Oak Ridge returns five players who started at least one game on offense from a season ago. While that means there are six new starters, the starters they do return will have a significant impact.
Three of those starters are linemen, the starting point for any good offense. Tackle Zach Welch, all 6-5, 290 pounds of him, leads the offensive line. Welch has verbally committed to the University of Nevada Reno and should have a great senior year. The other two returning starters are guards Jacob Crannell (6-1, 255) and Jesse Jimenez (6-2, 290).
Not only will those three provide quarterback Matt Jenner protection, they also give head coach Eric Cavaliere a sense of peace knowing he’s got three veterans on the offensive line.
“Zach has done a lot of work; they don’t just hand out scholarships,” Cavaliere said. “We’re excited. He’s physical, strong, motivated and on top of all that he’s a great kid. Jesse and Jacob are butt kickers. When they go, we go. The offensive line is a great place to have experience. We’re excited about this group.”
Nick Scalise (6-6, 295) starts on the other side of Welch to give the Trojans two massive tackles. Matt Murphy (6-1, 240) starts at center. Others fighting for time on the line include Brandon Summers and Sean Gatson.
Jenner didn’t take a snap at quarterback until the first playoff game last year, but had immediate success filling in for the injured Marco Baldacchino. Jenner has great size (6-4, 210) and though a different type of quarterback than Baldacchino, should be a good one for the Trojans.
“Matt is very coachable, and is solid at running the offense,” Cavaliere said. “He executes the play, makes the correct reads, and throws to the right receiver. He’s patient and because he’s so big, he can step up in the pocket really well. He has a strong arm, and he can attack the outside of the field down the field very well.”
Jenner’s backups are Evan Robinson and Justin Lamson, who quarterbacked the junior varsity and freshman teams, respectively, a year ago.
Like Jenner, running back Nathan Addleman came on in the postseason last year and played well. This year, the starting job is his.
“Pound for pound, Nathan is one of the strongest players on the team along with Avant Jacobs,” Cavaliere said. “He’s tough and physical, and he’s added a level of explosiveness to his game this year. Mitch Anderson and Connor Harlan will back him up.”
Perhaps Oak Ridge’s biggest loss from a year ago comes at receiver. Justin Poerio and Austin Jarrard combined to catch 130 passes for 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns. The rest of the team made 66 catches for 791 yards and 9 touchdowns. Sawyer Merrill is the team’s top returning receiver (other than Jenner, who caught 18 passes) and he hauled in 11 passes (eight in the postseason) for 118 yards and 1 touchdown.
Jacobs will join him at receiver and a big year is expected from both of them. Numerous other receivers will join Merrill and Jacobs, including Robinson, Lamson, EJ Delwiche, Gage King and Tyler Jeppesen.
“Avant and Sawyer are both strong on the outside,” Cavaliere said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we spread the catches out more this year. We don’t have that one dominate player like last year, but we have several receivers who we feel can get the job done.”