By Rob Kiser
BRADFORD — The poster on the wall in Bradford football coach’s Nathan Hyatt says it all.
“We’re Back on Friday Nights”
The Roaders are returning to a varsity schedule this season — and the only one more excited about that than Hyatt himself, is the players.
“A lot of high school football players take that (playing on Friday nights) for granted,” Hyatt said. “I think it humbled them (to play a JV schedule on Saturdays last year). I think the kids are excited and really hungry.”
And the first year coach couldn’t be more excited about it.
“Last year, we had 17 kids in the program in grades 7-12,” he said. “This year, we have 47 and it is still growing. We just added a couple high school players last week. I am so proud of those 17 kids. They had to deal with a lot last year. They were put in a bad situation and it wasn’t their fault.”
Hyatt said last season was beneficial for those players.
“I don’t care what level it is at,” he said. “Anytime you are playing football, you are going to get better.”
And the cupboard is not bare for Hyatt, who feels the strength of his team will be on the line of scrimmage.
The core of that offensive line will be seniors Drew Patty, Bailey Powell, Brandon Mitchell and T.J. Jones.
“They are big and they are physical,” Hyatt said. “They are going to form what we feel is going to be a very good offensive lines.”
The skill positions define what Hyatt is looking for from his players.
Senior Tyler Gunter was a quarterback last year, while sophomore Andy Branson preferred to be a receiver. But, both were willing to flip positions for the betterment of the team.
“Tyler (Gunter) came to me and said even though he is a quarterback, Andy (Branson) is going to be a really good quarterback and it would best for the team if he moved to receiver,” Hyatt said. “On the flip side of that, Andy (Branson) wanted to be a receiver and came to me and said he was willing to play quarterback because he thought he could be a pretty quarterback. When you have players like that willing to sacrifice for the team, that really says something.”
Walker Branson is another player that will see time at receiver, while Mason Justice, Bryson Canan, Hunter Penkal and Jarred Crist should all see time at halfback, with Darrien Booker and Austin Bubeck seeing time at fullback.
“We have a number of guys back there that can do the things we need to do,” Hyatt said. “I have always tried to have a balanced offense. When we do run the ball, we are going to be big and physical.”
The Railroaders will play a base 4-3 defense.
Along with Patty, Powell, Mitchell and Jones, Hyatt expects Dylan Reck, Josh Phillips and Wade Gerlach to see time on the defensive line.
At middle linebacker will be Booker.
“He is going to anchor our defense,” Hyatt said. “I am excited to watch him play.”
Justice, Canan and Penkal will all see action at outside linebacker, while the secondary will include Crist, Kyle Mills, Walker Branson and Zac Miller.
“We have some young kids in the secondary,” Hyatt said. “They are aggressive and I am very excited to see them play.”
Hyatt is a big believer in just working to get better.
“That is always the goal,” he said. “You can’t control your opponent. All you can do is go out and do your best. The goal is to get better every game. Is that going to happen every single game? Of course not, but that should always be the goal.”
Bradford will play a non-conference schedule the next two years, before re-joining the CCC in 2017.
This year’s road games include New Bremen, Catholic Central, Manchester and Sherwood Fairview.
“We are going to have some long road trips,” Hyatt said. “We are going to face some unique challenges, but the kids are excited about it.”
They also have a neutral site game with Marion Elgin at Sidney Memorial Stadium/30&0 Field.
“They have a beautiful stadium with turf,” Hyatt said. “That is going to be a great experience for the kids and makes it less of a drive for Marion Elgin.”
The home games include Cincinnati Hillcrest Academy, Johnston Northridge, Cincinnati Dohn Community, Dayton Jefferson and Danville.
“One of the things we talk about all the time is growing the program,” Hyatt said. “We didn’t think we were going to have a fifth and sixth grade program, but we had 17 kids sign up. We are definitely headed in the right direction.”
And back on “Friday nights”.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.