Owls ready to strap it up

Friday, August 22, 2014
Junior Zach Maupin will get his first turn as starting quarterback when the Owls begin their season today at Chillicothe. (Chris Allen/Democrat-News)

No matter the memories of recent seasons or the difficult grind of practice, the first Friday night of a high school football season is met with vim and vigor.

"You're always excited to get the first real contest going," remarked Marshall head coach Jon Stockman. "I think the kids are really ready to play this opener."

The Owls got a tune-up a week ago during the pre-season jamboree at Oak Grove, which gave the staff some idea on what to work on leading up to the official debut.

"We've primarily focused on our timing with the hand-offs and passes" on offense, Stockman said. "The defensive emphasis has been just getting off the ball, knowing your assignment and running to the ball -- flying around the field wanting to hit somebody."

For the fifth straight year, Marshall opens against Chillicothe (4-6 in 2013) -- a team also hoping to recover from not just one, but four straight losing seasons. For the tradition-steeped Hornets, that's something that hasn't happened in the program's 110-year history.

The Owls lost last year's encounter 21-0, having turned the ball over four times -- once early in the game while driving toward the goal line and twice leading to touchdowns during the second half after being stopped on the verge of a game-tying score while down 7-0.

"You can't win and be successful doing those things," Stockman admitted. "We've certainly stressed ball security. This group has done a good job of not putting the ball on the ground."

Chillicothe enters this contest with a rebuilt offense, including an untested offensive line with a freshman and sophomore expected to start.

"They've got some youth, but boy they've got some size," Stockman said. "They're big up front, offensive and defensive lines."

The Hornets have one returning offensive weapon in speedy senior halfback DeEll Midgyett, who was second on the team with 632 rushing yards and five touchdowns -- averaging 6.1 yards per carry.

"He's a force out of the backfield," Stockman said. "We can't let him get on the edge and out-run us. On first contact we've got to wrap him up and bring him down."

Chillicothe is much more experience on defense, led by senior linebacker Hayden Major -- with 102 tackles last season, eight against the Owls.

"We've got to get at least one guy to those middle linebackers," Stockman stressed. "They just can't be running free making plays all over the field."

The opener is a tone-setter for the season, although Stockman realizes a loss "isn't a killer."

"You've got to keep working and keep getting better," he explained. "A 10-week season is a long season."

By the same token, winning the premiere can stoke confidence -- as Marshall found out two years ago with a 26-25 victory to spoil the inauguration of the Hornets' new stadium and went on to its first winning campaign since 2006.

"It reinforces what the coaches have been telling the kids and it's been what the kids have been working for in the pre-season," Stockman said. "It starts the year off with a bang."

Contact Chris Allen at callen@marshallnews.com

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