PETERSBURG, W.Va. — After nearly 20 years, Donny Evans is back at Petersburg, this time back in West Virginia Class A and hoping for a longer and more successful stint after having spent the previous 18 years as an assistant for a handful of teams and a youth football coach last season.
Evans was the head coach of the Vikings in 2002, a year that featured a stacked area Class AA lineup with 9-1 (regular season) Keyser reaching the state semifinals and quarterfinalist Frankfort (8-2) seeded two spots below Keyser, who was No. 2 in Class AA.
Since his one-year tenure at the helm at Petersburg, Evans has made pitstops at Moorefield, Musselman, Martinsburg and Hampshire before coaching the Romney Pioneers in 2019.
“I’m from the area,” Evans said, who played running back and wide receiver at East Hardy. “I lived up there for a number of years and know a lot of people in the area. I know a lot of guys in the school and county. The opportunity to be successful there … I just wanted to have the opportunity to go back there to coach there again.”
Evans’ stints as an assistant with Musselman and Martinsburg under legendary high school football coach Dave Walker have been paramount to his development as a coach.
“Tremendously,” Evans said of how his diverse portfolio can help turn the Vikings into yearly playoff contenders. “I learned a great deal at Musselman on how to show discipline to the team; and under Coach Walker, he taught me how to conduct practice and develop young players into a state championship team. I’m trying to bring those things to Petersburg — get kids working hard and perform at a high level.”
Evans takes over a Petersburg team that went 4-6 last year, but is just two years removed from its first playoff appearance since 1993. The 2018 Vikings (7-3) were led by quarterback Jacob Hartman, who averaged nearly 280 all-purpose yards per game and completed almost 60% of his passes.
The elephant in the room heading into the 2020 season though, of course, is the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When I first got hired, it was a challenge,” said Evans. “I never got a chance to meet the guys in-person at that time. We set up some social media stuff to get things out to parents and contact players by phone and what not, any way we could get guys into playing. We showed players our ethics and things of that nature.
“I got a lot of our offensive and defensive stuff out that way (through social media). So when we got into our phases, we kind of knew what we were doing, so we didn’t have to spend as much time going over that. We had practices set up really well and we were able to get as much in as possible.”
Evans’ play style will revolve around speed, running a spread offense and a mix of a 3-3 and 4-2-5 on defense.
“We want to get our athletes in space and give them the opportunity to make plays on offense,” he said, “and on the flip side, use that speed to apply pressure and make hits on defense.”
Fortunately for Evans, the blocking for his athletes on offense should be top-notch, and fans can expect the same dominance in the trenches on the defensive end.
“We have a lot of experience on our line,” he said, “so we can control the line on offense and defense and open up skill positions. It makes things a little easier.”
But Evans and his team know they have a line to toe as it pertains to COVID-19 and its ability to impact their season.
“I would say the biggest unanswered question right now is how we’re going to compete at a high level every week,” he said. “We can’t be complacent or take things for granted. As we’ve seen, this season could be taken away at any time.
“We need to focus on working hard and getting better today. Do the small things and everything will take care of itself. With so many seniors, there’s a lot of expectations and goals, so we just have to stay focused.”
Making up the Vikings’ offensive line is Blake Loy (5-foot-10, 275 pounds, senior) at center, with Owen Kitzmiller (5-11, 250, Sr.) and Ryan Riggleman (5-4, 160, So.) beside Loy at the guard spots. Aedan Lott (6-1, 235, Sr.) and Grant Brill (5-10, 225, Sr.) will man the outsides at tackle.
“We are physical,” Evans said of his offensive line. “We have some size, average about 255 on there. Even though we’re kind of bigger, we are able to have some speed where we can move, but they are pretty sound.
“They have experience from playing over the last several years. They’re talented and they’re able to do a little bit of everything.”
Also seeing time on the offensive line will be Zane Watts (5-6, 240, Sr.), Chevy Brown (6-3, 285, Sr.), Blake Turner (5-10, 225, So.), McKale Schultz (5-9, 215, So.) and Levi Alexander (5-8, 190, Jr.).
Returning at quarterback is Cody Nuzum (6-1, 175, Jr.).
“He’s a really good quarterback, he just needs more confidence as he understands our offense more,” said Evans. “He has a decent arm that allows him to throw all kinds of different passes, but he also has some legs on him. He’s pretty versatile, so it’s just a matter of him understanding some things we’re asking of him right now.”
The Petersburg backfield has a little bit of flavor to fulfill anyone’s taste palette. The run game will be led by seniors Montana Sindledecker (6-0, 185) and Jacob Perez (5-10, 160), with Sindledecker being the power back and Perez being the finesse runner.
Also getting snaps out of the backfield will be Peyton Day (5-10, 165, So.), Tyler Saville (Sr.) and Wyatt Arbaugh (6-2, 200, Sr.).
The Vikings will be running plenty of four-wide sets in their spread offense, with seniors Charlie Moomau (5-10, 175) and Jacob Landis (5-9, 145) expected to carry the load. Working the snaps in the other two spots are William Vanmeter (6-0, 160, So.), who is also listed as the team’s backup quarterback, Austin Berg (Sr.), McCoy Fitzwater (5-10, 160, Sr.) and Kason Rogers (5-1, 155, Sr.).
“I believe we have a lot of guys that can go up and catch, but they’re really good blockers,” said Evans. “We run the ball out of our four-wide set, so blocking ability will be a key factor.”
On the defensive line, Kitzmiller and Lott will man the defensive end spots, with Brown and Watts rotating in. Brill and Arbaugh will work at nose guard.
Getting time at middle linebacker will be Moomau, Sindledecker and Isaih Profitt (6-0, 160, Sr.), while outside linebacker will consist of Fitzwater, Day, Berg and Landis, the latter two of which can also play cornerback.
Vanmeter and Perez will play cornerback, while Nuzum will roam at free safety.
“I want us to get after the football,” Evans said of his mentality on defense. “We want to be the aggressor and dictate what the opposing offense does. We want to get after the QB, be fast and physical, things of that nature.
“I think our secondary is really good right now. We have several young guys stepping up elsewhere. They’re very poised to do some things and create turnovers to set us up with offensive scores. Our middle linebackers are getting better every day. We had to move some guys around because some haven’t played middle linebacker before, but they’re getting better each day.”
Evans’ second tenure got off to a sour start as the Vikings fell to East Hardy, 33-0, last Friday. Petersburg hosts Pocahontas County tonight.
Kyle Bennett is a sports reporter for the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @KyleBennettCTN.