Guth, Mitchell lead young PatsSeptember 23, 2020
By COREY STOLZENBACH
LINCOLN CITY — Heritage Hills played in the biggest game of them all last year. The Patriots were one win away from winning it all and capping an undefeated season. They rode the backs of their senior-heavy class to generate an effective run game and a stingy defense. But almost all of the starters from that Class 3A state runner-up team are gone — almost.
That’s where seniors Adam Guth and Jordan Mitchell come in. Guth and Mitchell had starting roles and got a lot of experience while helping their team make the trip to Lucas Oil Stadium. This year, with so many gone, it’s been on the two of them to not only keep producing, but to help bridge the gap and put the pieces back together.
“It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of learning going on,” Guth said. “A lot of these young guys, they got to watch the team last year, but they didn’t get a whole lot of reps.”
The two of them didn’t find it easy at first because the weight was on their shoulders to do the leading. Heritage Hills began the 2020 season 0-3 — a 180 from an undefeated regular season the last two years. Guth acknowledged the pressure was there to have those kinds of responsibilities, but they’re also riding a two-game winning streak going into this week.
“I felt like I had to lead by example, get on to the guys when they’re messing up, but once you get out on the field, that pressure goes away,” Guth said. “You trust your teammates to do their job and do it well, and (if) everyone does their job, usually you get a win.”
“The more trust we have for them, the better we feel, and the less pressure on us, the better we play,” Mitchell added.
Guth and Mitchell show leadership in the huddle when discussing the next play. The two of them have gotten to know the linemen and linebacker assignments. Guth sees it as their job to help the younger players and help them if they don’t know their job.
For Mitchell, he has experience of knowing about the defensive line since he’s on it, but Guth has had to learn about those assignments even though he’s a wide receiver, defensive back and punter.
“Last year, getting to play definitely helped,” he said. “I got a whole year worth of defensive calls from Coach (Kevin) Tempel — learning on the fly, learning while I was playing with a couple injuries last year in the postseason. I was moved around quite a bit. I’d just say experience has let me learn all the defensive and offensive positions.”
“I try to learn everything that the line does,” Mitchell added. “I try to learn all their calls and everything, and if someone messes up, I try to make them communicate, and tell them in the huddle every time, ‘Communicate, communicate, communicate,’ to try to make sure. If we do that, we usually execute well; and if we do that, we win games.”
Heritage Hills coach Todd Wilkerson said Guth and Mitchell have grown “tremendously.” They both had to with all the experience and knowledge they acquired last year. Wilkerson thought it took a few games for them to embrace that leadership role, but he pointed to the 35-34 double overtime win the Pats got Sept. 18 at North Posey.
He thinks true leaders start to come through after a team experiences a double overtime game, and the two of them have done just that. Wilkerson acknowledged it would be tough to not have the two of them.
“Adam’s one of our best receivers, was a pre-all state punter, so he does a great job punting the ball,” Wilkerson said. “He’s kind of like the quarterback of our secondary in terms of making calls in our secondary. Jordan, again, a great end for us — catches the ball, blocks well and then plays defensive end; and actually made the big stop on North Posey’s quarterback (junior Harold Bender) Friday night to give us the victory.
“We’d definitely be down about five players if we didn’t have those two guys,” he added.
Guth had to deal with another layer of a tough start to the season in addition leading the younger players on a Pats team that didn’t gets its first win until the fourth week of the season. He found out Aug. 28 — the day Heritage Hills was to play at Tell City — that he had to enter quarantine due to being close to a positive COVID-19 case in class.
“It was a killer finding out,” Guth said. “With all the uncertainty surrounding this season, every game could be your last if an outbreak happens in the school. So, (the) second game of the season, getting told that Friday during school that I wasn't going to be able to play that week or the next, I was pretty despondent there for a while.”
Guth was upset he had to enter quarantine despite not being sick. Yet, his return seemingly could not have come at a better timing for him or his teammates. Guth returned to the football field refreshed, with a chip on his shoulder, and the Pats broke through in a big way on Sept. 11 by bulldozing their way to a 36-7 victory against South Spencer to get into the win column for the first time this year.
He had been one of four people who were quarantined on the team, meaning younger players were thrust into the spotlight hours later. Mitchell thought those players pushed themselves, but they fell short. Now, though, Mitchell can notice the rust coming off those younger ones — both in practice and in games.
The two of them pointed to some players who specifically have made progress. Mitchell hailed sophomore twins Skyler and Shane Staples for being talented, but they both had things to learn, and they kept on learning each week they were plugged in. The whole benefitted from the two of them playing well, Mitchell said.
Guth told of sophomore Brenden Chew becoming a two-way player and having to play fullback after junior Evan Bowling went down Sept. 4 at Boonville. He likes how hard Chew runs the ball and how fast he learned on the fly. Guth feels Chew provides both an offensive and defensive spark now, and he believes the Pats have a lot of talent in their sophomore class.
“Those Staples twins, Brenden Chew, (sophomore) Davin Miller — he’s taken the longsnapping spot on PATs and punts, he’s really stepped up,” Guth said. “Those guys — they’ve really worked hard, and I think we really worked hard to get them to where we knew they could play.”
“The young linemen, like Davin Miller, (sophomore) Hunter Kolley, even (juniors) Aiden Lyttle or my brother, Ty Mitchell, they’ve all been thrown in at times,” Jordan added. “When we lost the four people, they were thrown in during those games, and I think they really showed that they could play well if they know what (they’re) doing.
“I’ve been trying to put them under my wing, especially my brother,” he continued. “I’ve been trying to push him and get him some playing time because I know he can play well, but he has to learn to play well and help the team out.”
Guth, Jordan and the rest of the Pats can feel a lot of momentum coming off of these past two weeks, especially when they squeaked out the double OT thriller against the Vikings.
Heritage Hills trailed, 14-0 in that game, but Jordan thought the team played their hearts out the whole way through, and they’ve grown from that as a result. He knows the Pats can stand a chance against the other Pocket Athletic Conference teams following those wins the last two weeks, and potentially get far in the playoffs if they keep playing the way they are.
Guth said the team’s spirits rose after besting the Rebels, but the win against the Vikings was a statement win. He feels Heritage Hills has a lot of confidence going into Friday’s home game against Gibson Southern. If the younger players see the wins, they know they can get it in the future and in the playoffs.
“You win two games in a row, you start to believe, especially those younger guys, you start to believe that you can beat any team,” Guth said. “And with the tough schedule coming up with Gibson, Southridge, we really needed that momentum from those two wins going into those games.”
The senior leadership started with Guth and Jordan, and Wilkerson said it has continued with linebacker Garrett Nix and quarterback Jacob Schmidt. He praised Schmidt for coming along since the summer and stepping up as a leader for the team.
The ninth-year coach believes his senior class is starting to come together, trust one another and work together as a group.
“I feel like Adam and Jordan kind of brought in the experience from last year, which I think was big, and they’ve grown as leaders,” Wilkerson said. “And then we’ve seen some new guys with Garrett and Jacob — with little experience last year, but start to come into that role as leaders."
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