By PAUL BOGGS
Photo’s by Kent Sanborn, Robert Stevens
PEDRO – Simply put, these Redmen are bigger, stronger and even faster.
And, after all, that’s the direction Rock Hill wanted to go when it hired Mark Lutz as its head football coach three years ago.
The belief around Redmen country is that this is indeed a breakthrough season, as Rock Hill has several key letterwinners returning – following 4-6 and 3-7 seasons in Lutz’s first two falls.
“We have nine seniors and 10 juniors, and for many of them, this is their third or fourth year of varsity football. This is a senior group that all the kids look to for leadership,” said Lutz. “We believe these kids can be the team that takes Rock Hill back to the playoffs. We’re excited about what we can do this year, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work and preparation and staying healthy.”
Last season, as Lutz recalled, Rock Hill’s run-oriented T-formation offense from his old Ironton days did do its job for the most part – and pounded on its opponents.
It’s just that the Redmen, often times, stopped themselves with penalties or turnovers.
“Getting into the red zone and finishing drives is crucial. We were able to move the ball on teams and control the clock. We stopped ourselves. We had a penalty here and a penalty there or a turnover,” said Lutz. “There was more than one game that we could have won or should have won, but those types of mistakes did us in.”
Now if only Rock Hill can avoid such mistakes this season, expect the Redmen to finally turn the corner with bigger and stronger linemen combined with an experienced backfield.
Lutz explained that his Redmen are “balanced”, and that “ball control and the offensive line” are the squad’s biggest strengths.
“Our entire full-house backfield is coming back as seniors and our linemen are stronger, bigger and more experienced,” he said. “Ball control, running the ball, running the clock and our line are going to be strengths for us. This is a balanced team this year, but I do think some of the things we’re going to be able to do offensively are going to be a plus.”
In the two-tight full-house formation, senior Tristan Delong
The other guard and center spot will be filled by fellow senior Ethan McClaskey (6-0, 217) and junior Jacob Schwab (6-2, 239).
The tackles are a pair of hefty seniors – Tucker Carpenter at six-foot four inches tall and 279 pounds and T.J. French at five-foot 10-inches tall and 324.
Delong can play tackle as well, but the Redmen must develop some depth up front, despite their experience and bulk.
The tight ends include sophomore Owen Hankins (6-2, 190) on one side with juniors Andrew Clark and James Knipp and sophomore Brayden Malone on the other.
The Redmen return all three of their starting running backs – all three being seniors and who have plenty of experience carrying the ball.
Last season, Logan Hankins (919 yards on 141 carries), T.J. McGinnis (809 yards on 144 carries) and Zak Adkins (775 yards on 147 carries) all toted the rock at least 141 times for 775 yards.
Hankins, in fact, earned first-team all-Southeast District, while the converted lineman McGinnis (6-2, 254) – an Honorable Mention all-district pick – played the final six games with a pair of broken ankles.
Lutz said simply that this is the heart of the Redmen’s attack.
“These guys are going to be carrying the ball. “T.J.’s (McGinnis) first two years were up on the line and last year we moved him to fullback. He’s the hardest worker we’ve got overall. In four years, he’s never missed a summer workout which is pretty impressive,” said the coach.
The quarterback is junior Brayden Friend, who is a two-year starter which earned all-district Honorable Mention for his defensive play.
Friend threw the ball seldom and ran more, but Lutz wants to roll him out more – and utilize his athleticism.
“Brayden is a three-year starter, This year, we’re hoping to get him on the edge more. Instead of having him drop back, we’re going to have Brayden sprint out a bit. He’s not the tallest kid, and sometimes that comes into play for him to be able to see. We’re telling him if there’s a lane open and he doesn’t see anything, take it and go,” said Lutz. “Brayden has put on some weight and gotten stronger. If you look at the times he ran the ball last year, he was probably one of our best running backs. But being a freshman and sophomore the past two seasons, we tried to protect him as much as we could because he’s also playing defense.”
The backup signal-caller is junior Hunter Massie.
Defensively, Delong and Carpenter are the tackles, with McGinnis and Hankins handling the end spots.
In odd-man fronts, Delong or Carpenter play nose guard – along with fellow senior Tristan Marshall (5-10, 268).
French at tackle and Schwab at either tackle or end add defensive depth.
McClaskey and junior Hayden Harper (5-11, 180) are the inside linebackers, with Hankins and Adkins and even Massie as the outside backers.
Friend returns at safety, and will be joined in the secondary by Massie, Malone, Knipp and Clark.
Lutz said that the Redmen defense, much like its offensive counterparts, did well at times – but it too made its share of self-inflicted mistakes.
“We would have some drives stopped, but couldn’t get off the field on third down. Teams would convert third down or even fourth-and-short. We’ve played good defense at times in the past two years. We’ve just had a few instances where guys have made a misstep or missed a tackle and we give up a big play, but our defense is going to be much improved,” he said. “We’re ahead of the game right now than where we were the past two seasons in terms of practice. IF we make a call to change a defense, everybody knows where they’re going. In the past, trying to get everybody lined up was a problem. Teams will try to spread us out, but we have to be able to adjust and make plays in space.”
Rock Hill has to figure out its special teams situation as well.
Jasson Aguilera graduated and Brady Floyd is exclusively playing soccer and running cross country, so sophomore Hunter Blagg basically inherits the placekicking and some punting duties.
Schwab starts the season as the punter.
Those extra points, of course, could play a large role in the Redmen’s outcomes – as they look to climb the ladder in the rugged Ohio Valley Conference.
“We could be in a lot of situations where we go for two on the extra point, so we have to be able to convert,” said Lutz. “Those extra points all add up. Our kicking position is still being worked out, and we hope it can become a strengh for us.”
Gallia Academy is the defending league champion, but Lutz – the former Ironton assistant – believes Ironton is indeed the preseason favorite.
“Ironton has a lot of good kids and some kids already committed to colleges or colleges looking at them. Portsmouth has the (Talyn) Parker kid. Gallia Academy won it last year and Coach (Alex) Penrod does a great job up there,” he said. “The league is really balanced and should be impressive this year, and we want to be right in that mix.”
Indeed, Lutz does believe this can be a breakthrough season for Rock Hill, as the Redmen are in fact bigger, stronger and even faster.
Now, they just need to be deeper and healthier.
Head Coach Mark Lutz
- Current Team
- Rock Hill
Rock Hill 2019 Roster & Stats