Season Preview: The Wheelersburg Pirates and their tradition of excellence

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WHEELERSBURG, Ohio (WOUB) — The Wheelersburg football program began its tradition of excellence when it first took the field in 1930. Head coach Rob Woodward has been the captain since 2008, and the recipe for success has never changed.  

“I’m just working to try and maintain that … that spark that was started years ago,” he said. “I’m trying to carry that torch and keep it lit.”  

Now entering his 17th season as head coach, Woodward has led the Pirates to nine Southern Ohio Conference (SOC) championships and one State Championship in 2017.  

As preparations for the season begin, Wheelersburg finds itself short on leadership. Graduating six All-Ohio players from this past season means important roles need to be filled.  

Junior wide receiver Kenyon Evans knows this all too well and isn’t afraid of the challenge.  

“Well, we got some dogs,” Evans said. “Some teams aren’t willing to fight for or work for anything. We’re working for everything we have.”  

Most of that work doesn’t take place on Friday nights; it happens during practices and summer workouts. It’s then when guys like Evans step up as leaders.  

“I’m trying my hardest to lead everyone … like the underclassman at receivers. I’m trying to lead them and make them progress so they’re ready,” Evans said.  

With a new group of younger leaders at the helm, Woodward spends time preparing them for the long haul that is a full season.  

16 rung ladder inside the Wheelersburg football locker room. Each rung has the name of the team they face that week on it.
This ladder inside the Wheelersburg locker room serves as a reminder to keep climbing. [Donovan Varney | WOUB].
“We’ve got a ladder in (the locker room) that represents those 16 rungs we’ve got to climb, and each one is a little tougher each and every week,” Woodward said. “We’re trying to work as far up that ladder as we can.”  

Each rung of the ladder has the opponent’s name for that week painted on it, and last season the Pirates fell a rung short of a Regional Championship.  

Despite the loss, the new generation at Wheelersburg still knows who they’re fighting for. Senior Xander Mowery has been around for the highs and lows but made it clear what motivates his team every game.  

“We play for each other. We play for our community. We play for our families,” Mowery said.   

As soon as the players walk into the locker room, a clock on the wall counts down the seconds until they face their week one opponent, the Ironton Fighting Tigers.   

Junior Landon McGraw had one thing to say to those who doubt Wheelersburg will climb all the way to the top: 

“I guess you’ll just have to wait and see.”