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December 5, 2020

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Ada gridders look to bounce back in 2019

Hull regains starting QB job, will lead potent offense

By Cort Reynolds
ADA - Behind a potent offense, the 2019 Ada football team looks to rebound from an injury-plagued season as the Bulldogs come off their first sub-.500 campaign in 15 years.

A potentially explosive offense could help the Bulldogs return to playoff and league contention.

After winning their 2018 opener the injury bug bit Ada hard, and the purple and gold managed just one victory vs. Delphos Jefferson over the final nine games. The Bulldogs missed the playoffs for only the second time in the last 12 seasons.

However, there was a silver lining to all the tumult and adversity.

"Because of injuries and youth last year, we played a lot of young and inexperienced kids who are now sophomores and juniors," said second-year head coach Shawn Christopher, an Ada native and former Bulldog gridder.

"Now we have a lot of guys back who have gotten significant snaps and experience," he continued. "Every one of our players has the ability to give us significant contributions."

The 2019 Bulldogs boast 16 lettermen and 16 full or part-time returning starters on their 41-man roster.

"We developed a lot of depth, especially at quarterback," Christopher continued. "But it will be Brandon Hull who starts at QB this year. He is a great athlete with a lot of upside. He also shows good leadership.

"With the aid of our new quarterbacks coach (ex-Ada standout and NFL QB Zac Dysert), Brandon will have a deeper, improved knowledge of the fundamentals," he added.

Junior Hull began 2018 as the starter but suffered hip and shoulder injuries that relegated him to the sidelines and then receiver status. A good competitor and improvisor, he showed good running ability and passing skills before getting hurt.

"Brandon's leadership has improved daily in pre-season, and he is becoming an elite leader," said Christopher. "Our senior have also doena great job leadership-wise."

Phillip Coulson filled in at QB the last two-thirds of the campaign, and showed flashes of excellence with a solid arm, fine running ability and determination. But he may be best suited to utilizing his hands, speed and skills at receiver.

Christopher plans to have a balanced spread offense Ada with the pass and some running plays, mostly by Hull and strong, hard-nosed senior tailback Landon Blankenship. He is a very determined runner who is rarely taken down by the first tackler.

In all, nine full or part-time starters return to an offense that could be very potent.

Senior left guard Logan Conrad returns with senior center Bryce Paul as starters on the offensive line.

Sophomore left tackle Carter Nelson, right tackle Devon Cole and senior right guard Dylan East will fill out the five-man starting offensive line.

"The offensive line is a veteran group who has a great knack fr football," said Christopher.

Intense senior Landon Blankenship will start at running back. He was the top Bulldog ground-gainer last year despite battling through several injuries.

A talented and deep six-man wide receiver starting corps will compete for four main slots.

Top returning wideoutss are elusive, hard-running senior Phillip Coulson, speedy junior Zac Swaney and junior Daniel Mattson. "All three are very athletic," said Christopher.

Promising newcomer Will McBride projects as the fourth starter. He is "physical and has great hands; he reminds me of some of our good receivers from the past. He creates separation well and plays relentlessly."

Senior Kyle Zimmerly "is a grinder," he added of the projected fourth starting receiver. Speedy sophomore Keagan Hull "is a physical specimen."

Ada will utilize co-offensive coordinators (Dysert and Jake Blevins) in 2019, with Blevins coaching from the press box upstairs while Dysert coaches on the field.

"Those two have taken the offense and run with it in pre-season," said the coach.

"With a veteran offensive line and athletic skill players, we should be able to score some points," Christopher observed.

After serving as defensive coordinator at Ada from 2013-17, Christopher re-assumes the position. "We will run out of a lot of different formations on defense," he predicted.

Four starters are back on the defensive side of the ball.

Strong senior Ty Miller will help anchor the five-man starting defensive line. The defensive line will be manned by Miller, East, sophomore Kadin Phipps, sophomore Brandon Paul and Nelson.

Senior starter returnee Holden Purdy is back as a letterman starter at linebacker. He is an aggressive player who was plagued by injuries last season. Bryce Paul is also penciled in as a starting linebacker.

"Bryce has really stepped up in pre-season," said Christopher. "His development has allowed Danny Thompson and Lester Amos to move to defensive line to give us much-needed depth there."

Christopher feels the strength of the defense lies in its experienced secondary. "That is what we will hang our hat on," he said. "Our secondary looks pretty good with four starters back."

Sophomore Keagan Hull and Coulson return at the safety spots, with 6-3 soph Cayden Murphy and speedy, energetic junior Swaney manning the cornerback spots.

"Keagan is a physical safety who has great natural skills," Christopher noted.

Kicking duties will be handled by punter/kicker Miller, with Coulson booting extra points and Purdy the backup place-kicker. "Ty has a live leg and is a college-level punter," said Christopher. "All he needs is more consistency."

The punt and kickoff return units will be led by the elusive trio of Swaney, Coulson and Mattson. All three are big-play makers capable of breaking off long returns.

It will be a family affair for the duo snapping and holding for PATs. Bryce Paul will serve as the snapper, with his brother Brandon manning the holder duties.

In the NWC race, Spencerville is the defending champion and the top team. "Sommers is a fantastic coach. But Columbus Grove has the most athletic group," he offered. "Crestview lost a lot."

"As for Ada, we can compete for the league title," he predicted, hoping that the team can turn its unlucky 2018 into 2019 success. "When you have a lot of injuries a lot of others get key experience."

Ada opens its 2019 schedule at home vs. New Bremen in the first-ever meeting against the underrated MAC foe. The Bulldogs then visit non-league foe Arlington, followed by a road game at local rival USV.

"Our first goal is to be 3-0 in non-NWC games," said Christopher. "Second, we want to compete in the NWC."

The league opener is home vs. Bluffton in week four, followed by a road game at last year's last-place team, Delphos Jeff. Ada then visits Spencerville, hosts talented Grove and goes to Crestview in week eight.

Ada ends the season with home games with improved Paulding and backyard rival Allen East. Both teams ended long losing streaks vs. Ada in 2018.

"Third, we want to make the playoffs," the coach added.

Meeting that last goal will be more difficult with a move from region 22 to 23 this season. "Region 23 is tougher than 22 with LCC, Coldwater and some other MAC teams," Christopher noted.

Spencerville, St. Henry, Minster, Columbus Grove, St. Henry, Ft. Recovery, Gibsonburg and Allen East are also among the 27 teams in the very tough region 23.

The Bulldogs are 11-12 all-time in 12 post-season appearances, and have made the playoffs every year since 2006, except for 2014 and 2018. Their first playoff showing came in 1994.

"This is a team that I really like," Christopher summed up. "The leadership shown by our players has been fantastic. Our skill players all have speed, and all have the ability to be playmakers. We have a lot of returning talent.

"A lot of guys played significant time last season (with all the injuries), but some will have to adjust to new roles and positions," he noted.

"But if we continue to grow on both sides of the ball, we will look to make a run and be a top contender in the NWC," he added.