With 14 seniors on the roster, veteran leadership shouldn’t be an issue for the Delta football team in 2022. The key will be avoiding injury issues and making steady improvements throughout the season.
“We do have some experience coming back. A lot of guys got an opportunity to play last year,” said head coach Nate Ruple. “I really like our senior class; it’s a great group of kids. Solid kids. They love the game of football and they got a real tight bond. We’re gonna be counting on those seniors to lead this football team and we’re just gonna have to keep getting better each and every week if we want to be competitive in this league.”
The Panthers will continue to employ the Wing-T offense, therefore, running back health and success is vital for the offense. Returning for them in the backfield are Jerremiah Wolford (second team All-NWOAL running back) and Bryar Knapp (honorable mention All-NWOAL running back).
Wolford rushed for 587 yards and 6 touchdowns while Knapp notched 425 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2021. Knapp also caught 13 passes on the season for 167 yards and 2 scores.
Senior quarterback James Ruple is back after a season where he threw for 494 yards and 6 TDs and rushed for another 171 yards and 3 TDs.
“We’re excited about our running backs. They’ve been playing for three years now. Quarterback’s been around for three years as well, so there’s a lot of experience in those areas. It’s nice to be able to start practice and just pick up where you left off from last year,” Coach Ruple said.
Other returnees on offense include tight ends Holden Barnes and Maverick Mercer; offensive linemen Connor Bates, Luke Schlatter and Landon Griesinger; and split end Justin Ruple.
“We return a lot of guys in the skill position areas. Return a couple offensive linemen as well,” noted the Panther head coach. “Depth is gonna be key for us, we just don’t have the depth yet to be able to sustain any heavy losses due to injury. So getting those young guys ready to play is gonna be important for us, especially as we go through this tough NWOAL schedule.”
However, in order to challenge for a league title, Delta’s offense will have to become more balanced.
“We’re definitely gonna have to continue to improve in our passing game,” said Coach Ruple. “Every team’s gonna stack the box against us unless we can throw a little bit. We have to work on that and continue to get better in that aspect of the game.”
Notable defensive starters back for the Panthers are James Ruple (second team all-league defensive back), Ethan Funk (honorable mention all-league defensive lineman), Barnes (honorable mention all-league defensive lineman), and Mercer (honorable mention all-league defensive lineman).
“James Ruple was a second team all-league DB (defensive back) last year. Had three interceptions. We’re hoping our defensive ends (Maverick Mercer and Holden Barnes) can continue to improve, that was a good source of strength for our defense last year. But again, our linebackers are inexperienced. We think they can play, but they just don’t have a lot of varsity experience at the linebacker position,” said Coach Ruple on players to watch defensively.
Also returning are Wolford (LB), Knapp (DB), Schlatter (LB), Evan Hanefeld (DB), Josh White (DL), Justin Ruple (DB) and Caleb Lantz (LB).
“Well we’re not real big, but I feel like we got some athletes defensively that can cause some problems,” Coach Ruple on what he likes about his defense. “Our defensive coordinator (Scott Tenney) has a lot of experience, we got a good defensive staff, and I feel pretty good about them right now but we’ll see.”
The Panthers have place-kicker Phil Smithers returning on special teams. Smithers was honorable mention all-league as a specialist a year ago.
Delta finished 4-7 overall and 2-5 in the NWOAL a season ago. They will undoubtedly want to improve that mark, however, the league will do them no favors.
“It’s my opinion that until someone figures out how to get this Archbold (team) taken care of, he’s (Archbold coach David Dominique) the guy to beat,” Ruple said at the NWOAL Media Night Aug. 7. “Liberty Center’s gonna be strong, and Wauseon’s got athletes all over the place.
“I could see PH being one of those teams that makes some noise in this league too,” he later added.
Delta travels to Ayersville this Friday to begin the season. The Panthers are at Evergreen for the NWOAL opener on Friday, Sept. 9.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010.