HOOPESTON — One point was clear to Jeff Ohlemeyer, Hoopeston Area’s football coach.
As he tries to resurrect a program which has totaled seven wins in the past seven years, he recognized that you don’t continue doing what was unsuccessful in the past.
This fall, he got rid of two-a-day practices.
The Cornjerkers’ third-year head coach replaced them by three-a-day workouts.
“A lot more work than last year,” senior quarterback Tate Compton said, “but the atmosphere is a lot different.”
The first seven days the team practiced, there were morning, afternoon and evening sessions.
Ohlemeyer hopes it’s the first step in a new direction.
“We’d be foolish to assume that we’ll get it completely turned around in a year,” he said, “but we feel the bulk of the teams are ones we can be competitive with.”
Hoopeston Area opens its 2009 season on Friday with a non-conference game against East Central at Shiloh High School.
Senior halfback Cody Eells wasn’t surprised by the additional practice time throughout the preseason.
“You’ve got to work hard if you want to have success,” Eells said. “It was not a big surprise.
“The kids are excited about this year. A lot are willing to work hard and there haven’t been a lot of complaints.”
Junior fullback Zach Thrasher will be both a ball carrier and an additional blocker in the backfield for Eells and senior halfback Andrew Vaughn.
“Cody is one of the fastest kids in the conference and if he gets a seam, he has big-play potential every play,” Ohlemeyer said. “Andrew is a hard-nosed runner and really steady.”
Eells has increased his weight from 145 pounds as a junior to its current 165.
“I worked out hard and watched what I ate,” said Eells, who consumed as many as 15 eggs a day to increase his proteins.
Eells is not the lone player with quickness.
“One of our big strengths is team speed,” Ohlemeyer said. “We’re not overly blessed with size, but we have enough size we can complement the speed.”
The offensive line will feature third-year starter Kyle Ramos, a junior, at center. Ramos is the lone returnee along the front line.
There will be physicality at guards where wrestlers Zack Judy, a senior, and Matt Watson, a sophomore, are solid.
At tackle, Ohlemeyer said, “it’s important we have someone who can handle quicker defensive ends.” Senior Gage Wilson (230 pounds) and junior Kody Prince (215) will fortify the tackle positions.
Ohlemeyer hopes the play-calling will be more balanced, or lean more toward the running attack this season. When pass plays are called, primary receivers will be senior Jason Leigh and junior Jeff Nolan.
Defensively, the Cornjerkers will alternate between four- and five-man fronts. Tackles are Prince, Ramos and Watson. The ends are Leigh and Thrasher.
Vaughn is projected to be one of the leading linebackers. Others who’ll see playing time include juniors Andre Colunga, Reuben Martinez and David Staples.
Whatever group is on the field, Compton observed, “our linebackers are a lot quicker.”
Judy and sophomore Wes Rush will play the cornerback positions with Eells trailing as the safety.
Offensively, he’s shifting into a more prominent role.
“I’ve been a receiver most of my career,” he said. “It takes a little getting used to.”
A win in the opener would snap a nine-game losing streak for the Cornjerkers.
“I guarantee we’ll go out at least believing we can win,” Eells said. “The last couple of years, if something went wrong, people would put their heads down. Our attitude is completely different this year.”
Though the varsity was 0-9 last fall, the freshmen and junior varsity squads fared better. The freshmen were 4-0 and the JVs were 4-4.
“The success on the lower levels will hopefully carry over,” Ohlemeyer said.
His coaching staff also includes Allan Baker, Brock Baker, Mike Kearney, Dave Page and Eugene Warner. Kearney is the defensive coordinator.
In all, the coaches are working with 40 athletes, 12 of whom are freshmen. Fourteen lettermen return.
“We’ve had great enthusiasm,” Ohlemeyer said. “It’s great to have a positive atmosphere.”