Jasper returns mostly seasoned groupAugust 11, 2020
By COREY STOLZENBACH
JASPER — Some things will be different for Jasper football this year.
The Wildcats went 6-4 won the last-ever Big Eight Conference championship in 2019 and made it to the sectional semifinal before losing, 27-16, to Evansville Central. They are rejoining the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference in 2020. They’ll have positions to fill on offense, defense and special teams, with some skill spots on offense being open, and every game this year will be a conference game for Jasper.
“I would compare the SIAC kind of to what college football is now,” Second-year coach Tony Lewis said. “In college football, if you want to be able to be in the conversation for bowl games and/or the final four that leads into the national championship, every game counts. So for us…that first week against (Evansville) Memorial (Aug. 21 at Jasper), it’s as important as every other game on the schedule because of the way our schedule’s set up now with conference.”
Lewis knows the Wildcats will see good competition that features well-coached and athletic teams week-in-and-week-out. This will help Jasper be more prepared for the playoffs because it will see some of its sectional opponents during the regular season. He knows that conference opponents play really good football, but in his opinion, Jasper is a really good program that plays really good football as well.
The Wildcats ran the triple option offense last year, and intend to do so again this year. Lewis cited his opinion that it’s an effective offense that’s tough to prepare for in a week, and he believes his team is likely the only one on their schedule that is running it.
“There will be times where we go from a double formation to run triple option and bump into a trips or bump into an empty set and get in the gun and throw the ball around as well,” he said. “So, I would say if you’re asking me how much a percentage, I’d say 70-to-75 percent of our offense is going to be option based, and the other 25 percent is going to be stuff off of the option. That includes the passing game. That includes bootleg. That includes play action off of the option. That includes just getting in empty formations, and throwing the ball around as well. So, I think we’ve got kids that can do both, but I do believe the option game suits our kids and it suits what we want to accomplish in terms of who we’re going to be facing.”
Lewis believes the triple option suits his players even though there’s turnover in the offensive line and the Wildcats graduated part of their backfield last year. The option allows players to be plugged in, and while opposing defenses can do certain things against the option, there are other things they cannot do. Lewis added that running the option also opens up the passing game because “of what defenses have to do in terms of being pretty vanilla with their coverages.”
Jasper graduated running back Elliott Hopf, and also wide receiver Nathan Rillo, who signed in February his letter of intent to play football at Benedictine University (Ill.). However, Lewis notes that there are six of 11 positions on both offense and defense where returning players with prior experience can play. The Wildcats are bringing back senior fullback Lance Dawkins, tight end Andrew Wallace and junior Isaac Day as a slot receiver. Seniors Quade Popp and Carson Chanley return on the offensive line. Senior quarterback Blake Mann, whom Lewis said got up to 190 pounds, is also returning.
“I think Blake is probably going to be one of the main leaders of this team,” Lewis told the Herald June 30. “He’s somebody that is a take charge kind of kid. He’s somebody that other kids look up to, and he’s also somebody that not afraid to be boisterous and talk, which we need. You need leaders that are going to speak their mind and that other people are going to follow. We are very excited about this upcoming season with Blake.”
Those wanting a spot on offense have depended on two things, Lewis said. First, it will depend on the kind of shape a player is in for the summer, and second, with the team having meetings on Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing social distancing, Lewis wants to see how quickly they picked up the system after seeing and hearing about it on Zoom and applied it to the field. Lewis added on Tuesday that open competition exists throughout the season.
Lewis mentioned shuffling the offensive line around this year. Senior Quade Popp played tackle last year, but is set to be penciled in at guard this year, and the second-year coach predicts Popp will be an anchor of the offensive line. Chanley will stay at offensive tackle. Senior Tyler Kelly got had some prior junior varsity experience, and he looks to be a guard this year.
Junior Gus Heichelbech was a candidate after previously being a center at the JV level, and Lewis added that senior Nick Buechlein will be moved from tight end to the line to compete for the center job. However, he has liked what he’s seen from junior Ashton Schuetter in that spot. He added senior Jack Uebelhor will be a guard, and fellow senior Jalen Moya at tackle.
Lewis is envisioning Buechlein at left tackle, Popp at left guard, Schuetter at center, Kelly at right guard and Chanley being right tackle going from left to right. He has envisioned Uebelhor as a backup guard, and Moya as a backup tackle.
Jasper’s defense is what Lewis describes as a 4-2-5 defense. This consists of four front linemen, two inside linebackers, with two strong safeties, a free safety two cornerbacks comprising of the secondary. The Wildcats can also morph from that into what he describes as a wide 4-3 defense look with four defensive backs.
One player who made an impact on last year’s defense was Carson Park, who was an honorable mention on the Associated Press’ all-state team, but Park graduated. His departure makes it a classic case of everybody else having to do what Park brought to the table, since one player alone isn’t expected to fill that void.
The Wildcats have three returning starters on the defensive line in senior Liam Kibby, Dawkins and junior Jacob Potts. Schuetter was a defensive lineman, but Lewis said he’s being moved to linebacker. Day has prior experience at strong safety, while senior Grant Mehringer has been a linebacker, but those two are expected to switch positions. Day will play linebacker, while Mehringer will be a strong safety. He mentioned Mann as somebody who will have to play free safety this year.
Jasper’s special teams are bound to look different this year. The Wildcats graduated kicker Jackson Kabrick, while Rillo had experience as a punter.
“In terms of kicking, we have a young man coming out from soccer by the name of (senior) Alex Sermersheim that is somebody that’s going to play soccer and also be a kicker,” he continued. “…I do know he’s a pretty good soccer player and he’s coming out to kick this year. Obviously, Jackson Kabrick was a big part of our kicking game last year in terms of field goals and kickoffs and stuff.”
Lewis added that he feels not everybody puts enough importance on special teams, but Jasper sees it being just as important as offense and defense, and practices as such. In his Tuesday text to the Herald, he’s looking at Semersheim at kicker and Mann at punter. He’s envisioning Potts as the long snapper and Popp the snapper on extra points, while junior Joey McGimpsey will be the holder.
Jasper is scheduled to play its scrimmage at 11:00 a.m. Saturday at Heritage Hills — the reigning state runner-up Class 3A, but also a team that graduated a senior-heavy class in 2020. However, Lewis noted the Patriots have a history of fielding strong and competitive teams, regardless of turnover.
“I think it’s a great scrimmage for us,” he said. “I think those communities love their football, and I think it will be a great way for us to get prepared for that first week against Memorial.”
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