VANDALIA — A year ago the Butler Aviator football team entered the season with high hopes and yes, some hype. Yet a slow start that included a four game losing streak derailed the Aviators’ playoff hopes.
2015 brings much of the same hope and potential, especially when considering that Butler returns most of its skill players and has a roster dominated by 19 seniors.
“We have a good group of seniors and most of them have seen varsity action, so we are going to lean heavily on them,” said Butler head coach Greg Bush. “Last year’s team learned that its one thing to play really good football and another thing to win a lot of football games. We have talked about finishing. All the little details matter because you don’t know which play will be the difference between winning and losing.”
During the losing streak a year ago, three of the losses were within a score: an 18-17 loss at Tecumseh, a 32-28 loss versus Wilmington, and a 28-22 loss to Xenia. In each of them, the Aviators had a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter.
“You have to take care of all the little things every snap of the football,” said Bush. “Take a snap or two away at Tecumseh, we win. Xenia, we win. Wilmington, we win. All of a sudden then you are talking about a 7-3 season instead of 4-6. We just didn’t finish.”
Bush said his team isn’t the biggest, but can make up for it in athleticism.
“I think we are pretty athletic,” said Bush. “We have lots of kids who are above average athletic. We don’t have kids who are 6’4” and 275 (pounds) but we have some hard-nosed kids. I think our athleticism will overcome some of the size issues.”
Returning at quarterback is Chandler Craine, a three-year starter. Craine threw for 1,437 yards a year ago on 117 completions and had 10 touchdowns. He also threw 14 interceptions, something Bush said Craine has worked on in the off season.
“Chandler seems to be really focused on making good decisions,” said Bush. “I think that’s an improvement for him. He’s always thrown a good ball, and now as we get closer to the season, he’s making really good decisions and reading defenses well.”
Dustin Lewis will serve as Craine’s backup, but will mostly line up as a receiver. Joining Lewis in the receiving corps will be Noah Ballard who caught 20 passes for 360 yards a year ago, Tyler Burley, Treylann Sanders, and Mark Verdes.
Handling most of the running duties will be Nic Martin who ran for 441 yards last year, Logan Flatt, and Matt Grossman.
Up front the Aviators return Tim Smith as the starting center along with Drew Sipos, Tyler Hoops, Devon Bean, and Delshon Williams.
“Devon Bean had a great off season and will start,” said Bush. “He’s been a pleasant surprise.”
Handling the primary kicking duties will Anthony Rigali for field goals and extra points, Drew Boren for kickoffs, and Lewis for punts.
“We have spent much more time on special teams,” said Bush. “Coach Mitchell has spent a lot of time teaching technique. Our kicking game should be much improved.”
On defense, the Aviators return their top three tacklers from a year ago in Martin (56), Vinnie Fiori (56), and Lewis (46). Fiori will line up as the nose guard, Martin and Grossman as the inside linebackers, with Gavin Kohler and Curtis Davis, Jr. as defensive ends.
Bush said several players are battling for spots as outside linebackers.
The secondary will be anchored by JP Anderson, Ballard, Lewis, and Zach Jackson, all of who have varsity experience.
“The hardest part on defense has been replacing coach Mike Berry,” said Bush.
Berry passed away this summer after a battle with cancer. Berry will be honored in Week 2 when the Aviators host Tecumseh.
“He has been in charge of defense for several years,” he said. “It’s been a learning curve in terms of responsibilities and expectations.”
The Aviators schedule is the same as last year, with the exception that the games are flipped home/away from a year ago.
Butler will open Friday night by hosting Shawnee in the annual Play for A Cure game that honors Blake LaForce, a former Aviator who passed away due to complications from battling cancer.
Week 2 will see the Aviators host Tecumseh, and then Butler starts a run of four straight games on the road. Butler will travel to Wilmington, Xenia, and Springfield before they open Greater Western Ohio Conference North division play at Piqua on Oct. 2.
“That’s a tough stretch of four straight road games,” said Bush.
The Aviators then host Sidney for homecoming on Oct. 9 and Greenville on Oct. 23. The season wraps up with a trip to Troy in Week 9 and hosting Trotwood-Madison in Week 10.
In sizing up the GWOC North race, Bush said it seems obvious.
“It’s Trotwood until someone beats them,” he said. “We have been successful in the league, but until someone beats them, they are the team to beat.”
Butler will compete in OHSAA Division II, Region 6 for playoff consideration – different from Division III that the Aviators were originally in over the summer. The OHSAA made a change in calculating enrollment figures in early August that returned Butler to Division II where it is among the smaller schools.
“I’ve resigned myself to just worry about us,” said Bush. “If you worry too much about who you play, you don’t have time for that. You just take care of your own players and coaches. We have to take care of the basics – blocking, tackling, and getting lined up right, executing plays – if you do that, you set yourself up for a chance at success.”
Bush said that the student-athletes who perform in Friday nights, including the band, Kickline, and cheerleaders, deserve the community’s support.
“This is a great atmosphere on Friday nights, its a great facility, and you get to see Vandalia’s youth doing something positive,” Bush said. “You can come here on a Friday night and watch kids just having fun whether they are in the band, cheering, on Kickline, in the stands yelling and screaming with their face painted, or on the field playing football. They are all out supporting their classmates and having good, clean fun. As an adult, it is helpful for those kids to know they have the support of the community.
“I hope we put a good product on the field, be it the band, the cheerleaders, the Kickline, or the football team. The bottom line is the community should support their endeavors. There is a big sacrifice in any extra-curricular activity. You don’t just show up and cheer. You don’t just show up and put a halftime performance together. You don’t just show up and put a dance routine together like the Kickline does, and you don’t just show up on Friday night and hope to play a football game. These kids commit countless hours to be good at that what they do, and it seems to me the community should support those efforts.”
Reach Darrell Wacker at 937-684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.