Heritage Hills dealing with massive turnoverAugust 16, 2020
By COREY STOLZENBACH
LINCOLN CITY — Next man up.
That’s the mentality Heritage Hills football has adopted for this year. The Patriots finished with a 14-1 record as the Class 3A state runner-up in 2019, but almost none of their starters are back this year, which means ninth-year coach Todd Wilkerson and his staff will have a lot of holes to fill on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
“We know we lost a lot of guys last year, so we’re looking for the next man to step up,” Wilkerson said. “That’s our theme, and we’re excited about 2020.”
One thing the Pats have to be excited about is at the quarterback position. They graduated quarterback and defensive back Cole Sigler, the winner of the Mental Attitude Award in Class 3A last year, but Wilkerson likes what Jacob Schmidt can do to follow in Sigler’s footsteps.
Schmidt tore his ACL as a sophomore, and missed all of his junior year, but Wilkerson thought Schmidt looked great while throwing the ball in practice as a member of the scout team. Wilkerson texted the Herald on July 28 that Schmidt was the team’s quarterback at the moment, getting the edge on junior Luke Rickelman. However, Wilkerson likes Rickelman enough as an athlete to be one of the team’s running backs if he isn’t playing quarterback.
One thing that helped the Pats to their second state runner-up finish last year was the team’s ground game. Sigler’s mobility helped fuel the rushing attack, while Phoenix Rodgers, Jacob Wetzel and Gavin Vaal all proved to be very viable options out of the backfield, but all of them are gone this season.
Wilkerson is looking to junior fullback Evan Bowling, who got some experience under his belt in the wishbone offense when Vaal was out with an injury during the playoffs. He also liked the way junior Owen Schaad looked during cleanup time last year, and Schaad is going to be one of the team’s running backs.
The coach made it clear, though, that Heritage Hills wants to run the ball.
“We think it helps our defense when we control the clock and control the ball,” Wilkerson said. “So, we definitely want to run the ball. Do we hope our passing game continues to improve? Yes. I think in the scheme we’ve been using with the flexbone, as you grow every year, I think we learn better ways to throw the ball, and we definitely have to continue to do that because we’re starting to get some really good defensive looks where people put a lot of guys in the box and aren’t real sound in pass coverage.
“So, we have to work on that just to be better at running the ball,” he continued. “We have to make sure people are concerned about us throwing it as well.”
The receiving game is bound to look different, since leading receiver Kaden Feldpausch graduated in 2020. One player who figures to be a target for Schmidt is senior Adam Guth, who got time at wideout in 2019. Wilkerson anticipates that Guth will have a big role on the 2020 squad.
“Adam did a really nice job late in the year last year as a receiver,” Wilkerson said. “He’s a big target, so I look for him to have a great year this year as a receiver. He’s also our punter, was the all-conference punter last year, did an outstanding job punting the ball and then he’ll also play in the secondary, probably as a safety. So, Adam’s going to be a huge part of what we do and we look for him to be one of our leaders.”
The biggest holes for Heritage Hills to fill is on the offensive line. Graduated lineman Mark Doyle played a pivotal role upfront for the 2019 Pats, and for Wilkerson, it’s all about who to plug where. He touted seniors Jakob Garrett, Eli Harney, Garrett Nix and Erik Thomas who are in the running for spots on the line.
The Pats also have some juniors who are vying for spots. They asked Ross Tempel to move from fullback to offensive line, and Wilkerson thinks Tempel will do a great job there. Fellow junior Ben Mangum could get time at center, while Aiden Lyttle is another candidate for the offensive line.
Defense is another big concern of Wilkerson’s. The most pressing issue for him is to see which of his players can go out, tackle and fly to the football. Wilkerson said Heritage Hills will continue mixing things up by running multiple defenses.
Heritage Hills has a returning starter in senior defensive end Jordan Mitchell — who showed he could be a pass rusher for the team — and Wilkerson knows how big it is that Mitchell is coming back.
“He’s not a real vocal kid, but he just has a great motor,” he said of Mitchell. “He works really hard, he leads by example. He’ll probably play a little bit of running back, maybe some tight end for us on the offensive side. So, Jordan’s definitely going to be one of our leaders, and he’ll do that by leading by example; and I think you need those kind of guys — the guys who are not going to be talking all the time, but guys are going to look at him and see how hard they’re working, and want to emulate what they’re doing.”
Wilkerson believes junior Cameron Briggs will make a nice defensive lineman — praising his quickness and strength. Briggs and senior Cody Bolen will join Tempel on the defensive line.
Rodgers and Wetzel proved to be a dynamic duo for the Pats on their run to the state championship game last year, and the two linebackers each racked up more than 100 tackles. Wilkerson said that the Pats expect their linebackers to be their leaders on defense.
He pointed to Nix, who got some time last year and was often the first linebacker off the bench. Wilkerson has Bowling as another who is pegged in at the linebacker spot. He also mentioned junior Caleb Fakes, and praised the job Fakes did last on the junior varsity squad.
“I really look for those three guys to be our leaders defensively,” Wilkerson said.
Guth got time at safety after Vaal’s injury, and he figures to be part of the 2020 Heritage Hills secondary. Wilkerson said the Pats have tapped Rickelman and Schaad at cornerback. He added that Guth and sophomore Brenden Chew will play the safety spot.
The team spent time figuring out how to utilize sophomore twins Skyler and Shane Staples, and Shane will be a backup safety, while Skyler is a backup linebacker. Both will be backup running backs.
One area in which Heritage Hills isn’t lacking experience is special teams. Guth is back at punter, while junior Ethan Hill and his twin, Austin, are back at kicker. Wilkerson feels good about this area, citing how much time the team spends working on it.
“When you have that kicking game in place, then you just have to have the athletes in place to go down and cover and to block, and we feel like we work hard enough on that that we’ll be in good shape on special teams,” Wilkerson said.
Heritage Hills is scheduled on Friday to welcome Mount Vernon (Posey) for the season opener after hosting Jasper for a scrimmage on Saturday. It is the first Pocket Athletic Conference game on the docket for the Pats. The PAC has expanded to 12 teams this season. The PAC consists of the Small School Division, which Forest Park and Southridge are part of, and the Big School Division, which Heritage Hills is a part of, with the two divisions each having a champion.
With this realignment, it’s hard for Wilkerson to tell where he believes his Pats will stack up in the PAC in 2020.
“We’re familiar with Mount Vernon, we’ve been playing them the last three years, so that’s a familiar opponent,” he said. “But really, Boonville and Princeton, we haven’t really played them for a while on the varsity level. We’re familiar with Gibson Southern. We’re not familiar with Washington. So, for us, it’s going to be an exciting year to kind of get to face some new opponents and see where we stack up. Our goals are always to compete to win our conference and to compete to win our sectional. Those are always on our list of goals. So, we’ll take that same approach this year.”
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