The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

High School Sports

August 29, 2013

Shady Spring optimistic despite rebuilding year

— 2012 IN REVIEW: Welcome to Class AAA.

Vince Culicerto spent seven years building Shady Spring into one of the top Class AA football programs in the state. The Tigers enjoyed their first-ever undefeated season in 2011, and concluded 12-1 after reaching the state semifinals.

Everything pointed to another banner year in 2012. All-State quarterback Adam Weeks was back, as were tailback-punter Houstin Syvertson, a strong supporting cast the skill positions and a solid offensive line, keyed by Tyler Harper.

There was a big obstacle, however. Shady got bumped up to the Class AAA ranks.

Playing in the faster and stronger division, against teams with more size and depth, the Tigers struggled. They finished just 5-5.

“We figured we’d be up there pretty decent in AA,” Culicerto said. “It was tough. We didn’t get a single AAA win.

“A lot of lines in AAA are one-way, and we were two-waying everybody. That works to your disadvantage. But we now know a little bit more about it and what it takes.”

A lot of that experience was lost to graduation, so Culicerto has his work cut out for him replacing Weeks, Syvertson (now at WVU), Harper, flanker Jordan Palchesko, lineman Marshall Meadows and tight end Jawan Rowe, among others.

WHO’S BACK: Three seniors will have to stand tall while their younger teammates learn the ropes.

Tyler Hanson, an offensive tackle last season, is coming into his own at fullback and linebacker.

“Tyler filled in where we needed him last year at tackle and defensive end. He was undersized, but he learned it and did a fine job,” Culicerto said. “Now he’s ready for what we throw at him.”

Brandon Bott was steady on the offensive line, but now will play in the defensive trenches as well. Parker Unroe was new at cornerback last year, but was solid by season’s end.

HIDDEN GEMS: Tim Culicerto, the coach’s nephew, transferred in from Woodrow Wilson and will replace Weeks at quarterback. He hasn’t played that position in several years.

“Tim is 6-foot-5 and was a wide receiver at Woodrow,” Vince Culicerto said. “He’s getting back into the rhythm at quarterback, and not doing bad at all. We’ll throw the ball as much as we can, but he can tuck it and run.”

If Culicerto is on, wide receivers Matt Plumley and Jordan Meadows will be major recipients of his passes.

Plumley saw limited football action, but ran track in the spring. “He can get  downfield good,” Vince Culicerto said. Meadows, playing football for the first time, is the quickest player on the team.

“Jordan has jumped in and worked hard. He’s small but he catches the ball well,” Culicerto said. “We’ll try to spring him loose.”

A junior, Jon Hardy, might surprise at tailback. He’s got good size, decent speed and runs hard.

Senior Robbie Perry will see some action at fullback or tailback. He spent much of last season on the injured list.

PUTTING POINTS ON THE BOARD: The Tigers will continue to mix the run and pass, and be fun to watch.

“We’ll mix it up and try our best,” Culicerto said. “We’ll still spread things out and bring it. We’ll try to do it all.”

A lot depends on the offensive line, and early on it will be more green than (Shady colors) old gold and blue. All five starters, plus several subs, are sophomores.

Jacob Cruise, a transfer from Graham High School in Virginia, brings good size at center.

Chase Lusk and Corey Handy are the guards, while Caleb Cantley and Jordan Allen are the tackles. Garrett Cantley (Caleb’s twin), Andrew Murdock and Brandon Bott will back them up.

Nick Bartusiak, who doubles as a soccer player for the Tigers, will handle kickoffs and all placekicking.

MAKING STOPS: Middle linebacker Isaac Smith is only a sophomore, but he’s a key man in Shady’s 3-5 defense.

“Isaac did great as a freshman in JV games. He was all over the field,” Culicerto said. “He smells out the ball pretty good. We have high hopes for him.”

Tyler Hansen and Robbie Perry are the other inside linebackers. Senior Cody Richmond and junior Levi Messer are on the outside. Seniors Cory Ellison and Cole McCormick provide depth.

Up front the Tigers will have Zach Hardy, a junior who didn’t play last year, at nose guard. Brandon Bott and Garrett Cantley are the tackles.

The backfield will feature returning starter Parker Unroh and Chase DeMoss at the corners. John Lively, a junior, and Jordan Meadows will also play there.

Tim Culicerto is the free safety, backed by junior Steven Chhabra.

Senior Patrick Sawyers, who punted for the JV team last year, will be the punter.

STANDING IN THE WAY: The Tigers will play six AAA teams this season, including Princeton, Logan and Greenbrier East in the first three weeks of the campaign. Oak Hill, Point Pleasant and Musselman are the other triple-A’s.

“The first one, Princeton, will be a real big one for this team,” Culicerto said. “We’re going to be week by week, playing a lot of young guys.”

Besides the big schools, the Tigers have Wyoming East and PikeView on the schedule, along with traditional county rivals Independence and Liberty.

WHAT’S IN STORE: Culicerto took last year in stride. Losing is part of the game, same as winning, and he recalls his early years at Shady all too well.

“Our first three years we were losing. Then we went on a roll,” he said. “We’re not going to write this year off.

“We have a lot of hope in our young bunch, and we have seniors who have waited their turn.

“We’re getting experience, getting better. We’re not staying the same. We’re fixing mistakes.

“It really is a rebuilding year, but if these guys keep getting better, we can have a decent season.”

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