SIDELL — The roster shows three starters returning for Salt Fork on offense and three on defense.
For a program seeking a ninth consecutive playoff berth, those numbers could be alarming.
Coach Brian Plotner said, however, the Storm has more experience than what appears.
Two prominent ballcarriers this season, Cody Davis and Kye Draper, were supporting players a year ago.
“In a normal year, Cody and Kye would have started,” Plotner said. “With the seniors we had, they were more role players, but we knew they were good players as sophomores.”
Now they are juniors. The 215-pound Davis bench-presses 315 pounds and Plotner said, “he’s our strongest kid.”
Draper, Drew York and Brandon Dixon are the prospects at running back. Draper is ready for a breakout season.
“No kid has worked as hard as Kye in the offseason,” Plotner said.
At quarterback is senior Joe Pratt, who last year was one of the go-to receivers for the graduated J.D. Learnard, the area passing leader.
“Joe has the ability to throw, but we’re looking at more of a dual threat with him,” Plotner said. “He can move the ball with his feet.”
Wingback Lance Hubbard is one of the holdover starters on offense, along with tackles Jordan Hallett and Jake Manning. Hallett also bench-presses 315.
“A lot of people doubt this team, but we have the work ethic to put us farther than we went last year,” Hubbard said.
Continuing the postseason streak is paramount for the Storm.
“Our motto is, ‘Tradition comes with responsibility,’” Hubbard said. “Every year, we work hard to keep the tradition going.”
Added Pratt: “After eight straight years in the playoffs, we don’t want to be the ones who lets it down. That makes us work so much harder.”
Hubbard could be the ‘X factor’ for the offense.
“Athletically, he’s as good as anybody in the conference,” Plotner said. “He’ll get his catches and carries.”
The other offensive linemen include center Tyler Ball and guard Nevin Grant. Senior Aaron Taylor is challenging junior twins Luke and Matt Delbridge for the other guard slot.
Manning doesn’t anticipate a letdown from Salt Fork.
“A lot of people think this is the year they’ll get Salt Fork,” Manning said. “We do have a young team, but we have someone who can fill the shoes of everyone who left.
“We’re excited, and nervous.”
Tight end prospects include Blake Bodine, Sean Cox, Rileigh Darnell and Jeremy Homan.
The Storm will open the 2009 season on Aug. 28 at Arcola.
“For as young as we are, we’ve looked good,” Pratt said.
Plotner and staff are working with a squad of 53, 13 of whom are freshmen.
Joe Hageman will take over as the offensive coordinator. Other returning coaches are his father, Dan, brothers Chris and Steve Hodge, Les Siefert and Ryan Taylor. They are joined by newcomer Rodney Redfern.
Defensively, the returning starters are Manning at end and cornerbacks Pratt and Darnell. Darnell had five interceptions as a junior.
Manning transferred to Salt Fork from Centennial prior to his sophomore season and has been accepted like he grew up in the area.
“The past couple of years have been really fun,” he said. “I wouldn’t pick any other school in the state to play for.”
Ball and Grant are working at the end opposite of Manning. Tackles Dustin Dixon, Hallett and Taylor have “good size and strength,” Plotner said.
Salt Fork has more depth at linebacker than any other position.
“Numbers are not a problem,” Plotner said. “We have a lot of youth and inexperience, but the upside is, they’re pretty good.”
Draper and Hubbard will anchor the linebacking corps. From there, Plotner could call upon a series of underclassmen such as juniors Davis, Matt Delbridge, Tony Marrow and York as well as sophomores Brandon Dixon, Grant Ford and Clay Manning.
Bodine and Ryland Fluhr are battling for the other cornerback position. The competition at free safety includes senior Homan, junior Conner Plotner and sophomore David Sacre.
“We have a lot of question marks,” Brian Plotner said. “By the end of the year, potentially, we could be pretty good.
“What’s exciting, yet nerve-wracking is that the three upper classes, on their own, are not enough, but collectively there’s nice blends.”
Including last year’s 12-1 season, Salt Fork has won 44 of 57 games the past five seasons.