DANVILLE — The roster shows 23 seniors. Last year’s total offense leader is back. So is an all-conference offensive lineman.
But it will be a new-look Danville High School football team which will open the season at 7 p.m. on Friday at Whitesell Field against Urbana. Five offensive starters are back. Just four regulars return on defense.
Yet, coach B.J. Luke’s squad remains one of the state’s most respected in Class 6A. The Vikings were ranked first in the preseason 6A poll, released on Tuesday.
Senior quarterback Dennis Hightower will be the offensive catalyst. His 2010 combined rushing-passing yardage was 2,988 and he accounted for 45 touchdowns, 21 via rushing and 24 through the air.
“He’s a dual-purpose quarterback,” said Luke, who has directed back-to-back teams to the state semifinals.
Hightower is the only returning non-lineman who started on offense last season. The veterans up front include two athletes preparing for their third year of varsity duty, center Jacob McBride (279 pounds) and guard James Seyfert (215 pounds), who earned all-Big 12 accolades as a junior.
The other guard, Jon Lomax (260-pound junior), and tackle Dennis Rose (246-pound senior) also started on last year’s 12-1 squad.
Expected to complete the line is senior Bill Ertl (226 pounds). At tight end, Luke is looking at Schlarman transfer Tyler Mangum (271-pound junior) and Devyn McGuire (180-pound junior).
Senior Cirron Clark, junior William Morris and sophomore Chris Collier are among the running back candidates. Luke believes the offense could again be explosive.
“We have a chance to score some points,” he said.
Danville could have a rotation system at wide receivers. Among those making a favorable impression during training camp were four juniors: James Brown, Daniel Carter, Martez Davis and Justin Robinson.
“I really like the way we prepared over the summer, and lifted,” Luke said. “It has carried over. I’m pretty pleased with the effort.”
Though the defense has undergone major personnel changes from last year, tackling leader Guy Rowell returns as an inside linebacker. He had 165 stops a year ago, including 12 for loss. Devin Lewis will be the other inside linebacker.
On the outside could be senior Josh Robinson or Hightower, though Luke said he would prefer, “to keep Dennis off the field.”
In the secondary will be Clark, a pole vault state-qualifier in track, Collier or transfer James Brigham (from Indianapolis Ben Davis), Jaquante Sanford or even Hightower.
The defensive front could include Darrien Rose (313-pound freshman) or Brandon Hightower (244-pound junior) at noseguard. Tackle Aaron Hardiman (271-pound junior) started a year ago and end Anthony Mayfield (183-pound senior) also played regularly.
Luke hopes playing time at the other end slot will be shared between McBride and Seyfert along with senior Treshaun Whitfield (181-pound senior) in order to “keep kids fresh.”
Many of the 18 varsity juniors were part of last year’s 7-2 sophomore team.
The varsity will not have a kicker from the soccer team, but freshman Herb Gaston could handle the placekicking. Hightower will be the punter, with McBride backing him up.
“We’re different (from 2010) in some ways,” Luke said. “The quarterback position has gotten better (with sophomore Trent Sherfield as the backup). We’re more powerful up front, especially on the offensive side.
“Our back seven on defense are as talented as we’ve had. We’ll be a capable football team and will feel good going into every game.”
Junior Steve Williams, a receiver candidate, is the team’s hard-luck story in the preseason. He suffered a broken collarbone last year before the first game and this year broke the collarbone on the other side.
“He was working himself into the rotation,” Luke said. “He’s not afraid to catch the ball.”
The 115-pound Williams could return in about four weeks.
Luke’s staff includes Brian Anderson, Rich Dierking, Chris Dryer, John Fogleman, Marcus Forrest, Dan Hile, Carl Long, Frank Luzenske, John Pendleton, Steve Luke and Mitch Thomas.
They are working with 105 prospects, 35 of whom are freshman.
Whitesell Field is in the process of being renovated. New bleachers on the visitors’ side have been ordered and are expected to be installed by the second home game (Sept. 16). Also coming is a new scoreboard which could be in operation by the Centennial game.