SIDELL — Salt Fork’s football program is not taking its consecutive playoff streak for granted.
The Storm have qualified for the postseason 11 years in a row. If the success continues, coach Brian Plotner can point to what his athletes did to put themselves in that position.
“The thing that stands out is how hard the kids worked in the off-season,” Plotner said. “This group has been exceptional.
“This is one of the least years where I’ve had to step into the weight room and get kids to be active and involved. These kids realize what they need to do to be where they want to be, and that drives them.”
One group Plotner believes has “a chance to be the strength of the offense,” is the line. For sure, “we will be significantly bigger up front.”
If the unit progresses as expected, the coach said, “that will help our running game advance to a higher level.”
All-conference center Drew Collom (230 pounds) returns to anchor the line. Junior Steven Meade (235 pounds) is a returning starter at right guard and junior Max Stutsman (220 pounds) was in the tackle rotation in 2011.
Senior Garron Fathauer (185 pounds) shifts from halfback to tackle. The top challengers at the other guard position are senior Hunter Tharp (220 pounds), a transfer from Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac, and junior Mason Harding (215 pounds).
In the backfield, Plotner has more questions than answers; more prospects than positions.
“We don’t have a go-to guy at this point,” Plotner said. “There will be opportunities for kids to get into games. We have more potential running backs this year than in the past. In years past, we had a guy to center stuff around.
“We don’t have a guy who’s clear-cut above. In this case, several could get time and we’ll see how they produce.”
The competition starts at quarterback where junior Taylor Kirby is being challenged by junior Jacob Hughes, a transfer from Bismarck-Henning.
“Taylor is a very good runner out of the option and Jacob has a stronger throwing arm,” Plotner said.
Senior Clayton Fauver, who “won’t be off the field a ton,” according to Plotner, is a fullback candidate along with senior Colton Osborne and junior Cole Taylor.
Fauver and Taylor are among the halfback prospects. They are joined by Kirby — if he’s not the quarterback — juniors Nick Hedges, Seth McLain, Garrett McFadden and senior Spencer Berenz.
Fauver (338 yards) is the top returning rusher from 2011. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry last season.
The recurring theme is how many underclassmen could be in positions of prominence.
“We have a lot of juniors who have to step into varsity roles,” Plotner said. “If the juniors play like seniors early-on, we have a chance to have a good record.”
Plotner anticipates more of a passing threat than in the first two years after he revamped the offense.
“We’ve worked on the passing game to try and elevate where it has been,” he said. “In 2010, we initiated the offense. This is the third year we’ve run and we’re trying to get the passing game more of a viable part of what we can do.”
The receiving threats include junior Luke Maddox, the third receiver a year ago, senior Alec Dutton, who was a quarterback until last year, and Hedges.
“Both of our quarterbacks are capable throwers,” Plotner said.
The Storm’s defense will feature many of the same cast of characters.
Dutton and Tharp are in line for positions at the ends, with Berenz and Stutsman available for duty. Collom — a former end — will be at tackle. Other front line hopefuls include senior Casey Funk, junior Tyler Johnson and Harding.
There’s experience among the linebackers. Fauver (a two-year starter) and McFadden (who started in 2011) are outside anchors. Meade (who also started in 2011) is an inside linebacker. Fathauer and Taylor are other prospects inside and Osborne could see time outside.
The secondary will feature an all-underclassman unit. Safety Kirby is the lone returnee. Hedges, McLain, Maddox and sophomore Colten Fauver will fill the cornerback slots.
Meade (114 stops) was the top Salt Fork tackler last season (ranking 10th in the area) and Kirby led the team in interceptions (three).
Junior Austin Ringis and Tharp are battling for placekicking chores. Ringis kicked 19 extra points last fall. Dutton, Ringis and McFadden are seeking to be the punter.
“We have a lot of competition all the way across the board,” Plotner said.
The picture looks bright, Plotner believes.
“We have the potential to be a good football team,” he said. “I believe we can be pretty good by the end of the year.”
Salt Fork opens its season on Aug. 24 at Arcola. The home-opener at Catlin will be on Aug. 31 against Martinsville. The home-opener at Jamaica will be Sept. 14 against Milford, which will mark the first varsity night game at Bob Yeazel Field since 2009.
Salt Fork ran the table last year during the regular season (shutting out three opponents) before ending a 9-1 season with a 14-13 playoff loss to Central A&M.
Eight seniors are among 58 squad members, a total that includes 25 freshmen.
Thursday: Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman