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NTL FOOTBALL: DESPITE YOUTH, ATHENS' BRADLEY BELIEVES WILDCATS 'COULD BE DANGEROUS' IN 2023 (2023-08-24)

By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
ATHENS — First-year Athens football coach Shawn Bradley will have a great deal of company in terms of varsity rookies, but he believes his youngsters are talented enough to make the Wildcats, who open the season tonight at Line Mountain, dangerous in 2023.

Despite returning just three starters, Bradley expects his team to be competitive.

“It’s cliche, but hopefully we improve every game, and our best game is our last,” he said. “These guys will go as far as their work ethic is going to take them.

“We have a good core group of seniors, not many, but a good core group,” noted Bradley. “They can definitely make a difference in some games, but these young kids have to grow up.

“If our young guys grow up, and we get some experience, we could be a dangerous team,” he added.

Athens has already taken one big blow with the loss of senior Josh Martin to a season-ending knee injury.

“One of our best players, Josh Martin, is watching from the sidelines on crutches; that’s a big loss,” said Bradley. “That’s 120 tackles the last two years, and he was probably going to be our starting tailback.”

Bradley believes his offensive line will be a strength for the Wildcats.

Senior Nate Polzella will anchor the line at center, with sophomore Brenden Comstock and senior newcomer Slade Alfred at guards, and senior Josh Nittinger and junior Caleb Nason will man the tackle spots.

Freshmen Landon Layman, and Rodney Chapman, sophomore Johnathan Timm, and sophomore Chase Wren, who is currently injured, will provide depth along the offensive line.

“On offense, we return three starters — all on the offensive line, where we’ll have three seniors, one junior and a sophomore,” he said. “The rest of the starters on offense will be sophomores, and one freshman.

“Our line should be our biggest strength. They’re seasoned, and they’re tough kids.

“(Caleb) Nason and (Josh) Nittinger are my 220- and 285-pounders on the wrestling team, so I know they’re tough kids,” he noted. “Nate (Polzella) has played a lot of football, and Brenden Comstock had a great summer, and is a terrific athlete.

“Slade Alfred is a hockey player, who just came out for football this year,” Bradley added. “He’s super-quick, and tough.”

Freshman Connor Davidson will replace four-year starter Mason Lister at quarterback, with sophomore Cooper Robinson and senior Kaden Parrish projected to get the majority of carries at tailback.

Junior Jack Cheresnowsky, and sophomores Daltton Davis, Karson Sipley, and Ryan Cook will split time at split ends, while sophomores Sean Peters, and Eli Chapman, and junior Keegan Congdon will share time at the slot back spots.

“We’re going to run the spread,” said Bradley.

“Our personnel kind of leads to it,” he noted. “We have a lot of speedy, smaller guys on the outside, and we have a couple hard-nosed kids in the backfield.”

Bradley says there are some concerns about the Wildcats’ youth at the skill positions, but he likes their make-up and work ethic.

“They’re going to have to grow up fast, that’s one thing we’ve talked about all preseason and camp.

“They’re good athletes, and they’ve played football well together in the past, but they’re going to have to grow up fast because they’re not going to have experience on their side,” he said.

Bradley believes “athleticism and hard work” will help overcome the youthful inexperience.

“These guys have worked hard the entire camp,” he said. “They’re in shape, they’ve pushed each other. And, they lifted all summer. A lot of these guys have put on a lot of strength since last year.”

Defensively, Nittinger will anchor the Wildcats at nose guard, with Polzella and Comstock at defensive tackles.

Nason will start at middle linebacker, with Cheresnowsky and Parrish at the outside linebacker spots.

Peters and Robinson will see time at the “Hawk” and “Eagle” spots, with Chapman, Davis, and Cook sharing time at corner back, and Davidson getting the starting nod at free safety.

“We have some big, strong kids up front,” said Bradley. “Hopefully, they’ll get after it, and put some pressure on the quarterback.

“We have some guys on the back end, who like to fly around, and hit.

“Hopefully, teams will overlook us a little bit, and we can make a name for ourselves,” added Bradley. “All we can do is prepare the best we can, and play hard.”

On special teams, Bradley jokes “pretty much, Daltton (Davis) is doing it all.”

Davis will handle the punting and place-kicking chores, as well as the punt return duties. Davis and Congdon will handled the kick returns.

Sipley will be the long snapper, and Chapman will hold on place-kicks.

Bradley knows the importance of special teams.

“We have 15 minutes of special teams scheduled at every practice,” he said. “We spent a lot more than that at (Thursday’s) pre-game.

“Hopefully, we’ve done enough … it may not win us games now, but it may prevent us from losing some games.

“We’d like to get to the point where (special teams) helps us win some games,” Bradley added.

Bradley’s coaching staff includes his son, Nick Bradley, Jay White, Mike Hibbert, Steve Satterly, Tony Robbins, Adam Morgan, Aaron Raupers, and Pat Persun. Teake Yeager and Jeremy Davidson will coach the junior high team.

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IN PHOTO: Athens coach Shawn Bradley. … VSR STOCK PHOTO.

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