SIDELL — Uncertainty is the byword at Salt Fork football practices.
On one hand, veteran head coach Brian Plotner believes that the annual Storm quest is realistic.
“Our big goal is to get into Week 10. The playoffs,” he said. “The kids have worked hard enough to be in that position to contend.”
On the other hand, there’s the sobering realization of what faces Vermilion Valley Conference teams this fall.
“The conference is probably stronger than since I’ve been around,” Plotner said. “We have a challenging schedule.”
A piece of good news is that the offensive restructuring which took place in 2010 is much more familiar to the returning Salt Fork players.
“We installed the new offense last season and were behind the curve all season,” Plotner said. “A new system, especially an option-based system, takes time.
“It’s an advantage to have a year under our belts with the offense. We’re farther along with our offensive schemes.”
David Sacre, the quarterback the majority of 2010, is “more confident and comfortable,” Plotner said.
A source of worry is the offensive line.
“Our line has been small (in previous years) and we’re still not very big,” Plotner said. “A concern is, ‘Can we handle size?’
“We have a couple of kids about 200 pounds, but several at 165 to 175.”
Tackles Ricky Koss and Clay Manning played a year ago and guard Ryan Schonert was in a backup role. Seniors Cody Varner (guard) and Brandon Spencer (tackle) will contribute as will sophomore Steven Meade (guard). Junior Drew Cullom is the center.
“They work hard, but can we negate the size,” Plotner said.
The coaching staff has no shortage of candidates at the receiver and running back positions. Among the ends are Beau Biggerstaff, Adam Depratt, Nick Hedges, Luke Maddox and Kaleb Weaver.
Plotner expects to utilize the ends.
“We definitely need to improve our passing game,” he said. “We hope to use it more as a weapon.”
A year ago, Sacre completed 19 passes during a 6-4 season.
Fullback Brandon Dixon will be the offensive workhorse, but halfbacks Ryland Fluhr and Grant Ford are other potent runners.
Other prospects include juniors Garron Fathauer, Clayton Fauver and Colton Osborne as well as sophomores Garrett McFadden, Seth McLain and Cole Taylor.
Plotner sees one trait from 2010 which is still in existence.
“Chemistry was a big strength last year,” he said, “and so far, the kids have responded.”
Defensively, returning starters Ford and Schonert are line anchors. Varner and Alec Dutton are slated to be the ends.
Depth is prevalent at linebacker. The inside corps includes Fathauer, Manning, Meade, Osborne and Taylor. Competing at the outside spots are Spencer Berenz, Dixon, Fauver and McFadden.
Fluhr and Sacre are veteran starters at cornerback. Biggerstaff and Hedges are seeking playing time while Taylor Kirby and McLain are safety prospects.
Sophomore specialist Austin Ringus will handle the placekicking duties.
Four of five varsity home games will be played at Catlin. The exception is the Sept. 24 homecoming encounter against Bismarck-Henning, which will be held at Jamaica High School at 1 p.m.
This is the second year there are no lights at Jamaica, which precludes Friday night contests. Plotner is optimistic that will change.
“We want to find a way to have it done by next fall,” he said.
The team’s opener is Aug. 26 at Villa Grove.
Salt Fork has 50 total squad members, 15 of whom are freshmen.
The coaching staff includes Jason Baccadutre, Dan Hageman, Joe Hageman, Chris Hodge, Steve Hodge, Conner Plotner, Les Siefert, Ryan Taylor and Brandon Tuggle.