Aug 21, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Mike Smart has seen a fair amount of high points – and low points – in his tenure as Jordan-Elbridge’s varsity football coach. So it makes his words on the eve of the 2012 season carry a bit more resonance.
“Our program is as high as it’s been in 10 years,” he said.
There is reason for that optimism. A season ago, with just 24 players on the roster, the Eagles managed to scrape together a 4-4 record, and were close in every contest but one heading into the fourth quarter.
And that was done with just eight playoff qualifiers in Class C, two in each division. This fall, that number doubles, to 16, which means four of the six playoff-eligible teams in the C West division will get into the post-season, which starts on Oct. 12.
The improvement shown in 2011 has led to increased participation, as 34 players are on J-E’s roster for this Friday’s opener at Hannibal. Of them, 15 are sophomores, meaning that, if they stay with football, the Eagles could have stable numbers all the way through the 2014 season.
“We have a nucleus of guys with some talent,” said Smart.
That begins with fullback Colby Trexler, the key returning figure on the offensive side. Trexler rushed for 646 yards in just six games last fall, averaging nearly seven yards per carry. Despite a modest 5-foot-6, 160-pound frame, Trexler, said Smart, has the ability to shake off tacklers and pick up big gains.
Otherwise, there’s lots of changes in the backfield. Adam VanWart moves from wingback to tailback, with Brad McMahon taking over Van Wart’s spot. And two other backs, seniors Tyler Landers and Luke Schwarting, are now situated on the offensive line, where Smart said their experience and intelligence will prove valuable.
Two members of that large sophomore class, Austin Barrigar and Ryan Cooper, are still battling to see who will start at quarterback. Whoever doesn’t land the job will move to wide receiver, where Wesley Gallo is in place alongside Sean Ryan at tight end.
Part of the reason Landers and Schwarting moved to the front line was the dearth of experience there. Just one starter is back – tackle Mike Caspari, at 280 pounds the biggest presence up front. Schwarting is at tackle, while Landers joins Justin Quinn at the guard position and Payne Roberts takes over at center.
Youth is also evident in J-E’s defense. Sophomore Paul Russo joins a line where junior Dan Kopp already has varsity experience, while Caspari, Ryan and Roberts add further depth.
A freshman, Lamatt Chisholm, and a sophomore, Ryan Matousek, could start at outside linebacker, bracketing Landers and Schwarting inside. Amid a three-man secondary, VanWart anchors at safety, with Trexler and McMahon at the cornerback spots.
Part of J-E’s possible ascent is a dose of the spotlight. The Eagles’ home opener, on Sept. 6 against Skaneateles, is a Thursday-night game televised locally by Time Warner Cable Sports.
It’s a chance for the school to spotlight all the changes at its home field. J-E moved back home last fall after playing its entire 2010 schedule on the road, and Smart had high praise for the field house, new parking lot and bleachers that accompanied the renovations.
Even with a young roster, Smart said he still wants to improve on that 4-4 mark and avoid the ups and downs that characterize J-E and so many other small-school football programs.
“Our hope is to be better than last year,” he said. “We’re moving in the right direction.”