Wayne loaded with experience in 2018
WAYNE — During a preseason practice last year, Wayne coach Tom Harmon asked his players to run to the end line on a 50-yard sprint.
For the drill, Harmon categorized them by age.
When he called all the 18-year-olds on the team to the front, only one player ran to the end zone.
When the 17s were called, there were only six.
Then, when he called for those who were 16-and-under, the rest of the team ran down to the end zone.
It was expected to be a growth process that took a bit of time, but the Pioneers overcame a week two loss to Mingo Central and won their final eight regular-season games and a first-round playoff matchup with Sissonville before falling to Class AA runner-up Fairmont Senior.
Now, Harmon and the Pioneers have lots of experience back at their disposal.
“Each year is going to bring a new challenge, but it’s nice to know that these guys have been in some fires before and they’ve reacted pretty well,” Harmon said. “We had a great season last year - finished in the second round of the playoffs - and we’ve got most of them back. There’s a confidence factor that comes with that.”
Senior Mike Bartram leads the way for Wayne as a two-way standout at running back and linebacker.
While he was one of the state’s top linebackers last season, he also was a presence for the Wayne offense, compiling 1,107 yards and 19 touchdowns on the year.
Bartram said he’s excited to get into 2018 - especially considering that he has his entire offensive front returning in front of him.
“I trust those guys,” Bartram said. “Last year, I was able to lead the conference in scoring and we have the same line back, so it’s going to be fun.”
Gunner Harmon is expected to take the reins at quarterback following the graduation of Jeremiah Milum, and the Pioneers will stick with its physical, run-heavy approach behind that experience line and the legs of Bartram, along with several other players in the running back-by-committee scheme of the Pioneers.
“We’ve got 8-10 names of people and most have seen time on Fridays, so we’ve got depth there,” Harmon said. “Our numbers aren’t big, but we’ve got good depth.”
Many players will be called on to play on both sides of the ball, including Bartram, running back/defensive back Isaac Dean, wide receiver/defensive back Tanner Owens and others.
Harmon said he’s happy for the experience back because preseason has been more about scheme and fine-tuning, rather than teaching players how to practice.
Being at peak performance will be critical for the Pioneers early as they face a tough three-game stretch to open the season against playoff teams from 2017, starting with Friday’s season-opener at Spring Valley before home games with Mingo Central and Winfield.
“We know we have to be good early,” Harmon said. “This is one of few sports where what you do Week 1 affects your postseason and what type of seed you have or whether you get in at all. Some of our quality opponents are at the beginning of our schedule. We’ve got to turn up the volume a little quicker and make sure we’re ready to go.”