Football Preview | Southern enters new era they hope will field a competitive team

Aug. 31—OAKLAND — It's a new era for Southern athletics after longtime coaches Jon Nazelrod and Tom Bosley retired during the 2022-23 school year.

After Nazelrod spent 10 seasons leading the Rams, Steve Skipper took over for the 2023 season. Skipper was a running back and linebacker at Southern and graduated in 2002.

"Some of my favorite memories come from playing at Southern High School," Skipper said. "We played a brutal schedule, we were battle tested about every week. But it was a very great experience for me and my teammates. We still like to go back and relive the glory days."

Skipper spent the next four years at Frostburg State as a defensive back, mostly playing on special teams. In 2004, he was an All-Academic selection in the Atlantic Central Football Conference.

Skipper takes over a program that hasn't won more than one game in each of the last two seasons. Last year's only victory came in shutout fashion, defeating Hancock 53-0.

"Our players and coaches understand the challenges we face this season," he said. "We have a plan for both the short and long-term goals. The ultimate goal is restoring our program to be competitive again and one our community can be proud of."

Southern's closest losses were to Moorefield (21-7) and Pendleton County (19-0). All but one other game was decided by more than 40 points. The Rams were shut out in each of their final three games.

"When we met with the team, we tried to instill the importance of the offseason weight room program," Skipper said. "We had a pretty good February through May. Our summer program wasn't as well attended as I would've hoped, but these are the building blocks we'll continue to improve on each year."

This year's roster reflects the rebuilding mentality. Of the 37 players listed, 24 are underclassmen including 14 freshmen. Of the 11 upperclassmen, seven are seniors.

"Everything's new for everybody," Skipper said. "Pretty much our entire staff is new. The format, I think, is new to everyone. We're trying to get things established. Anytime you have a new routine, it takes a little longer. I'd like to be a little further than we are, but we're taking it a day at a time."

The Rams will run a multiple I set on offense. Southern will run-first and try to control the clock, passing when necessary. Skipper chose this offense because of a lack of numbers and conditioning, hoping to have 10 to 12 play drives to drain the clock.

Jacob Brown will start at quarterback (5-foot-10, 145 pounds, So.) and Gus Alvarez (5-4, 100, Fr.) and Hayden Williams (5-8, 145, Fr.) will back him up.

"He has a tremendous upside," Skipper said of Brown. "If he continues to work hard, he has the potential to be a very good quarterback when it's all said and done."

Elek Taylor (5-8, 160, Sr.) will play tailback and Reese Tasker (5-11, 180, So.) will be the fullback.

"Probably the toughest worker on the team," Skipper said of Taylor. "One of those lead by examples, not a big talker, rah rah guy. But he just works his butt off. Willing to do whatever he can to help the team. He's going to be a big factor in our offense."

The rest of the backfield consists of Ty Getson (5-8, 150, So.), Hayden Harvey (5-6, 135, So.), Anthonie Lewis (5-8, 155, So.), Dylan Hooks (5-7, 145, So.), Pierce Ramos (5-8, 175, Fr.), Will Dixon (5-11, 170, Fr.) and Connor Ayers (5-10, 170, Sr.).

Wyatt Dove (6-0, 165, Sr.) will start at wide receiver and Joel Campbell (6-3, 190, Jr.) will play in the slot.

"Another kid that works pretty hard," Skipper said. "He doesn't say much, but he's had a nice start to the season. He's missed most of his high school career with injuries and COVID, so we're not sure what to expect from him. But what he's shown, I think he can be a great contributor."

Brayden Kent (5-6, 115, Fr.), Ryan Ferguson (5-10, 140, So.), Kolton Michael (5-6, 125, Fr.) and Quintin Friend (5-10, 160, Fr.) are the other wide receivers.

Brayden Rodeheaver (5-8, 150, Jr.) switched from fullback to tight end and is the expected starter. Dayle McCombie (6-0, 166, Fr.) is the other listed tight end.

"Not the biggest guy, but he's very strong," Skipper said of Rodeheaver. "We expect him to do a nice job for us."

The offensive line also reflects the youth on this year's roster. Of the 17 linemen listed, 11 are underclassmen including six freshmen.

Jacob Hooks (5-9, 210, Sr.), Jacob Harvey (5-8, 190, Sr.), Keegan Stiles-Murphy (6-1, 288, Sr.) and Devin Hill (5-6, 185, Sr.) are expected to start somewhere up front.

Hooks will start at tackle and Ben Nazelrod (5-8, 165, Jr.) will start at one of the guard spots. Dameion Spiker (5-10, 205, Jr.) and Jackson Bittinger (6-0, 240, Sr.) are also competing for playing time.

"We're gonna ask our guards to do some pulling, so they're gonna be smaller, quicker guys," Skipper said. "Our tackles will be a little bigger, guards will be a little smaller."

The rest of the unit consists of Waylon Schroyer (6-1, 180, So.), Michael Lantz (6-1, 190, So.), Romello Haefner (5-9, 155, So.), Trenton Stonesifer (6-1, 163, So.), Ben Richards (5-9, 160, So.), Kevin Lipscomb (6-2, 255, Fr.), Owen James (6-0, 180, Fr.), Joseph Lambert (6-1, 290, Fr.), Lucas Moore (6-0, 186, Fr.) and Ryan Hill (5-6, 200, Fr.).

Everyone at offensive line except Haefner is also listed on the defensive line. Jacob Hooks will play defensive end with Harvey expected to play the other side.

Several players are competing for playing time at linebacker. Taylor, Tasker, Ryan Hill, Campbell, Nazelrod were mentioned as potential options.

Harvey, Lewis, Williams, Dylan Hooks, Ramos, Dixon and Devin Hill are the other linebackers

Ferguson and Rodeheaver will start at cornerback with Dove at safety.

"Our secondary has probably been the most improved," Skipper said. "Ryan (Hill) has been very coachable, works very hard. He's figuring it out."

Kent, Brown, Alvarez, Michael, Getson, McCombie, Ayers and Friend are the other defensive backs.

Hill will be the kicker. Tasker is expected to punt with Campbell in the mix. Taylor will return kicks and Campbell will return punts.

Playing in the WestMAC doesn't help a rebuilding program with Fort Hill and Mountain Ridge usually on the schedule. The good news for Southern is that both opponents must travel to Oakland.

"Allegany County is Allegany County," Skipper said. "That presents a huge challenge for us. I envision us getting back to a point where we can compete with those teams."

The Rams open the season against the Miners on Friday at 7 p.m.

Southern also hosts Moorefield, Albert Gallatin and Smithsburg this season. The Rams travel to Pendleton County, Allegany, Tucker County and Northern.

"This is a pivotal year for us," Skipper said. "We're really going to try and get the best experience we can for our seniors. I think we owe it to them."

Jordan Kendall is a Sports Writer for the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @JKendallCTN.