JAMAICA -- All football coaches hope there will be no snags in their plans for a successful season, but Salt Fork coach Brian Plotner wouldn't mind some catches.
In fact, he's hoping for a lot of catches. As in receptions.
With a returning quarterback (senior J.D. Learnard) who passed for 1,756 yards last season, Salt Fork plans to continue gaining yards through the air.
"J.D. is a very valuable asset to have back," head coach Brian Plotner said. "He has a lot of skills, good arm strength and can deliver the ball."
Last year's top three receivers (Jon Knoll, Bryn Eakle and Brock Bodine) have all graduated and gone with them are 72 of the team's 92 pass completions.
"Those numbers and athletic ability will be tough to duplicate," Plotner said, "but we have a group with good ability who are capable of becoming solid receivers."
The one proven receiver (the only with one with than one varsity reception last fall) is senior Sean Nicholson. He'll be the tight end.
Others hoping to find themselves as the target for Learnard passes are junior Rileigh Darnell, junior Lance Hubbard, junior Joe Pratt, senior Reese Smith (who didn't play the past two seasons) and senior Chris Wills.
Plotner, however, hopes to make some changes in an offense where last year's top two receivers (Knoll and Eakle) gained more yardage than last year's top two rushers (Matt Ford and Jonathan Kunkel).
"The real difference between us and teams that have been better than us the last few years has been up front," Plotner said. "We have the capability to throw, but if we're going to be any good, our offensive line will have to be the strength of the team.
"Last year, that came back to hurt us. We relied on the pass and were not as effective running the ball."
Ford, last year's No. 1 rusher, returns. Others in line for duty in the backfield or at Salt Fork's slot position besides Ford and Hubbard are sophomore Cody Davis, sophomore Kye Draper and senior Chet Moreland.
The nucleus of the offensive line will include athletes who have played significant varsity minutes. Senior center Cody Nicholson will be a mainstay.
Four athletes have experience at guard, including junior Jordan Hallett, who has been shifted to tackle. Guard prospects include seniors Brad Collins, Brandon Tuggle and Caleb Williams.
Jake Manning is expected to be a fixture at tackle, along with Hallett.
"We look to that group to have the potential to be our backbone," Plotner said. "There's good size, strength and aggressiveness. This is a unit that could potentially put us on an even keel with some of those other teams."
Cody Nicholson, Hallett and Manning all tip the scales at 220 pounds, or more.
Tuggle, a two-way standout, is recovering from an ACL injury sustained in Week 6 last year. His recovery has provided the Storm a lift.
"He's an emotional, inspirational type player," Plotner said.
Like Tuggle, Williams will start defensively at linebacker. "Caleb was good last year and he looks exceptionally good this year," Plotner said. "We look for him to have a banner senior year."
Salt Fork's captains were chosen by a vote of the freshmen through seniors who played in 2007. The choices included both Nicholsons, Learnard, Moreland and Tuggle. That all are seniors is not surprising.
"The senior class has shown tremendous leadership and work ethic," Plotner said.
Plotner said the recognition for Moreland was especially fitting.
"No kid has worked harder than Chet to make himself a football player," Plotner said.
Overall, Salt Fork has 63 squad members, including 21 freshmen. Last year, there were 57 players at practice in the preseason.
Joining Plotner on the coaching staff are Dan Hageman, Doug Hageman, Joe Hageman, Chris Hodge, Steve Hodge, Les Siefert, Jamie Tate and Ryan Taylor.
The Storm opens its season on Aug. 29  against Arcola in Catlin. Salt Fork has two home dates in Catlin and two in Jamaica. The first game at Jamaica High School this season will be Sept. 19 against Milford.
Plotner is concerned about having his team ready for the first game, against an opponent which advanced to the Class 1A state semifinals last fall.
"Arcola is a tough draw," Plotner said. "We'll have to be in midseason form to play them."