Plenty of local flavor at West Lib

BRIDGEPORT — Mid-Ohio Valley athletes are looking to make an immediate impact for the West Liberty Hilltoppers according to head coach Roger Waialae.

From three-year senior starter Chance Rucker, junior tight end Kyle Ritz, sophomore offensive lineman Blake Neely, and fellow incoming freshman lineman Ryan Creech will be counted on to provide an impact this fall.

The 2018 season didn’t have the success that Waialae was expecting, going 3-8 and finishing ninth in the Mountain East Conference.

The MEC coaches expect Waialae and the Hilltoppers to bounce back though, as West Lib was slotted sixth in the MEC coaches poll during media day on Tuesday.

Heading into his 15th season as the head coach of the Hilltoppers, Waialae will be turning to his three-year starter on the offensive line. Rucker is expected to be a leader on and off the field, to help put West Lib back into MEC title contention.

With each passing season, Rucker has been getting more and more opportunities to prove he belongs on the field.

Playing in nine games and starting in two games his first year as a Hilltopper, Rucker received more playing time in his sophomore campaign, starting in eight games.

Rucker then started day one his junior year at right tackle, before switching to left guard for the rest of 2018, starting all but one game.

Waialae expects a big season out of the former Caldwell High School Redskin entering his final campaign at West Lib, saying Rucker has the capability of competing with anyone in the MEC and should earn individual awards to cap off his career.

“We need his leadership to come out. We need him to continue to get better,” Waialae said. “He’s strong and big as anybody in the conference and we’re excited about his senior year. I think he’s at the point now, I’ll be disappointed if he didn’t play at an all-conference level. He knows the speed of the game. He’s got his strength up to where it needs to be and I really look for him to have a very productive year up there.”

Representing the Williamstown Yellowjackets are Neely and Hoosier, who started eight games last season as a redshirt freshman at defensive end, racking up 34 total tackles, seven for loss, two sacks and recovered a fumble for a 32-yard touchdown in the Hilltoppers’ 33-23 loss at Glenville State.

Hoosier’s season was stopped short, however, tearing his ACL in the eighth game of the season versus West Virginia State in late October. He’s not expected to make it back in time for this season.

“He will miss this year because of his knee injury. He tore his ACL halfway through the season and those injures might take a year or year-and-a-half to heal. So he’ll sit out this year,” said the coach.

Coming in a bit undersized his freshman year, Neely bulked up during the offseason and Waialae is expecting him to provide depth on the line and compete for playing time.

Creech may be a freshman, but Waialae is already expecting the former Parkersburg Big Red to compete for a starting position the moment camp opens.

Named a first team triple-A all-state offensive lineman, Waialae is impressed by what he saw of the 6-foot-3, 290-pound big man.

“For me, the expectation is the sky’s the limit for him. He comes from a great family, is very team-oriented. Individually, he’s a great football player,” Waialae said, “I hate putting pressure on a kid that never played and I’ve got a hell of a lot of skill players that have played for me over the years. He’s one of the few, that if he doesn’t start, I’ll be disappointed in myself. I see that he can be that type of player. He can be it all, all-conference, All-American, the sky’s the limit for him. But once again as a freshman, you don’t want to put that type of pressure on them. But I hope he has the same expectations.”

Contact Tyler Bennett at tbennett@newsandsentinel.com

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