DANVILLE — Mike High took note of his offensive line at a practice earlier this week.
There was a junior at center, a sophomore and a freshman at tackles and two sophomores at guards.
“In a perfect world, you would like numbers in the senior class,” High said, “but this is the same situation as if there were an injury (to a senior). We have to move on.
“Hopefully, it will make us better for the future.”
In High’s first year of his third coaching stint at Schlarman, the roster shows two seniors, seven juniors, 14 sophomores and nine freshmen.
One of the juniors, running back Trent Mangum, has been slowed by a groin injury and is not expected to be available for Schlarman’s opener. Another junior, tight end Alex Torres suffered a back injury last week and his status is unknown.
These are the latest struggles for a program which won back-to-back state championships in the 1980s, but has fallen on hard times in recent years. When current senior Anthony Drake was a sophomore, varsity football was dropped for a year due to lack of numbers.
“It’s a little frustrating, but we’re working hard and there’s a whole bunch of enthusiasm,” Drake said.
High senses the same attitude.
“The kids want to make things work,” he said. “With only two seniors, you hope you get better week to week.”
The Hilltoppers have veterans with junior Heath Goodwin at quarterback and senior Kyle Golden at wide receiver.
The participation level of seniors is not surprising, Golden said.
“It’s mostly a girl class,” he said.
As freshmen, there were three representatives from the Class of 2010. The third is still playing football, but Solomon Crenshaw transferred to Danville High during the summer.
“I hope we can be competitive,” Golden said.
As High sorts through the prospects, he’s encouraged about the likelihood for success in the future.
A two-way mainstay will be Tyler Mangum, a 6-foot-3, 280-pounder who could be one of the area’s top freshman. He’ll play at tackle and noseguard, but in certain situations could be a running back or a linebacker.
“Whatever we get done will hopefully set us up for next year,” High said.
Among the linemen who could join Tyler Mangum up front are Drake (guard), Jordan Sheahan (center), Spencer Tolson (guard) and Micael Sielheimer (tackle). Lucas Spezia is among the candidates at tight end.
While Trent Mangum is sidelined, Skylar Dodge — a transfer from Danville who sat out last fall — and Zack Miller will be ballcarriers.
Golden, David Schlecht and Ronnie Soderstrom headline the receiving corps.
High likens his challenge to what he faced in 2005 when he joined B.J. Luke to help revive the Danville High program. The Vikings were coming off an 0-9 season. Schlarman went 1-8 last fall.
“I feel like it’s the same scenario,” High said. “That’s the message I give my kids.”
The Hilltoppers took advantage of the summer days the IHSA sets aside for schools to work out. Doing so made the start of double sessions less hectic.
“There’s not the initial shock of starting from scratch,” High said. “It’s almost like we’re starting at Year 2 in terms of knowing what’s going on.”
Defensively, many of the same athletes from the offensive platoon will remain on the field. Projections are that nine players could play regularly on both platoons.
Sielhymer, Tolson and Torres — when healthy — could be the defensive tackles. Tyler Mangum will be the noseguard.
Linebackers will come from the group of Dodge, Drake, Trent Mangum, Miller and Sheahan.
The secondary features returning starters Goodwin (strong safety) and Golden (free safety). Casey Hahne, Schlecht and Soderstrom will see time as cornerbacks.
Schlarman opens the 2009 season with a 1 p.m. Aug. 29 game at Lake Forest Academy. The game will be the first of three successive road contests at the outset of the season.
Joining High on the coaching staff are his son, Ryan, David Ames, Jack Doan, Chad Gard, Shawn Jones, C.J. Pascual and Larry Trimble.
Drake, who joins Golden as the captains, won’t predict outcomes, but he is confident of one thing.
“I expect us to put up a fight,” he said.