Forest Park bringing optimism into 2020August 13, 2020
By COREY STOLZENBACH
FERDINAND — Forest Park football coach Ross Fuhs believes his Rangers can attain both of the goals they have set out for this year. First, they want to win the Pocket Athletic Conference’s Small School Division in the newly expanded PAC. Their second goal is a holdover from last year — play in the sectional championship game for the first time ever.
“The players have to believe in themselves and believe in the team and it can be definitely be achievable,” Fuhs said.
The 2019 Rangers had a winning season for just the second time in school history, and won a sectional game for just the third time ever. They graduated 14 seniors, but Fuhs likes the foundation that the 2020 graduating class set for those who are following in their footsteps.
“There was a lot of different things that that class did,” he said. “I think number one was the leadership. Those guys led by example. They weren’t afraid to hold people accountable and you have to have that. You have to have people that tell guys they need to get to weights, tell guys they need to work harder, need to push themselves. It can’t always come from the coaching staff. It needs to come from players sometimes, too.
“I think a lot of those guys, another way, led by example,” Fuhs continued. “Some kids only maybe even played special teams, that was the only thing they did, but in practice, they worked as hard as anybody else. They were the first people to jump in when we needed somebody on scout team offense or defense — so, very unselfish.”
The 2020 Rangers have eight seniors on the team, and Fuhs told the Herald on July 17 that they, too, want to hold their teammates accountable. He thought the team had great attendance in the weight room from November through March, and added that last year’s team set the standard because of the work they put in.
He noted that many of his players have continued to put the time in and lift on their own since March, though not everybody had done a lot. Forest Park couldn’t condition too much, but tried to get a lot of it in through drills and hustling hard to and from drills.
Coming back this year is junior quarterback Cooper Uebelhor, who threw three interceptions last year in the sectional semifinal Nov. 1 at North Knox. Uebelhor finished his sophomore campaign with seven touchdown passes against 10 interceptions. He will get a chance to excel more at throwing the ball this year, as last year’s run-heavy Rangers will open up the passing game a bit more in 2020.
“He’ll do a great job for us,” Fuhs said of Uebelhor. “I feel like already just in these first couple weeks, you can tell he knows the offense the well, he’s telling guys where to go. I feel like he’s been throwing the football real well here in these first couple weeks, and obviously (quarterbacks coach) Grant Welp back on our staff this year to help out is huge.”
Fuhs said last year’s offense was 95 percent run and five percent pass. This year’s offense figures to be more 75 percent run and 25 percent pass. He anticipates teams are going to stack the box more against the Rangers this season, and he thinks they’ll be able to throw the ball more given the fact that Uebelhor is a year older and his ability to recognize things at quarterback.
The Rangers switched to the Wing-T offense in 2019, and Fuhs said they will stick with that offense this year — with the expanded passing game being among some of the tweaks they’re going to make.
“We were just saying at the end of this week how much farther ahead we were this year than we were last year at this point, just obviously because it was a new offense,” he said July 17. “But those guys seemed to remember it very well from last year.”
Forest Park lost all-time leading rusher Drew Day to graduation in 2020. Day totaled 1,853 rushing yards in his career with the Rangers, and signed on to play football at Franklin College back in March. Juniors Ethan Beckman and Austin Hoppenjans are capable of playing the position, but senior Jake Begle will get the nod to take over for Day at the fullback spot.
“I think one big thing, from November to March, he put on 20 pounds, and I think a lot of that was muscle,” Fuhs said of Begle. “That kid was in the weight room working his tail off all the time. He went from 195 in November to 215 before we shut it down in March. I mean, 20 pounds of good, solid muscle he put on, and he’s the type of kid who’s been conditioning during this whole time. So, (I) just feel like he’s kind of almost a carbon copy of Drew.”
The Rangers have different options at halfback in seniors Daniel Eckert, Tanler Schnarr, Trey Toby and Tyler Tretter. Fuhs texted the Herald Wednesday that Beckman will get some looks there, too.
The ninth-year coach pointed to a number of targets Uebelhor will have as a receiver in 2020. Fuhs noted that Eckert has good hands out of the backfield, and junior Nolan Winkler had some rotation as a varsity wideout in 2019. He believes those will be their top two receiving efforts, while also touting options at tight end in juniors Beau Rasche and Kaden Bowman. Underclassmen who could step up and catch the ball are sophomores Clay Eckert and Tristan Weyer, and freshmen Justin Alegria and Joel Bueltel.
Forest Park’s offensive line has what Fuhs refers to as the “Big Three” — Juniors Clayton Brames, Caleb Moya and Chase Verkamp. All three started every game their sophomore year, and Fuhs praised the three of them for how hard they’ve worked in the weight room and how well they know the offense. Moya will play left tackle, with Brames at left guard. Senior Anthony Weyer will break through as a first-time starter at center. Verkamp will get the nod at right guard, while sophomore Reid Jochem will take right tackle. Jochem has prior experience, having started as a guard in the 2019 regular season against Tell City his freshman year.
“You got to be smart as a lineman,” Fuhs said. “I think a lot of people just think of linemen as big, strong guys that just want to power ahead, but in our offense, you got to make a lot of calls — whether you’re pulling or whether you’re staying. You got to be smart, got to know the offense and obviously, you’ve got to be able to block. That’s a big part of it. You’ve got to be able to run block, you got to be able to pass block. So, really a combination, but really knowing the plays and knowing the offense is where it starts.”
The Rangers will run a 4-4 Cover 3 defense in 2020. Forest Park will have four defensive linemen, four linebackers and three in the secondary that consists of two cornerbacks and a free safety. Fuhs noted the Rangers can drop in and out of that defense somewhat if they’re playing a team that likes to run the ball. They could could have a five-man line and move players around, while they may trot out a three-man line if they’re playing a passing-oriented team.
Up front, the Rangers graduated Gavin Knust, who established himself as a pass-rushing presence — registering 11.5 sacks as a senior in 2019. Fuhs said it will definitely hurt with Knust being gone, but Fuhs said in his Wednesday text that Bowman, Verkamp, Moya and Bays will comprise the front four, with Brames rotating into those spots.
Begle was the team’s second-leading tackler last year, and Fuhs envisions him being one of the team’s inside linebackers, while Beckman and Hoppenjans are seen as candidates for the other inside linebacker spot. Schnarr can play both inside linebacker and outside linebacker. Junior Beau Rasche is pegged in at one of the outside linebacker spots, given his experience starting at the position as a sophomore.
Fuhs mentioned Tretter and fellow senior Daniel Eckert as his cornerbacks, while junior Logan Ferguson will man the strong safety spot.
The Rangers will have some holes to fill on special teams — as Day did punting duties, and kicker Abby Eckert also graduated, but Fuhs is going with junior Spenser Wolf at kicker.
“He’s really been working hard on kicking, and has really been doing a really nice job,” he said. “So, (we’re) kind of looking for him to hopefully be our varsity PAT and field goal kicker. We actually have another girl interested in kicking. Her name is Emma Jamniczky. She’s a freshman, so she’s really been working hard, too. So, I can see those two being our kickers, and then punting-wise…right now, Kaden Bowman probably is the front-runner for that. He was the backup for Drew last year. So, he’ll be our front-runner for punting right now.”
However, Fuhs said Jamniczky will probably just see action on the junior varsity squad, while Bowman is likely to be utilized on kickoffs
Forest Park’s scrimmage is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. Saturday at home against Paoli. Fuhs said the Rams always give the Rangers a good scrimmage, and believes this year will be no different. He knows Paoli has a large junior class, and heard things have been going well when he spoke to first-year Rams coach Neil Dittmer.
The Rangers begin their season Aug. 21 on the road. As Fuhs put it, they’re still taking a trip to Gibson County, but this game is at Princeton, a new member of the PAC who is in the Large School Division, and not Gibson Southern. He admitted, though, that he doesn’t know much about the Tigers without ever playing them, and he knows it’ll be different.
“Offensively, that’s the same offense we ran last year,” Fuhs said. “So, they have a good feel for that. A lot of it, I think the biggest thing will be on defense, being able to adjust to whatever they throw out at us, and adjust to formations and things like that. So, just being really smart, heavy football players and getting lined up right and just playing physical I think will probably be the biggest thing that first week.”
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