young said. “Everything seems to be going great for the team and what we’ve been doing is helping a lot.”

Contact Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948 or Follow him on Twitter @RPritt.