Raiders dealing with plenty of turnoverAugust 18, 2021
By COREY STOLZENBACH
HUNTINGBURG — All of Southridge’s athletic success during the 2020-21 school year began with the football team winning its third regional championship in four seasons. Now that it’s back to football season, if Raider Athletics can keep that success going, it’ll be on the football personnel having to fill a lot of spots left by the Class of 2021.
“Every year is exciting — especially this time of year,” Southridge athletic director and football coach Scott Buening said. “It’s one of those that I think all programs see a path to success. We see a path to success — so does everybody else on our schedule, so does everybody else in the state.”
Some coaches might say that there’s a competition at every spot, but in Southridge’s case, there truly have been a lot of positions up for grabs. The Raiders graduated quarterback Chase Taylor, but senior Carson Niehaus, who filled in for Taylor while the latter suffered an injury two years ago, is not coming out this season.
Therefore, Buening said the Raiders are going with junior Levi Neukam to fill the position. He cited the summer Neukam had, and while Neukam is still learning, Buening is impressed with how he’s carrying himself.
“He’s shown the ability to throw the ball,” he said. “He’s shown to be a good decision maker — I think he’s grown tremendously in that area.”
Southridge’s run game helped the Raiders achieve plenty of success in 2020 — undefeated until they fell to Danville at semi-state. Taylor showed he could be a dual-threat quarterback, graduated receiver Camden Gasser could also be explosive out of the backfield and Matt Springer was also a force as a running back.
Buening tells his players he wants to play as many of them as possible, and is looking for reasons to play them — because the more who play, the better the team will be.
“When you look in the backfield, (junior) Reid Schroeder played quite a bit last year as a sophomore,” he said. “He was a starter on defense. He played fullback in our offense as well. We’ve got (senior) Aidan Jochem — he’s going to move from tight end to a running back position. So, that will be a little new to him, but he’s a tremendous athlete, a tremendous football player.”
He knows Southridge will have to get the ball into Jochem’s hands, which was tough to do as a tight end. Buening lauded Jochem for being a dominant blocker in the tight end spot, and it’ll be big shoes to fill in that spot. He likes how built Jochem is, and his athletic ability separates himself from others.
Buening also touted senior Kaden Neukam, who has prior experience as a wingback, and also the speed that junior Joe Witte has — noting him being a track sprinter.
Last year’s running game opened up the pass, allowing Taylor-to-Gasser to be a formidable connection. Southridge doesn’t concern itself with run versus pass percentages. Buening noted the Raiders want to run the football, but added Southridge’s ability and willingness to throw the ball and defend the pass has also been crucial to the program’s success.
“(Senior) Carter Whitehead’s out this year — he’s going to be playing football,” Buening said. “And he’s a tremendous competitor, tremendous athlete. He’s had a lot of success in basketball and baseball. We’ve got Keaton Allen, who’s a sophomore. He didn’t get a lot of playing time last year, but he did dress with our older group, and he’s a good athlete. And he’s got tremendous ball skills.”
Buening noted the Raiders have two names to fill in Jochem’s spot at tight end in juniors Caleb Kramer and Luke Meyer. He said on Tuesday both of them will play, and both will give Southridge a quality tight end, with the two of them rotating in.
There’s also been a lot of holes to fill on both sides of the trenches. One person Buening is high on going into the year is senior Cameron Fuesler, who is going to play center. Fuesler got some playing time last year, and Buening praised Fuesler for how hard he works and his consistency in snapping the ball.
Senior Matt Altmeyer got some work in at guard last year, and what he lacks in size, he makes up for in his toughness and aggressiveness. They’re also converting senior tight end Hunter Eckert into a spot on the line, and Buening likes how hard Eckert went at it with the weights this offseason while picking things up quickly.
He named Kramer and Eckert as starters for the inside linebacker position, while junior Anthony Laughlin will rotate in there.
“Hunter Eckert, he’s a tough, hardnosed kid,” Buening said. “He’s got great instincts, he’s just always around the football. He suffered a knee injury early in the season last year. He had started a couple games on Friday night when (graduated) Parker (Kippenbrock) was hurt, and then just had a tough knee injury.”
Jochem is a strong safety who can move up to the box to play outside linebacker. Kaden is a free safety, who along with Jochem helps the defense with alignments and formations.
Special teams is going to look different this year after Taylor’s role as a punter and the Raiders also graduating Jaylon Leon. They’ll have two kickers in senior Max Jessee and sophomore Emilio Flores. Southridge is still trying to work out how to split the kicking duties, such as how they’ll split duties between field goals, extra points and kickoffs.
“Aiden Jochem, Kaden Neukam, Carter Whitehead, all three of those and probably some other guys, too, will be returners for us,” Buening said.
The Raiders had their scrimmage Aug. 13 at Perry Central, and now, the regular season begins Friday at Linton-Stockton.
“We’ll get something out of the game, certainly,” he said. “And we’re looking forward to the challenge and playing a team the caliber of Linton and the team that they have this year. And it’s sure going to give us a great opportunity to coach and to improve as we move forward.”
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