In transition, Raiders stick to course

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Luke Stetter returns at quarterback for a Southridge squad that’s not changing much under first-year coach Scott Buening. The new era will launch Friday when Southridge visits Clarksville for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

With another day of practice behind him, Scott Buening leaned back slightly in a leather chair just inside his office adjacent to the Southridge football field. His daughter and younger son scooted between the coaching quarters and vacant locker room, the boy watching music videos on a cellphone and the girl occasionally flexing her muscles and watching over her brother, as their father discussed the state of the Raider football program.

How appropriate the scene.

“It’s kind of like having kids,” Buening said when discussing the transition a new coach undergoes. “You can buy any books you want — just like being a parent, you can go buy all the books you want. But really, until you jump in and you actually have some kids and deal with all the things that just come at you, it’s completely different.”

Hence why Buening, who left his head coach position at Jennings County in May, describes his task as calculated collaboration. When he arrived at his Huntingburg post, he said he knew the system in place didn’t require much tweaking. Subtract a few blunders in their first-round sectional clash with Evansville Mater Dei last October and the Raiders, who wrapped up with a 6-4 mark, might have edged the eventual regional champions instead of digesting a 22-15 setback.

“Continuity is a big, big deal. And that’s the thing here that I feel has made such a difference is that our coaches, they bleed Raider blood. And they love these kids. They love this school. They love this program. They know the system inside and out and they teach it very, very well,” Buening said. “And when you put all those things together, I see my job is to be a little bit more of a manager, a facilitator. To take care of all that stuff so that these guys can go out and perform and coach and do their job, that’s really what this situation has entailed.”

That desired consistency has been blended with cohesion, Buening said, and an unquestionable desire from everyone in the program to simply get better.

The evidence is everywhere.

At Wednesday’s practice, wing back Alex Householder took a carry from the 6-yard line against a scout defense. The senior leapt as he collided with a defender at the 2-yard line, causing him to flip before falling into the end zone. Between the defender’s effort and that from one of the Raiders’ featured backs, Buening said the play epitomized the effort level he’s seen all preseason.

And then there’s the refurbished conditioning program. Buening and his staff tried to marry the circuit training long ago installed by assistant coach Steve Winkler with more core exercises and an Ironman-esque “finishing drill” at the end of each workout — lunge walks with weights in each hand, for example.

Buening saw the boys depart the weight room completely drenched in sweat. He smiled.
“That’s the thing that, as a coach, you just sit back and say, ”˜That’s awesome,’” Buening said. “They’re getting excited about that. And they don’t see it as work. They see it as a means of getting to their goal.”

“He’s worked us harder than I think we’ve ever worked before,” senior Logan Sollman said of Buening. “And I think it’s for the best that he does.”

Sollman will be fixed at the center position on an offensive line further fortified by seniors Alex Merkel (right guard) and Ethan Schwoeppe (right tackle). Junior Bryce Harter fills the opposite guard spot while classmate Javi Canales stocks the left tackle position. Brett Nordhoff has moved from his fullback role to tight end this season, where Buening feels the junior can add more pop to blocking schemes.

The line will help protect skill position players who Buening said are defined by their diversity. Despite losing ball carriers Brad Haase, Daniel Perez and Ben Weber, who combined for 1,840 rushing yards last year, Buening counts five boys who can surely make plays with the ball in their hands.

Anchoring the backfield will be Householder and junior Connor Craig, who averaged almost 9 yards each time he touched the ball last season en route to 763 yards of total offense and five scores. Senior Aidan Michel assumes fullback duties, backed up by Jacob Mundy and William Gutgsell. Cody Thompson, a 6-foot-5 senior and three-time sectional champ in the high jump, occupies the split end slot while classmate Beau Schneider lends support. Junior quarterback Luke Stetter, who slung four touchdown passes while completing almost 60 percent of his throws, returns under center. More than anything, Stetter’s instinct to lead has resonated with his coach.

After being blasted to the ground for a sack in practice last week, Buening waited to see his play-caller’s reaction. Stetter simply rose from the turf, found the blocker who missed the assignment and patted him on the back.

“It’s OK, just make the adjustment,” Buening recalled Stetter saying.

“And as a coach, you’re sitting there thinking, ”˜Did a 16-year-old kid just say that?’” Buening said.
While the Raiders won’t veer too far from their tested Wing-T formula, Buening mentioned “a little bit of flavor” would be added to the recipe. Given the weapons, the expansion seems appropriate, senior Mike Boyd said.

“We’re known for running the ball, and I feel we can run it on almost any team,” Boyd said. “And with Cody and Beau playing our wideouts for us, I mean, they’re tall, they can jump, they’re fast, and with a quarterback who can throw, it’s awesome for us. It’s the triple threat.”

Thompson (cornerback) and Mundy (strong safety) account for half the Raiders’ veteran secondary, which features a trio of seniors. Householder will inhabit the free safety spot while junior Justin King will also reside at cornerback. Boyd will also see time at cornerback while junior Dillion Ramsey and Guadalupe Perez could give the starting safeties a respite.

Jeremiah Mundy, an expected starter at defensive end, will miss at least one week because of an injury and will be replaced by Jonathan Schum. Merkel will drive the other end position with Schwoeppe to his left at defensive tackle. Senior Tim Butler accompanies Schwoeppe on the 4-3 package’s interior.

The Raider brawn is found in the linebacker brigade, Buening said, where all three starters return. Schneider and Nordhoff will survey the outside with Michel planted in the middle.

As Buening sees it, there’s a distinct connection among all seven in the box. He expects the line to be tested the most, and if they’re up to the task, dividends could be displayed in the linebackers’ efforts.

“If our linebackers can run clean, then they’re going to make plays,” Buening said.

As Southridge gears up for its season opener at Clarksville on Friday night at 7:30, the Raiders’ fate this season rests largely in what they’ve had just a month to build with their new coach.

“I think chemistry is a big deal,” Buening said. “I think that’s the difference between good teams and great teams, because both of them have talent, but that chemistry and how they get along and how they work together and probably most importantly — and this is going to be our biggest challenge — is when stuff isn’t going right, how do we handle that? And if we can handle it as a team and pull together instead of pushing apart, then I think we have a chance to have an awfully good season.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




More on DuboisCountyHerald.com