Ranger plan rooted in basics

Herald File Photo
Gavin Pierce, right, will be among the backfield leaders at Forest Park, where the Rangers have been emphasizing the basics with several new faces likely entering the mix this season. The Rangers get started Friday with a 7:30 p.m. EDT kickoff at Gibson Southern.

By HENDRIX MAGLEY
hmagley@dcherald.com

After seeing his team in live action for the first time this season, Forest Park football coach Ross Fuhs knew it was something simple that his team needs to improve on — returning to the basics.

“I know I feel like I’m beating a dead horse, but we have to get back to doing the fundamental things,” Fuhs said. “Going back to the chute, going back to the sled and just trying to work on staying low and playing low. That’s what will win and lose you games and it kind of lost us the scrimmage, so to speak.”

After watching the preseason scrimmage last Friday against Paoli, Fuhs realized and realized quickly there are a lot of areas that still need fine-tuned, with Class 3A No. 4 Gibson Southern awaiting the Rangers in Friday’s 7:30 p.m. EDT season opener at Fort Branch.

Voegerl
Schuler

Friday’s result from the scrimmage night stuck heavily with a lot of the younger Rangers, so seniors Braydon Voegerl and Andrew Schuler launched a players-only meeting afterwards in the locker room.

“We wanted to motivate them to come to practice and play with the momentum to not get stomped every Friday night,” Voegerl said. “And Coach Fuhs has always preached enthusiasm in practice because it makes you want to work harder and get hyped up.”

Blocking, tackling and becoming more of a dynamic team instead of primarily focusing on pounding it up the middle were just a few things that caught Fuhs’ eye early in the summer and have been some of the areas of focus throughout preseason training.

“We’ve always been more of a running team but if you have two receivers who have done as well as they have, you have got to be able to get them the ball,” Fuhs said.

The pair Fuhs referenced are Voegerl and Sam Englert. Voegerl led the Rangers with 14 catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns last season while Englert played everywhere from quarterback to defensive back in Forest Park’s 2-8 finish last season. The senior was second on the team in rushing with 399 yards and four touchdowns, passed for 236 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and also plucked two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.

But Fuhs stressed that for the passing game to be effective, the Rangers need the ground game to succeed without graduates Zach Cline and Klint Luebbehusen, who combined for more than 700 yards rushing last season. Senior Bo McCain and junior Gavin Pierce lead this year’s backfield bunch, with sophomores Corbin Bell and Drew Day also entering that mix.

“I feel like we have four very capable backs, it’s just an experience thing,” Fuhs said. “They don’t have the varsity experience, so going from JV or not playing at all to the varsity level is a big step, especially in our conference.”

It’s also no secret the Rangers have continually wrestled with injuries. McCain missed the majority of last season with an injury and senior Noah Fleck, who played almost every position on the field at some point last season, was subbed into the game defensively against Tecumseh last September for one play, ended up leaving the game with a shoulder injury and missed the rest of the season. Already this season, Fleck was shaken up again in the scrimmage playing on defense, but Fuhs is confident he’ll be on the field for Week 1 — at least at the quarterback position.

Being one of the smallest schools in Class 2A, the Rangers have had to work on getting guys more familiar with manning multiple positions. Coupled with his team’s injury history, Fuhs wants to be able to build as much depth as he can.

“A big thing for us is that we’ve had to have guys play multiple spots,” Fuhs said. “It’s not what you want, but in our situation it’s what you have to have.”

Protecting the Ranger backfield will be three returning offensive line starters: seniors Schuler and Austin Knies plus junior Nick Werner. Joining them will be a mix of guys new to varsity action, so Fuhs wants them to get adjusted quick to the “bigger, faster and strong” linemen Gibson Southern will surely be bringing come Friday.

On defense, Forest Park retains the majority of its linebacking core and secondary from last season, led by Nathan Hamilton, who also returned an interception for a touchdown last season. The defensive line will be rather young — mostly players who have little to no varsity experience at all, similar to the offensive line.
But Fuhs and his players feel strongly after this week’s work of practice that they’ll be ready for the battle coming this Friday night. And the next one. And the rest of them after that.

“We know we just need to focus on getting the fundamental things right: blocking, tackling, knowing our assignments,” Fuhs said. “We know it’s going to be tough, no question, but we’re focusing on us.”

Schuler added the amped-up practices have brought an intensity not felt in Ferdinand for a little while.

“At practice, we just want to be intense and make it an all-out brawl,” Schuler said. “When the guy across from is you is screaming at the top of the lungs it makes you want to push that much harder.”




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