Marietta Football: Veteran Lineup Transitions To New Coach

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Much has been made about the “new era” of Marietta Pioneer Football with the entrance of new head coach Andy Waddle, but the team itself is actually composed of many veterans with years of experience. The Pioneers are hoping that their stability at a variety of positions will help provide a smooth transition to a new system.

The Pioneers feature 20 returning seniors and 31 returning letter winners, the largest for the Marietta program in years, and they look to record their first win since Nov. 5, 2011.

Position-by-position breakdown of the 2013 Marietta Pioneers:

Quarterback: The Pioneers return fifth-year senior and second-year starter Tom Fulton, a quarterback that completed 46.5 percent of his passes for 1,850 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2012. While Fulton is the undisputed starter, Thomas Hinkle is another capable quarterback that saw action in five games last season, starting once. The Pioneers have a stockpile of seven quarterbacks on the roster, which will likely provide interesting battles for playing time throughout the season.

Running Back: At the Ohio Athletic Conference Media day, Waddle described the running back position as “wide open,” and it still provides the team’s biggest question mark heading into the season. The Pioneers averaged only 40.1 yards per game on the ground in 2012, the worst average in the OAC. Waddle might look to senior Chris Sanders to start in game one, but there are some underclassmen that can provide a jolt in the running game.

Wide Receiver: This position is likely the most talented and promising one of the entire squad, as they return All-Conference seniors Kirby Harris and Tannon Roberts on the outside. With the lack of a running game in 2012, Harris and Roberts overcame the added defensive pressure and combined for over 1,200 receiving yards and nearly half of Marietta’s total touchdowns. The tandem is without a doubt one of the best in the OAC and should provide the majority of the offensive production in the fall.

Tight End: Without a clear starter, fans could see 6-foot-4 Hinkle line up at tight end in 2013. The Pioneers return 2012 starter Josh Llaneza, but he only managed to snag six receptions for 50 yards last season. Hinkle’s size might warrant him success at the tight end spot, but this is surely another battle to keep an eye on.

Offensive Line: Marietta returns all five members of the offensive line from last season, but Waddle said that this position probably has the most room to improve before the first game. The line allowed 52 sacks in 2012 and was unable to provide the proper space for a run game to succeed. Seniors Ryan Brown, Tito Jeffries and John Keener along with junior Zach Johnson and sophomore Trevor Rick are the five returning starters, but fans should also expect to see seniors Dustin Melchior and Rick Whyde on the field this season.

Defensive Line: While the offensive line returns all of their starters, the front line of the defense stands depleted, as all but one starter from 2012 graduated. Senior Keeland Bryant, the only returning starter, recorded 20 tackles and 2.5 sacks in the 2012 season. Linebacker Jake Hammer said that the incoming talent on the defensive line is impressive and that they have many options to fill the open spaces.

Linebacker: Hammer returns for his senior season as one of Marietta’s most talented assets. He started all 10 games in 2012 and compiled an OAC-best 115 total tackles. Sophomore Steve Ribot also returns, leading many to believe that the linebacking corps will be one of the chief strengths of the Pioneer team this fall. Senior Franklin Holmes and sophomores Joe Ortega and Nick Thompson surround Hammer and Ribot, giving the Pioneers plenty of depth at this position.

Defensive Secondary: The secondary also features experienced talent, as senior starters Robert Brown and Keith Cherry return. Brown led the Pioneers last season with three interceptions while totaling 38 tackles. Charles Dixon, Cody Rice and Axten Franzoy are also expected to see playing time in the secondary alongside Brown and Cherry. Dixon, a converted wide receiver, gives the Pioneers speed in the secondary. He was also Marietta’s biggest return threat on special teams last fall.

Season Outlook: The Pioneers look to win their 11th season opener of the last 13 years against non-conference opponent Case Western on Sept. 1 before heading into an early bye week. Marietta returns to the gridiron on Sept. 15 for a home opener against Capital University, followed by an always-grueling test on the road against the Mount Union Purple Raiders. The team will continue through OAC play, ending with the annual Shrine Game at rival Muskingum University on Nov. 10.