STEUBENVILLE - A new era of Oak Glen football begins tonight as Ian Whittington makes his head coaching debut for the Golden Bears.
Oak Glen will take on Edison in part of the third annual OVAC Kickoff Weekend at 8:30 p.m. at Harding Stadium in Steubenville.
"This gives us a chance to showcase our talent and our kids," Whittington said of playing in the annual event. "It will help us build our program. It's a huge privilege."
OAK GLEN COACH IAN WHITTINGTON
This year's slate of games consists of five contests at two venues. Prior to the Oak Glen-Edison game, Steubenville Big Red will take on Washington D.C.'s Woodrow Wilson at 6 p.m.
At Wheeling Island Stadium, Bridgeport and Bellaire St. John kick off at 5 p.m. with Wheeling Park and St. Clairsville squaring off at 7:30 p.m. Also, on Saturday, Linsly and Magnolia battle at 7:30 p.m. also at Wheeling Island Stadium.
For Whittington, 27, kickoff can't come soon enough. The young, energetic coach said he is chomping at the bit to get his coaching career underway.
"I'm sure I'll have some jitters," he said. "I have some already just thinking about it. I'll be a little nervous, but once we hit the field, it's game time and I'll be ready. It's nervousness and excitement at the same time."
The Bears and Wildcats played what was arguably the best game of the event last season when Oak Glen pulled out a 29-28 victory over Edison as Lucas McDowell blocked an extra point late in the fourth quarter to secure the win.
This year also marks a new beginning for Oak Glen assistant coach Derrick Stickles.
An all-state performer during his high school career with the Golden Bears, Stickles has spent the past two seasons coaching with Mike McKenzie at Edison and will now be matching wits with his former counterpart.
"He's really pumped," Whittington said of Stickles, his assistant head coach and offensive coordinator. "He liked it over there. He's still familiar with all the people and players. He still talks with some of the coaches and players. He wants to show them that he made the right decision."
According to Whittington, having Stickles on the Oak Glen sideline could be an advantage with his knowledge of Edison's personnel.
"It should help us to an extent," Whittington said. "He knows the strengths and weaknesses of the players over there. But, coach McKenzie is a smart guy. He'll have his team ready and I'm sure he'll pull out a few surprises."
The Wildcats, who finished 3-7 last season, are known for their high-octane offense which generally doesn't give opponents a chance to blink.
Edison will have a new backfield this season as quarterback Mark Smyth and running back Shane O'Brien are gone to graduation. In steps junior Nolan Marcus under center. He will be flanked by senior Chris Graziani at tailback.
Whittington said slowing down the Edison attack is his top priority.
"They run a very high-tempo offense," he said. "They can score from anywhere on the field. They're fast and athletic. They can really sting you if you allow yourself to get out of rhythm on defense."
Despite his concerns, Whittington said he believes his team is prepared for Edison's no-huddle offense because Oak Glen will also employ a lighting quick attack this season.
"We also run a fast-paced, pretty much no-huddle offense," Whittington said. "We've been practicing and preparing against that all summer long."
As far as Oak Glen is concerned, Whittington said his team has made great improvements since the beginning of camp. The Bears battled Brooke and Buckeye Local in their two scrimmages.
"Against Brooke, they were a little bigger and more physical, but we played them tough," Whittington said. "I thought our offense needed some work after that. But in the second scrimmage, we fared a lot better. We've gotten better every week and every day."
A quarterback battle throughout camp was waged between sophomore Chase Hartley and junior Bub Haddox to see who would replace last year's standout McDowell. Hartley spent last season as the junior varsity quarterback, while Haddox did not play.
"We're going with Bub Haddox," Whittington said. "Right now, we feel like he's shown that he's a little more game ready. We feel like he gives us the best chance to win at this point."
At running back, senior Tyler Steed is expected to step in as the team's workhorse replacing Dylan Davis. However, Steed's availability for tonight's game is in doubt. Whittington said Steed is questionable with an injury and junior David Campbell will fill in if Steed is unable to go.
After an offseason full of anticipation and planning, 8 p.m. can't come soon enough for Whittington.
"The staff started school on Monday and I must have had 15 different teachers come up to me that first day to talk about the football team," he said. "It shows the excitement level around here. We just can't wait to get out there and show everybody what this team is made of."
NOTES: Edison beat Oak Glen, 36-18, during Week 1 of the 2010 season. That was the first meeting between the schools since 1997. Oak Glen will open its new stadium next week in a Friday night showdown with Wellsville.