EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the latest in a summer series looking at Mid-Ohio Valley high school football teams and their prospects for the fall. Today's feature team is the Belpre Golden Eagles.
BELPRE - Greg Adams, starting his fourth year at the Belpre football helm, is admittedly happier going into this season than the last two after winning three of the last four games in 2012 to finish 4-6 - a real climb from 1-9 and 0-10 the previous two years.
Last fall, things started to turn around, like Adams said all along: "Just wait three or four years; that's how long it's going to take get things going in the right direction."
Belpre running back Manney Tullius, left, heads into the line after taking a handoff from quarterback Tavian Miller, right, in the Golden Eagles’ 2012 season opener versus Paint Valley. Both return this season to lead the Belpre offense.
An early (third-game) win (48-13) over visiting Southern snapped a 13-game losing skid dating back to the 2010 season. But three more straight losses followed as the Golden Eagles fell to 1-5.
Then it finally happened though, as the last month of the season saw Belpre win three of its final four games, besting South Gallia, Miller and Waterford to take some momentum - along with the hope that things had actually finally turned around for Adams and his staff - into this season.
Adams sees the 3-1 mark down the stretch last fall as "a nice springboard going into this season - and trust me, the off-season was a lot easier to go through too.
Aug. 31:at Zanesville Rosecrans
Sept. 6:Fort Frye
Sept. 13:at Southern
Sept. 27:at Federal Hocking
Oct. 4:at Eastern
Oct. 11:South Gallia
Oct. 25:at Miller
"We're excited about this season with the group of young men we have returning. We were freshman and sophomore-dominated last year, with a few juniors and three or four seniors in there as well. So besides the seniors, we've got all those kids back who got a lot of playing time last year which I think will bode well for us this season.
''I knew the state of the program - and especially the state of the attitude here - when I was hired. And we're still working hard to change that attitude, because I believe with the right attitude, you win football games - and we're getting there."
But to continue to get better this year, Adams knows his team "has to work just as hard - or harder - and we've got to discipline ourselves to go out and play the game the way it was designed to be played, with mental as well as physical toughness."
For Adams though, "our biggest obstacle this year is going to be our numbers," with just 24 players on the Golden Eagles' roster. "So our problem is going to be that we have hardly any depth at all, which means a lot of guys will be playing on both sides of the ball."
Last year - before the turn-around ending - in the 13-game drought-snapping win over Southern, Adams not only sensed a difference in attitude then, but also ''could see our players coming together - like a family - and we continued to grow more as a team as the season progressed," culminating in the Golden Eagles' late surge toward respectability.
"I was always told that you can't win with freshmen and sophomores," said Adams. "But after that (Southern) game, I could see the young kids getting into it and knowing that they could win.
"And this year, we've got some more freshmen like Dijon Bedgood, Andrew Klinger and Jaden Lacaria and another one or two who are going to contribute to this program. We expect them to step up and play a big role for us."
Of course, back for the Golden Eagles this season will be the crux of the Golden Eagle offense in junior running back Manney Tullius and sophomore signal-caller Tavian Miller.
As a sophomore, Tullius came into his own last year as a top-10 rusher in the Mid-Ohio Valley, toting the pigskin 148 times for 1,091 yards and 12 touchdowns and snagging eight aerials for another 119 yards and two more TDs.
Meanwhile, Miller, a mere freshman last year, took over as quarterback and while Belpre primarily relied on the run, he did complete 49 of 130 passes for 835 yards and eight touchdowns.
The offensive duo and senior center/linebacker D.J. Leftwich, one of Belpre's defensive leaders, are "the keys to the season for us," said Adams, who added that seniors Jamie Barrett and Dakota McDaniel, both two-way tackles, and sophomores Matthew Colvin (FB-DE) and Nathan Mason, another OT-DT like Barrett and McDaniel, "will play important roles for us this year going both ways."
'I think overall this team is going to jell, which it will need to early since we start our season off against Zanesville Rosecrans and Fort Frye, two pretty good tests that should give us an indication of how well we might do this year," said Adams. " And we're looking for a good season - we really are."