Grandstaff ‘anxious’ to see what Zanesville can do against Newark


By Nick McWilliams, Sports Director

Zanesville High School has taken down rival Newark 10 out of the last 11 years. But if you look closer at recent history, it’s been a very different rivalry game over the last few seasons than before.

After falling to the Wildcats in an embarrassing 41-0 drubbing in 2016, the Blue Devils escaped with a 23-19 win in John D. Sulsberger Stadium last year. After deep playoff runs in 2013 and 2015, Zanesville has combined for five wins through the last 20 games.

But that doesn’t bother head coach Chad Grandstaff. With more than a decade at the helm of Zanesville under his belt, he’s focused on what his team can be in the here and now, not the struggles of the past.

Getting back to their winning ways will take more than optimism and wishful thinking. But a key ingredient to that recipe is continuity, which the Blue Devils have been lucky to have throughout the summer.

“Coming off a couple Final Fours and then turn around and come off a couple losing seasons, we’re anxious to get back out there and get back to playing again,” he said after Tuesday’s practice. “We’ve had a great off-season. The kids have worked extremely hard, and I always tell people, ‘We started off with 47 guys in December and we still have 47 guys today. That part is exciting because everybody’s stuck to it, even though we put them through a grind.”

Thanks to a standout performance last year from Caine Martin out of the backfield (19 carries, 163 yards and a touchdown) and three field goals from then-sophomore kicker Gabe Dolen, the Blue Devils got off to a 1-0 start. With no Martin this season, Grandstaff will need a different workhorse at running back against the Wildcats.

Julius Murphy fits that bill, but the key to the run game might come from the push at the point of attack, rather than from the ball carrier.

“Jeremiah Hollins has done a great job here in the scrimmages, as have some of the other people, but he’s kind of standing out with some more leadership qualities,” Grandstaff said. “And that’s something we’ve been searching for with our team. Who’s going to provide that leadership and who’s going to hold everyone accountable at the same time.”

The Zanesville offensive line boasts multiple seniors, spearheaded by Hollins in the middle. Week 1 will bring a compelling test for the Blue Devils in the trenches with an athletic and hard-working defensive line in Newark across from them.

Defense could be the biggest question mark for Grandstaff’s team, after allowing 27.6 points per game in 2017 and giving up 40 or more points three times. Newark was limited it its rushing attack against the Blue Devils last year, but Grandstaff said run defense has been emphasized for his team in practice.

“Offensively, they have some really nice backs. And they run the ball well,” he said. “And (they have) a quarterback who manages the game and an offensive line that hustles.”

Zanesville’s back-to-back losing seasons have not chipped away at the confidence of Grandstaff or his players, but Friday’s showdown against Newark will be a good indication of what fans can expect from this years group.

Kickoff for the Friday night’s contest is 7 p.m. from John D. Sulsberger Stadium.