Coach: Roger Austin
2006 record: 9-3, 5-2
Offensive starters back: 8
Defensive starters back: 7
APPALACHIA — Last season, Appalachia was dealt a massive blow with the death of longtime coach, and VHSL Hall of Famer, Tom Turner.
Now, a year later, the Bulldogs are coping with tragedy once again after the loss of sophomore B.J. Riddle.
Riddle, 15, passed away in January but his effect on the team is still clear — he appears on the roster at the request of the players.
“It’s been really hard on the kids,” second-year coach Roger Austin said. “The boys have rallied around it though.”
Just like last season.
“It was a tough year,” Austin said. “I did a lot of soul-searching. And our kids really came through.”
He expects them to come through again, especially with the amount of talent the Bulldogs have returning.
It all begins in the backfield with fullback Brett Leedy. Leedy, an All-Lonesome Pine District first-team selection last season, rushed for 1,110 yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior.
“He carried the load,” Austin said of Leedy. “He loves to get in there and get those hard yards.
“We jump on his back and he carries us.”
Appalachia may not have to rely on Leedy so much this year if Morgan Ireson lives up to the billing.
Ireson accumulated more than 500 rushing yards in limited duty last season. He also caught 29 passes for over 400 yards.
Perhaps his biggest asset, however, is speed — Ireson is the reigning Region D 100-meter dash champion.
“Ireson has really got in the weight room and gotten stronger,” Austin said. “He’s the fastest man in the LPD.
“If we can ever get him loose, look out.”
Though Appalachia favors the run, Cody Richardson provides a wealth of experience under center for the 2006 Region D runner-up.
On the flanks, the Bulldogs must replace leading receiver Adam Kiser. Out to fill the void will be Ryan Whitmire, Jarod Sampson and Josh Allen.
Up front, Brad Hall and Trevor Hamm will anchor the line along with Andy Sampson and Jared Thompson. Adam Stanley will take over at center.
“We need to have good offensive line play,” Austin said. “The core is there.”
On the other side of the ball, Hall, Adkins and Thompson will be joined by Brett Bowers on the defensive interior. Steven Sizemore, who also will see time at running back, slots in alongside Jarod Sampson at defensive end.
Leedy and Andy Sampson form an imposing duo at linebacker. Ireson will move to safety, while returnee Devin Brickey is the only certainty at corner.
“We’ve got some old heads out there that know what’s going on,” Austin said. “I hope we can step out on our own this year.”