MILFORD — Between the offensive and defensive platoons as many as nine sophomores may be playing regularly for the Milford/Cissna Park Bearcats.
“That’s a lot of youngsters starting,” head coach Nate Albaugh said, “but the good news is this sophomore class is the most talented we’ve ever had.”
When MCP has the ball, there will be just two returning starters and one of those is a sophomore: quarterback Jacob Marquez. Wingback Beau Anderson (senior) is the other holdover.
Anderson was the top receiver on last year’s 4-5 team, hauling in 19 passes for 342 yards and four touchdowns. Marquez completed more than half of his passes (43 of 79) for 637 yards.
Both fullbacks are sophomores: Devon Laubscher and Jake Rogers as is one of the halfback candidates, Corwin Allen. Junior Josh Marquez will also see time in the backfield.
The halfbacks offer a contrast. Allen is quicker; Josh Marquez is shiftier.
Prominent receivers will be senior Alex Rabe and junior Tyson Rogers. Senior transfer Josh Rattazzi will be the tight end.
“We have a good tight end, and three good receivers, but we’ll be a run-first team,” Albaugh said. “We have some serious passing threats, but based on our philosophy, we must be able to run the football.”
Though inexperienced, the offensive line has adequate size. The tackles are Ben Henrichs (225 pounds) and Austin Woodby (250 pounds). Cooper Egoff (250 pounds) is the center. The guards are Josh Linder (195 pounds) and Matt Birr (190 pounds).
Linder spent time in the backfield in 2011 and rushed for 223 yards.
Of that line group, Egoff, Birr and Woodby are sophomores. Henrichs is a junior and Linder is the lone senior veteran. Though he stands 5-8, Henrichs is the team’s strongest athlete.
Available in reserve are senior Brandon Schroeder (290 pounds) at tackle and sophomore Andrew Allen (180 pounds) at guard.
Schroeder will be an anchor on the defensive line and, Albaugh said, “as the season goes on, we will get him in more and more on offense. The ultimate goal is to have him in full-time (on offense) by the end of the year.”
Defensively, the 6-foot-4 Schroeder will be at noseguard, flanked by ends Henrichs and sophomore Ralph Taylor (235 pounds).
Albaugh has no shortage of capable linebackers, including Rattazzi, Jake Rogers, Linder, Anderson, Rabe and Corwin Allen.
In the secondary, Tyson Rogers and Laubscher are the cornerbacks and Josh Marquez is the safety.
Placekicking duties could be handled by sophomore Andrew Mussard or Rabe or Jacob Marquez.
MCP has 28 athletes on its varsity roster. Fourteen are sophomores. Seven are seniors. There are 13 freshmen, none of whom are on the varsity unit.
“The future is very bright,” Albaugh said, “but this group feels like they’re ready now.”
The Bearcats have set their goal to be contenders in the Vermilion Valley Conference, a league where Bismarck-Henning and Salt Fork received votes in the preseason state rankings and Westville is another highly regarded team.
“I understand all three of those teams are really good,” Albaugh said. “We’d love to be in the mix. Our kids see no reason we shouldn’t compete with all of those teams.”
A prominent trait, on both sides of the ball, is quickness.
“As for team speed, this is the fastest team I’ve coached here,” said Albaugh, who is in his fourth year with MCP and second in a row. “We’re not very big, and if you’re not very big, you’d better be fast.”
Preseason conditioning has prepared the Bearcats for the rigors of playing both ways.
“We feel better about their endurance,” Albaugh said. “We’re in better shape than in past years.
“This was probably the best summer we’ve had, as far as the amount we got installed.”
The Bearcats are also stronger.
“We started a weight training class in Milford last year for the first time,” Albaugh said, “and we’ve seen a lot of gains from that.”
The Bearcats start their eight-game schedule on Friday at home against Tri-County. The week 2 game against East Central will also be at Jack Shanks Field, in Milford. The team was unable to fill its Week 9 opening, a void which occurred when Hoopeston Area decided to field a junior varsity-only team in 2012.
The Milford/Cissna Park coaching staff includes assistants Sid Allen, Michael Franey, J.D. Jennings, Bob Luecke and Clint Schwartz.
Thursday: Danville High School