The Ohio prep football season became official Monday with the start of practice, and the Middletown Middies were understandably thrilled with the fresh start.
Middletown, coming off an 0-10 campaign, worked out at Barnitz Stadium under second-year head coach Lance Engleka.
“Taking an 0-10 season, that’s a tough pill to swallow. Not only for the kids, but the coaches, the community, everybody involved with the program,” Engleka said. “Those kids that played last year, they’ve still got their taste in their mouth, and that’s not a good taste to have.
“Our seniors have done a much better job of leading than what we’ve had in the past. Our younger guys that have been involved in the program, they know what to expect now. So we expect things to definitely turn around this year.”
Engleka said he has 82 players in grades 9-12 (with only 11 seniors) and a number of new coaches this year, including offensive coordinator Mike Schneider and defensive coordinator John Cupps.
The Middies open the season against visiting Lima Senior on Aug. 25. It’s one of six home games for Middletown, which doesn’t play Lakota East in the new eight-game Greater Miami Conference schedule.
“We’ve got a lot of starters back, a lot of guys with experience, but they’ve got to take that step up,” said Engleka, noting nine returning starters on offense and seven on defense. “The fact that you’ve got that many starters back from an 0-10 team doesn’t mean anything unless you’ve improved and gotten stronger over the last year.”
Among the newcomers to the varsity coaching staff are Sean Schooley (offensive line), and Victor Eagle (O-line), Ross Brown (running backs) and Matt Louis (outside linebackers, special teams). Louis is Middletown’s assistant athletic director.
The coordinators have plenty of experience. Schneider is a former head coach at Miamisburg and Wayne who also coached with his son Lance at Northmont.
“You can talk to anybody in the state of Ohio and they will tell you that Mike Schneider is the most knowledgeable passing coach in the state,” Engleka said.
So does that mean the Middies will be throwing the ball more this year in the spread?
“Somebody always says that,” Engleka said. “Yes, our passing game is much more developed than it was in the past, but that’s just an added wrinkle to the spread that we now have. A lot of it is predicated on the quarterback and him making those reads. He’s got to be a real student of the game and then be able to transfer that out to the field.”
Seniors Zach Maloney and Blake Marshall return at the quarterback position. Engleka said Maloney is taking the majority of the first-team reps, while Marshall is putting in some work at slotback.
Middletown is staying with its 4-3 defense under Cupps, a former D-coordinator at Springfield, La Salle and Massillon Washington.
Seniors Keion Williams and Ayron Thompson return up front on the defense. Junior Shawn Duckworth, a transfer from Mount Healthy, is making an impact at cornerback.
“We’ve been real impressed with his ball skills this summer,” Engleka said. “He’s what you’re looking for in a defensive back in the GMC.”
The Middies will have two scrimmages, hosting Centerville at 10 a.m. on Aug. 8 and traveling to East on Aug. 18 at 7 p.m.
Middletown’s last win came on Oct. 30, 2015, at Princeton (36-13).