Waiting all summer for Friday night
Executive sports editor Fred Kroner explores some prep football storylines to watch as high school teams begin preseason practice today:
Fisher ready to reverse trend
Since 2009, a year in the playoffs for Fisher High School has been followed by a sub-.500 season.
Last year was a playoff season for the school.
With a strong returning offensive nucleus, the Bunnies hope this is the year they put together back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in five years.
Coach Matt Leng’s team retains a trio of ball carriers who were called upon 334 times last season and combined for 2,061 yards. Conrad Thomas (1,087 yards) is the top returning rusher. Other backfield veterans are Aaron Carter and Tyler Rogers.
Carter and Thomas are juniors who “have seen time on the varsity since they were freshmen,” Leng said.
They’ll follow the lead of an offensive line, which has three returning starters.
“We (also) have good skill guys on the defensive side of the ball with linebackers and secondary guys all back,” 13th-year head coach Leng said.
Fisher opens its season on Aug. 29 with a road game against the Ridgeview/Blue Ridge coop in Colfax. Five of the team’s first seven games will be away from home.
Leng is optimistic, he said, based on “team chemistry with the seniors and juniors that was developed playing around the seniors from last year.”
Renovations at the Fisher stadium are expected to be complete by the Sept. 5 home opener against LeRoy. An all-weather track was put in last year. This year, there’s new bleachers and a press box (with spots for each team, a booster club area and scorekeepers) as well as a storage area underneath and a patio acknowledging donors.
Will Spartans’ injuries mount?
A 1,000-yard rusher returns.
So does a hard-hitting linebacker.
There’s also a quarterback with starting experience.
The only area team to play for a football state championship last November returns a strong nucleus of players.
St. Joseph-Ogden head coach Dick Duval isn’t all smiles, however, in the hours leading up to the start of practice.
“If we have one more injury, we could be in trouble,” Duval said.
The Spartans will be short-handed all season. Senior Chase Gadau, a fullback/linebacker who earned All-Area accolades last spring in baseball, underwent shoulder surgery on Thursday. He’s facing a six-month rehabilitation plan.
“He was a great linebacker,” Duval said. “We’re going to miss him.”
SJ-O will build around tailback Orion Ciota (who rushed for 1,201 yards last year), quarterback Eli Oltean (who passed for 463 yards in part-time duty) and linebacker Connor Janes (who had 28 tackles in part-time duty).
In the defensive backfield is Jake Pence, whom Duval said is “one of the smartest kids I’ve coached in the secondary. He made a lot of our (defensive) calls last year and has a great sense for the position.”
Pence was among area leaders with five interceptions.
“I told our kids last year at this time, our defensive backs were not very good,” Duval said, “but at the end of the season, defensive backs were our strength.”
SJ-O’s season-opener is on Aug. 29 at home against Paxton-Buckley-Loda.
“Our problem is we’re so thin,” Duval said. “There’s not a lot of depth, and that’s a huge concern.”
Will Storm’s streak continue?
Salt Fork has become the model for successful cooperative athletic programs in the area. In 1995, the Catlin and Jamaica districts joined forces for all sports.
The Storm’s football program enters this season seeking a 14th consecutive playoff berth.
“This will be a very challenging year with our schedule and the quality of conference play,” veteran coach Brian Plotner said. “We have a lot of unproven talent without a lot of varsity experience, especially at the skill set.”
One of the team’s more interesting battles is at quarterback. There are three candidates. Two are from the same family. Senior Colton Fauver and sophomore Caleb Fauver are contending with junior Connor Taylor.
Plotner tried to divide the reps evenly during summer camp. The upcoming position battle will be less pressurized than most would think, Colton Fauver said, because “no matter where we are, we’ll play.”
It’s a mindset that Plotner welcomes.
“We’ll play anywhere,” Colton Fauver said. “Whatever is the best for the team.”
Colton Fauver could wind up at fullback if he’s not the quarterback. Both Caleb Fauver and Taylor are prospects at receiver.
“No matter how it shakes out, I anticipate all three playing on offense and defense,” Plotner said.
The coach expects to have seven seniors on the roster.
“There’s not a lot of experience back,” Plotner said. “I’m not disappointed with what the kids have done in the offseason. We’ll have to put our best foot forward to get back to Week 10.”
Salt Fork opens in Catlin on Aug. 29 against Watseka.