ZANESVILLE − The doubters have been heard by Zanesville.
New coaches and new faces are why expectations are low for the Blue Devils, but first-year coach T.J. Langermeier has seen those motivate his group throughout the summer.
"We've heard some in the community have low expectations for us, but that has given this group a chip on their shoulders," he said. "We remind them every day they walk in here, people think they're only going to win a game or two. This group has risen to the occasion so far, and they're buying in to what we're saying.
"We want to have tunnel vision and keep that negativity out of here," he added. "Our focus is to listen to what we're saying inside these walls and not to shy away from what we expect to do. This group is motivated to prove others wrong."
The players echoed those sentiments. Senior wide receiver-defensive back Xavier Sowers is one of the few players back with varsity experience. The hunger is there, and Zanesville knows it starts with Newark.
"We understand the tradition of that game, and we have to bring it from the start," the senior remarked about the season opener. "We're ready to bring it every single game. We expect to scare people, and we ready to shock them, too."
Developing an identity is a focus, said senior lineman Christian Ramirez. These Blue Devils believe in what Langermeier and his staff are doing.
"We're not focused on replacing who was here. We're developing our own identity," he said. "Coach Langermeier is preaching effort and determination. We believe it in, and we're ready to leave our mark on the program."
The leadership of those two, along with fellow senior Dean Johnson, will be vital to the Blue Devils' success. Johnson and Sowers highlight a strong group of receivers and will lead the secondary, while Ramirez will be an anchor on both sides of the line.
Competition remains fierce for the starting quarterback job. Senior Ma'ke Staunton and junior Drew Doyle have shared reps all summer, and Langermeier believes in both with the season opener just over a week away.
"It's always good to have competition. Drew saw time at running back and wide receiver last year so he has varsity experience, and Ma'ke has been waiting his turn and is ready for his chance," Langermeier said. "Both are athletic and intelligent. They're grasping what we want to do. There's no real drop off between the two, and we're confident in either leading the way."
There will be talent to aid them on the offensive side of the ball. Senior Drake Renick returns to the program after a few years away and will share the running back duties with junior Trevor Lyons.
Juniors Drake Tabler and Jay Geiger bring depth to the receiving corps, and junior Shade Johnson provides versatility in the tight end role.
"Xavier and Dean bring leadership as captains, showing the younger guys what needs to be done. They'll also be our big playmakers, but I like what some of the younger guys bring to the table," Langermeier said. "Drake gives us speed in the backfield. He went 85 yards on the first play of our scrimmage last week. Trevor saw time last year, and he brings the power. They compliment each other and will get their chances."
The offensive and defensive lines feature quality over quantity. Sophomore Joe Baker will be the starting center with Ramirez and junior Roquel Cornell at guards and junior Noah Corbin and sophomore Canon Mercer manning the tackle spots.
Junior Jaden Crawford and sophomore Tyler Morrison will be part of the offensive rotation, while sophomore Caleb Underwood will line up as one of the defensive ends in the 4-2-5 defensive alignment.
"We don't have a lot of depth, but all of these guys will be seeing time on at least one side of the ball," Langermeier said. "They're a strong group and have been very coachable. We definitely have a lot of bright spots in this group."
The talent around the line has them focused on doing their jobs, Ramirez noted.
"We want to set the tone and make sure we cover our gap assignments," he said. "It's nice to have guys like Drew and Ma'ke under center, and we have a lot of athletes on both sides of the ball. We need to do our job well so they can do their jobs."
The two-man linebacker crew will feature Lyons as the MIKE and junior Cameron Fink will be the WILL, while senior Robert Guest will join Geiger and junior Kamarion Ruff at cornerback, and the safeties will be a combination of Johnson, Sowers, Renick and junior Bryce Roberts.
"We're very athletic in the back end, and we'll be able to cover well. We'll also have to rally to the ball," Langermeier noted. "We have great leaders on defense, and we will have a lot guys playing two ways. We want to rotate them the best we can to keep them fresh, while also building depth. You never know when you're going to need it so you want everyone to be ready."
The Blue Devils understand the importance of a team effort. Corbin said the focus for the upperclassmen is to encourage the underclassmen, while keeping the team together through adversity.
"Coach Langermeier is a player's coach. He brings discipline and pulls us off to the side if we make a mistake. He points out how to fix it and is willing to work with us," he said. "We're encouraging each other and picking each other up, no matter what's going on. We have to make the most of our reps and stay focused. We need to pay attention to what the coaches are saying then go out and execute it."
Zanesville is in this battle as one, and they're ready to show off their Blue Devil pride.
"We have to be one unit. We need to be coachable and play as a team," Sowers said. "We've gotten better since we started practicing. There's a new style here, and we believe it can take us far. We're going to go out, play with attitude and see what we can do."
This article originally appeared on Zanesville Times Recorder: Football preview: Zanesville determined to prove doubters wrong