Fleet-footed Bunnies rely on guile

Fleet-footed Bunnies rely on guile

FISHER — The rabbit typically is viewed as a fleet-of-foot animal, rushing away from potential predators and ensuring its small size isn't a deterrent.

So maybe it's fitting that coach Jake Palmer's Fisher football Bunnies must work with a similar strategy going into the 2018 season.

"We're going to start one guy over 200 pounds on both sides of the ball for the second year in a row," Palmer said after his squad's Monday weightlifting session. "But we really rely on our speed a lot, so we're trying to cultivate that in our summer workouts."

Should the Bunnies — The News-Gazette's No. 10 team in its preseason rankings for the 2018 season — succeed in that venture, they have a chance to make their deepest playoff plunge since Palmer took over the program in 2016.

Fisher improved from 1-8 that year to 6-4 last season.

The most recent campaign ended with the 12th-seeded Bunnies suffering a 30-27 defeat at No. 5 Freeport Aquin in a Class 1A first-round playoff game, a loss senior Andrew Zook described as "really heartbreaking."

"As long as we can get out of the first round, I'd be pretty satisfied," Zook said. "But we want to go further than that, too."

Perhaps Fisher has the tools to do so.

There will be some replacements required, though.

Starting quarterback Kade Thomas, leading rusher Jaden Jones-Watkins, top receiver Brandon Henson and top tackler Jacob Horsch have all graduated.

Still, the Bunnies' total of juniors and seniors could reach 20 this year. For a club that had just 32 athletes on its roster in 2017, that's a big deal.

"This will be the second year running the same offense and defense," Palmer said. "We feel like that's going to be really helpful with the terminology and the teaching."

Junior Will Delaney is being asked to handle Fisher's quarterback duties this year. Senior Tyler Wilson is the strongest returning running back by the numbers, with senior Tyler Martin a viable pass catcher.

Senior Tanner Diorio, a lineman and one of the group's captains, feels the Bunnies will be able to make up for the offensive losses of Thomas, Jones-Watkins and Henson.

"I'd say we had a lot of speed in the backfield last year, but this year we're coming back with some fast kids again," Diorio said. "And I feel like we'll be just fine going in."

On the other side of the ball, Palmer is excited about the gains his defenders are making in the weight room ahead of the season opener on Aug. 24 at Hoopeston Area/Schlarman/Armstrong-Potomac.

Even without Horsch in the fold, guys like Martin and senior Dylan Baker are among those who can kickstart a unit that permitted fewer than 25 points per contest last year.

"We've had great sessions (in the offseason)," Martin said. "We've got kids out of the hallway who are going to need to step up big this year."

Though Palmer's crew isn't going to overpower most of its foes, the combination of speed and experience can make the Bunnies a serious threat in the Heart of Illinois Conference Small division.

While reigning Class 2A state champion Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley is still around — and the Bunnies' homecoming opponent on Sept. 21 — Fisher mustered a second-place finish in league play last year.

That challenge — knocking off the Falcons — is one the Bunnies are embracing.

"Our goal for this year is definitely a conference title," Zook said. "It's what we've been working on for a long time, and we've never won one until softball this year, in any sport. So now it's football's turn."

That's the kind of talk Palmer likes to hear from a team captain. While Fisher may not boast many hulking athletes, it does carry a big batch of expectations.

"I think we're to the point now that we expect to win," Palmer said. "We expect to be successful. We want to be a team that's playing deep into November."

Tale of the tape

Coach: Jake Palmer (7-12 in two seasons at Fisher)

2018 schedule

DATE OPPONENT TIME

Aug. 24 at HASAAP 7 p.m.

Aug. 31 vs. Tremont 7 p.m.

Sept. 7 at Tri-Valley 7 p.m.

Sept. 14 at F-C/Woodland 7 p.m.

Sept. 21 vs. GCMS 7 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Heyworth 7 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. Dee-Mack 7 p.m.

Oct. 12 vs. Ridgeview/Lex. 7 p.m.

Oct. 19 at LeRoy 7 p.m.

Fisher's must-win game is ... vs. GCMS on Sept. 21. The Bunnies are serious about contending for the Heart of Illinois Conference Small league title, and the reigning Class 2A champion is the biggest obstacle.

A look back

Last year's leading passer was ... Kade Thomas, who went 56 of 103 and threw for 991 yards and 10 touchdowns in his senior season.

Last year's leading rusher was ... Jaden Jones-Watkins, who ran 202 times for 1,328 yards and 15 touchdowns in his senior season.

Last year's leading receiver was ... Brandon Henson, who hauled in 12 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns during his senior campaign.

Last year's leading tackler was ... Jacob Horsch, who compiled 105 stops as a senior.

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