MILFORD — He’s getting his players in the positions where they can best help his football team, but there’s still one question Milford/Cissna Park head coach Nate Albaugh is unable to answer.
What goals are realistic for the 2009 season, which will start with a Friday home game against Martinsville?
“What kind of expectations can you have for a team that’s 60 percent brand new,” Albaugh wondered.
Last season, Milford compiled a 5-4 final record and had 26 squad members at season’s end.
This year, thank to a co-op with Cissna Park that attracted 23 first-year participants, the MCP program has a squad of 62.
When the Bearcats open their season in three days, seven players on the offensive platoon will be playing in their first varsity game and five of them will be appearing in a football game for the first time.
“Everybody on the field is an athlete and they are competitors,” Albaugh said. “We feel confident we’ll be competitive at worst.”
The backfield will feature twins Kristopher Evans, at quarterback, and Kyle Evans, at fullback.
Albaugh said Kyle Evans, last year’s top rusher, is “twice as strong and twice as mature.”
The wingbacks will be two of MCP’s fastest players, newcomers Justin Flinkman and Kyle Popham.
“We lose a lot of experience (from the 2008 team), but we gain speed and athleticism,” Albaugh said. “We have four guys who clock in faster than anyone last year.”
That fleet group features Tyler Allison, Reed Anderson, Flinkman and freshman Alex Rabe. “And Popham is just a tick off where (Ryan) Kunce was last year,” Albaugh said.
Rabe is a two-time elementary school hurdles state champion who will be brought along slowly.
“He’ll play freshman football for a while, but we have our eye on him,” Albaugh said.
The coach plans to use receivers as messengers for sending in plays.
Allison, Anderson, Flinkman, Brooks Braymeyer and Beau Fitzgerald headline the receiving corps.
“At the skill positions, we look very good,” Albaugh said. “We’re deeper than we were last year.”
The offensive line is inexperienced, but Albaugh is undaunted.
“We’ll turn them into some players,” he said.
Senior Andrew Kelnhofer and sophomore Jake McCann are the candidates at center. Converted fullback Anthony Stebbins and Cole Muench are contending for the guard position opposite Brandon Hasselbring.
Travis McKay, Jordan Wyss and Bryan Yergler are the leaders at tackles.
“We won’t be the biggest offensive line, but we such as heck won’t be small,” Albaugh said. “We’ll average 200 pounds.”
Defensively, many of the same athletes will play prominent roles, starting with Fitzgerald and Yergler — and possibly Wyss — at ends. The tackles are Hasselbring and Kelnhofer.
Albaugh has four linebackers who will get “legitimate time,” he said.
Kyle Evans, Alex Kaeb and Stebbins are the starters with Popham stepping in so that each can get a series to rest.
Kaeb and Popham are two of the team’s rookies, but it’s not obvious.
“Watching them, you’d think they’ve been playing,” Kyle Evans said. “They are great athletes.”
Flinkman, who earned all-state mention in an eight-man league in Kansas in 2007, will be a cornerback. Opposite him will be either Allison, Aric Cooke or Cody Shippert.
Anderson and Kristopher Evans are the safeties. Kristopher Evans will also handle the punting and placekicking although junior John Karanja, a native Kenyan, could make an impact.
“There is so much buzz around the community and everyone is so excited,” Albaugh said. “In Cissna Park, this is a historic moment for their school. We expect a big crowd on Aug. 28.”
A roster with 16 seniors and 13 juniors is developing into a cohesive unit.
“This team of guys probably gets along better than any team I’ve ever coached,” Albaugh said, “and half of them didn’t know each other a month ago.”
Game time can’t arrive soon enough for Kyle Evans.
“All of us seniors and most of the juniors are pretty much gung ho,” he said. “We’re optimistic about what we see.”
The MCP coaching staff also includes Josh Feld, J.D. Jennings and Bob Luecke.