By Rob Kiser
BRADFORD — When the seniors on the Bradford High School football team went through an 0-10 season as freshman, the future looked bleak for the Railroaders.
They have a very different outlook heading into the 2016 season.
Those seniors include Walker Branson, Bryson Canan, Chase Gambill, Wade Gerlach, Mason Justice and Dillon Reck.
“We want to have a successful season,” Canan said as he spoke the thoughts of the group. “We want to make the playoffs. We went from 0-10 to playing a JV schedule to 4-6 last year. I think we need to be leaders for the rest of the team.”
After Nathan Hyatt guided the Railroaders to a respectable 4-6 season a year ago, he was hired by Vandalia-Butler as varsity coach for this season.
“You know, nobody gives the CCC (Cross Country Conference) much respect,” Bradford first-year coach Dave McFeely said. “But, we have two coaches coaching in the GWOC this year with Division I programs.”
McFeely is taking over the program after joining the staff as an assistant coach.
“I have 26 years experience as a football coach and 32 years as a basketball coach,” McFeely said. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this (take over a program at this point in his career). But, I just love these kids. I think the worst thing that could have happened to these kids after last year was a new coach and a new system and lot of them expressed that. They are very happy to have me.”
And McFeely has a veteran staff around him.
“Jim Hart is a veteran coach — he will be our defensive coordinator and linebacker coach,” McFeely said. “John Cruse is another veteran coach who will be our backfield coach. Greg Hale (former Railroader head coach) is still battling cancer, but he said he wanted to be out here with the kids and we are happy to have him.
“Kyle Ratliff is a second year coach. He will work with coach Hale on the offensive line and coach Hart with the linebackers. Jason Hughes is our only first year coach. He will working with the secondary, quarterbacks and receivers and Jim Wysong will be our junior high coach.”
The Railroaders will mix things up on offense.
At quarterback, will be junior Andy Branson, while Justice and Canan — the top two rushers from a year ago, return in the backfield. Junior Dialaquan Millhouse will also see action in the backfield.
Junior Hunter Penkal and Canan, along with junior Kyle Mills, will see action at slotback, while Walker Branson and Jake Barga will see action at split end. Junior Adam Rostkowski will also see time at end.
“Jake (Barga) and his mom moved to Maria Stein for two years, so he has experience with two state championship teams,” McFeely said. “We have a number of guys back at the skill position.”
The Roaders haven’t settled on a center yet.
The guards will be junior Josh Phillips and sophomore Jarrett Boggs.
One tackle will be Reck, while the other spot is still up for grabs.
“Our guards are tackles and our tackles are guards,” McFeely said. “Josh Phillips is one of our biggest kids. We have a 6-4 sophomore and two freshman competing for the other tackle position. When we score our first TD last year, that was our first (varsity) TD in a long time.”
On defense, the Railroaders will show a 5-2 look.
The linebackers will include Justice, Barge and sophomore Terrick Yohey.
The noseguard will be Thomas Wilt, while the tackles will be Phillips and Gerlach, with Walker Branson and Millhouse at the defensive end positions.
The secondary will include Penkal, junior Kaleb Addington, sophomore Hunter Gheen, Gambill and Mills.
“We have a bunch of guys back there in the secondary,” McFeely said. “We still have some things to figure out, but things are starting to come together.”
Bradford has one more year before they rejoin the CCC, which makes for a lot of traveling.
The road games include Troy Christian, Johnstown Northridge, Jefferson, Northwood and Danville.
“We are still going to get to see a lot of Ohio,” McFeely said. “We have three road games of over 125 miles (round trip).”
There is a good chance this will be the last year for that.
“If everything goes well, hopefully we will be back in the conference next year,” McFeely said. “I like our numbers. We have between 29 and 32 kids each day. We lost our first four games last year — then won four in a row. I really feel like I stepped into a good situation here.”
And he continues to build on last year’s program and give the seniors the finish to their careers they deserve.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.