MORRIS – After missing the playoffs in 2013 and finishing 3-6, the Morris football team was 2-4 after six weeks last year and in danger of missing the postseason two years in a row.
But, the Redskins, who suffered some injuries early in the season, got healthy and caught fire, winning five straight, including two in the playoffs, before falling to Peoria in the Class 5A quarterfinals.
Coach Alan Thorson hopes to retain some of the momentum from that hot streak at the end of last year and carry it over into 2015.
“Like every year, we lost a lot of good guys from last year,” Thorson said. “We lost a three-year stater in T.J. Layne and two-year starters in Griffin Sobol and Jake Walker. Players like that definitely leave behind big shoes to fill.
“Having said that, we are excited for the new faces we have. I think we have a pretty good mix of guys who got a lot of playing time last year and some talented young players coming up.”
At the quarterback position, senior co-captain Nathan Guth will be in charge after the Redskins had Sobol calling signals for the last two seasons. Guth started at receiver and on defense in the latter stages of last season, and Thorson likes what he sees out of him so far.
“Nathan is our starter,” he said. “He knows the game and our offense very well and is very consistent. We like the way he throws the ball.”
Thorson also expects junior Ricky Del Favero to get some reps under center, as well.
Behind the quarterbacks will be a revolving door of capable running backs, one of the deepest backfields in recent memory. They will be led by fullback and junior co-captain Keagan Sobol, with juniors Michael Feeney and Michael Gerischer splitting time at halfback. When Sobol – who also will play linebacker on defense – needs a rest, look for senior Joey Webb to take over at fullback.
“Keagan is a very good fullback and can also play tailback if we need him to,” Thorson said. “Both Feeney and Gerischer are quality backs, and they will split time. That’s nothing against either one of them. It just means that we want both of them to get as many touches as they can.”
The receiving corps will be made up of seniors Delaney Stutzki at tight end and Jake Webb and Tommy Balentine at receiver. Converted quarterback Nathaniel Halcomb, a junior, and senior Cole Puckett also will be in the receiving mix.
Up front, the Redskins look to have a solid starting point, as senior co-captain Jackson Shannon anchors the line after starting all last season. He will be at right tackle, with fellow senior Michael Galifos at right guard. The center will be sophomore Nolan Feeney, with seniors Will Ringer and co-captain Ryan Niewinski splitting time at left guard next to sophomore left tackle Brennan Goff.
The defense, which will run a base 3-4, will be anchored by Niewinski at one of the ends. Sophomore Alonzo Enriquez will be the nose tackle, with Shannon, junior Jayson Podschwiet and senior Kyle Mullenberger rotating in at the other end. Look for Mullenberger to see more time as the season progresses as he is returning from a broken hand suffered in June.
At linebacker, Sobol and Ringer seem to have the starting nod in the middle, with the outside linebackers probably Feeney and senior Kyle Overton. Senior Joey Webb and junior Sean Grogan will be first in line to spell them when needed.
The defensive backfield was a group that impressed Thorson over the summer, with seniors Payton Bruyn and Jake Webb at cornerback and senior Guth and junior Michael Cryder at safety. Junior Austin Dearing will be next in line to play corner, while Del Favero will be the first off the bench to play safety.
“Overall, we’re pretty happy,” Thorson said. “It’s nice at this point of the season to not have a lot of question marks. That comes down to all the hard work these guys put in during the summer, since the end of last season, really.
“The kids are ready go get going. We’ve done some hitting drills, but they are ready to get out there and hit someone other than their teammates. We know we will have a tough schedule. There will probably be at least four playoff teams from our conference, so we’ll have plenty of challenges week in and week out. But these kids are confident.”
REDSKINS AT A GLANCE
Coach: Alan Thorson
2014 record: 7-5 overall, 2-2 in Northern Illinois Big 12 East
Classification enrollment: 884 (probable class 5A)
Offensive coordinator: Bill Lauer
Defensive coordinator: John Courter
Returning offensive starters: Nathan Guth, Keagan Sobol, Jackson Shannon, Michael Galifos, Jake Webb, Tommy Balentine
Returning defensive starters: Ryan Niewinski, Keagan Sobol, Joey Webb, Nathan Guth
August: 28 – Chicago Austin Polytechnic, 7 p.m.
September: 4 – at Washington, 7:30 p.m.; 11 – at Dundee-Crown, 7:30 p.m.; 18 – Sterling, 7:15 p.m.; 25 – at Yorkville, 7:15 p.m.
October: 2 – DeKalb, 7:15 p.m.; 9 – Kaneland, 7:15 p.m.; 16 – at Sycamore, 7:15 p.m.; 23 – at LaSalle-Peru, 7:15 p.m.