Respect remains on radar of evolving Rangers

Neil Blake/Herald File Photo
Senior Miles Leonard will take command of Forest Park’s offense this season, as the former backup quarterback slides into a starting role after the graduation of three-year starter Grant Welp. The Rangers will visit Gibson Southern in Friday’s season opener and are angling to continue momentum created last fall with the first winning season and first postseason victory in program history.

Herald Sports Writer

Terry Wagner knows all about respect.

Well, at least about the difficulty of attaining it.

He knows his Forest Park football team has work ahead. The fledgling varsity program, now in its fourth year, will have to consistently win, and consistency can only come with time.

Still, following a 2010 in which the Rangers went 8-3 for their first winning season, grabbed the first postseason win in program history and sat near the top of the Pocket Athletic Conference standings all season, their outright omission from the Class 2A preseason rankings stings a little.

“We weren’t even honorable mention,” Wagner said, adding that some of the included teams were defeated by his squad last season. “We’re still an unknown program; we’ve still got to make a name for ourselves.”

Despite losing eight of last year’s seniors, including three-year quarterback Grant Welp and leading receiver Kyle Schwinghamer, the Rangers’ roster is rife with experience and boasts guys that are bigger and stronger than were on last year’s squad. A sizable offensive line and older, smarter personnel will be a big help, according to Wagner.

Stepping in for Schwinghamer and Welp will be seniors Ben Braunecker and Miles Leonard, respectively. Braunecker’s a proven threat on both sides of the ball, having led the team in points (78) and interceptions (four) last season. Leonard, who saw just four snaps in 2010, has impressed in the preseason.

“Even though (Leonard)’s a first-year quarterback, he’s playing like a second-, third-year quarterback,” Wagner said. “He can run the ball and he can throw the ball and we’re pretty pleased with him. He’s still got to make some split decisions a little bit better, but that’ll come.”

As for Braunecker, who led the Rangers with 13 all-purpose touchdowns a season ago and is fielding interest from Division I programs, the season is shaping up to top even last year’s high-water mark.

“With all that we graduated last year, I think people are kind of discounting us a little bit,” Braunecker said. “But I think we’re fully capable of stepping into our new roles, filling in and producing a better year than last year.”

In the backfield, junior tailback Travis Schnell returns after rushing for 424 yards behind Welp’s 470 last year. Joining Schnell in the backfield will be newcomer Josh Voegerl, a sophomore fullback who replaces Rhashaun Hurt after Hurt suffered a broken ankle in the preseason scrimmage against Paoli.

Junior Lance Buechler is back to run routes with Braunecker at wideout. Buechler caught 12 passes for 152 yards in 2010. Sophomore Alec Hassfurther also will see starting time at tight end.

Anchoring the offensive line will be returning seniors, guard Anthony Fischer and tackle Caleb Myers. Senior veterans Casey Abell and Lynk Kordes, who have experience on the defensive side of the ball, will fill in their new positions at guard and tackle, respectively. Senior Jhett Bieker will complete the unit at center.

With the new personnel, Wagner anticipates more of a balance between the running and passing games. The Rangers will run the option, but will adapt the game plan depending on matchups, as they anticipate running out of the I-formation as well.

“Last year we were a big-play team usually in the air and I think we’re going to be able to run the ball,” Wagner said. “We were probably 60 to 70 percent pass, 30 to 40 percent run and I think this year we’re going to be more even in throwing the ball.

“We’re small; we’re going against bigger schools, better schools, local schools, but we’ll find some ways to win and we’ll change things up if we have to.”

With the exception of the holes left by Welp, Schwinghamer and Hurt, Forest Park will have veterans at every defensive position. An experienced defensive line boasts third-year starters and seniors Nathan Kloeck and Kordes at the end spots, as well as junior Nathan Libbert at tackle.

Junior Dylan Popplewell will fill out the unit at the other tackle position after seeing limited action last season. Abell will split his time at middle linebacker and will be joined by Voegerl, who again replaces Hurt. Junior Austin Kempf will rotate in as well. Leonard and Schnell will line up at outside linebacker.

Buechler and senior Dakota Geyer will return to the defensive backfield at cornerback, with Geyer making the full-time switch from running back. Braunecker will round out the unit at free safety, where he led the team with four interceptions for 66 yards in 2010.

Forest Park isn’t only faced with personnel changes on the field, though. Three new assistant coaches will roam the Ranger sidelines: Wes Fink, Marcus Williamson and Luke Keller, a Jasper native. Though each has a football pedigree, none has coached before and Wagner finds himself “coaching the coaches to coach the players.”

Though Forest Park has a lot to prove, the Rangers are driven by that quest for the respect of the community and, ultimately, the state. Braunecker, who was a freshman when the varsity program was created, acknowledged the importance of leaving it a valued entity.

“I think especially (the season is) big for all of the seniors because it is a new program and we have to be the ones that lead the team,” he said. “We don’t have a whole lot of guys, so it’s kind of hard to get this community of this school to appreciate football, but it’s something this senior group has grown up to appreciate.”

2011 schedule
Aug. 19 — at Gibson Southern
Sept. 2 — at Southridge
Sept. 23 — at North Posey
Oct. 14 — at Tell City

Contact Joanne Norell at

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