BELOIT, Ohio (WKBN) – In year #2 under coach Ken Harris, West Branch went from a 2-win team (2-8 in 2019) to an 8-win team (8-2) to secure their first league championship since 2012 (NBC).
The significance of having a core-group of upperclassmen like the Warriors have returning is important in order to maintain stability within the program. Coach Harris says, “It goes way beyond the football field. It’s the mindset they bring that helps instill those intangibles that are so important. It’s how they represent West Branch. How they encourage and make others around them better. It’s about focus and the intention at practice and how they handle adversity and success that can really provide the leadership you need on a team.”
The 2021 season gets underway at East Liverpool on Friday, August 20. Last year, Unbeaten West Branch held off East Liverpool.
2020 Record: 8-2 (5-0, 1st in Eastern Buckeye Conference)
Coach: Ken Harris, 3rd season (10-10)
2020 Big 22: Brock Hillyer
Previewing West Branch’s Offense
Scoring Offense: 43.3 (2nd in Area)
Returning Starters: 8
Key Returnees: Dru DeShields, JR/QB; Jaxon Hendershott, SR/WR; Greg Rockwell, SR/OL; Nick Wilson, SR/WR
Key Losses: Andrew Coffee, WR; Josh Gregory, WR; Brock Hillyer, QB; Kenny Marra, OL; David McKeivier, WR; Brock Smith, OL; Alek Wilson, RB
Name to watch for: Dru DeShields, QB
Last fall, the offense was able to score 30-points or more in each of their 10 games and over 40 in 70% of their contests.
This season, the Warriors will attempt to accomplish that feat once again without many of their key offensive weapons including their maestro, the league Player of the Year Brock Hillyer. As a senior, Hillyer set the single season completion percentage record at the school (66.5%) and for passing yards per game (253.6). Hillyer finished 2020 with 2282 passing yards (25 TDs) and 790 rushing yards (13 TDs). Ultimate Warrior: West Branch’s Brock Hillyer among Week 6 contenders for Big 22
Also gone from last year’s league championship team are Alek Wilson (562 rushing yards, 12 TDs), David McKeivier (37 catches, 404 yards) as well as Andrew Coffee (264 receiving yards) and Josh Gregory (269 receiving yards).
However, the Warriors return their leading receiver Nick Wilson – who caught 47 passes for 666 yards and 10 scores. The versatile Dru DeShields is back for his junior season. Last year, he ran for an average of 6.6 yards per carry and caught 22 balls for 298 yards (5 TDs). While filling in for Hillyer at quarterback, DeShields completed 55% of his 26 passes for 243 yards.
Dru was the only player in the league – a year ago – to throw for over 200-yards (243), run for over 100 (106) and haul in passes for over 200 yards (298). “Dru is competing and getting bigger, faster and stronger,” indicates Harris. “He enjoys the competition.”
The Warriors return four starters upfront in Levi Rastetter and Mitchell Coffee at tackles, Greg Rockwell at guard and Caleb Adams at center. Coach Harris points out, “They’ve done really well this off-season, taking the lead in our out-of-school strength and conditioning program. They’re a unit that we’re really excited about.”
Previewing West Branch’s Defense
Scoring Defense: 25.1 (33rd in Area)
Returning Starters: 6
Key Returnees: Dru DeShields, JR/DB; Steven Marra, SR/LB; Greg Rockwell, SR/DL; Jed Smith, SR/LB; Nick Wilson, SR/LB
Key Losses: Andrew Coffee, LB; Josh Gregory, LB; Kenny Marra, DL; David McKeivier, S; Brock Smith, LB; Alek Wilson, DL
Name to watch for: Steven Marra, LB
The defense lost a number of key pieces including Brock Smith (91 tackles, 2 INTs), Andrew Coffee (10.5 sacks), David McKeivier (74 tackles, 2 INTs) and Alek Wilson (4.5 sacks) from a unit which forced 25 turnovers in 10 games.
Defensive backs Dru DeShields (4 INTs), Jed Smith (53 tackles) and Nick Wilson (57 tackles, 6 INTs) all return. Senior linebacker Steven Marra appears ready to enter his senior season after accumulating 120 tackles as a junior.
“Steven (Marra) has had a great off season,” Harris states. “He has really made his strength and agility a priority. He’ll be a 3-year starter for us and has been a great role model for the younger guys. Also, Nick Wilson and Jed Smith will play key roles for us at the outside linebacker positions. We’re also expecting (players) like Jaxon Hendershott and Greg Rockwell to be solid returning starters as well.”
2020 EBC Standings
West Branch – 5-0 (8-2)
Canton South – 4-1 (5-3)
Carrollton – 3-2 (7-3)
Marlington – 3-2 (3-5)
Salem – 3-3 (5-6)
Alliance – 1-5 (2-8)
Minerva – 0-6 (2-8)
Aug. 20 – at East Liverpool
Aug. 27 – at Woodridge
Sept. 3 – Revere
Sept. 10 – Marlington
Sept. 17 – at Canton South
Sept. 24 – Howland
Oct. 1 – Carrollton
Oct. 8 – at Alliance
Oct. 15 – Minerva
Oct. 23 – at Salem