Southridge football getting back into grooveAugust 13, 2020
By COREY STOLZENBACH
HUNTINGBURG — Southridge football coach Scott Buening told the Herald after the Raiders lost last year’s sectional championship game that the team had goals of winning another title in the Pocket Athletic Conference. They'll be in the small school division of the expanded PAC, and hope to add another sectional crown to boot.
Buening said they’d “fight like heck” to try to figure out a way to do it, and there are constants to Southridge football every year. The Raiders always think things are going to be challenging, but they also always think there’s an opening.
“A lot of the programs here are on an uptick in the area and are doing well and have good coaches leading them,” Buening said. “It’s going to be a different year without playing Jasper, which hasn’t happened in years. That’s going to be different, but we still replaced them with Boonville, which got a tremendous running back (Devin Mockobee) and has had some tremendous years over the last few years since Coach (Darin) Ward got there. So, we’re really looking forward to the challenge and the opportunities ahead of us.”
The Raiders used two quarterbacks to help them to a 9-3 record and a sectional runner-up finish in 2019. Chase Taylor, now a senior, started the year off quarterbacking the team, but when he went down to injury, in came Carson Niehaus, now a junior, off the bench, to help the keep the line moving. Niehaus chucked eight touchdowns and led Southridge to a 4-2 record in a six-game span. Taylor got his job back when he returned.
Southridge has Taylor and Niehaus competing for that spot again, along with sophomore Levi Neukam. Buening said Taylor is the front-runner for the position, citing the tremendous year he had last year and the tremendous athlete he is. He told the Herald Aug. 6 Taylor was still the favorite. Buening likes how strong the senior is and how well he moves, but wants to see him trust himself more and stay the course when things aren’t going well.
Buening praised Niehaus for being composed and handling situations well, while adding Neukam throws the ball well and gets more confident each day that he’s out there.
“At the quarterback position, people want to talk about all the physical traits, and those are important,” he said. “You’ve got to have a good athlete back there who can throw the ball. In our system, they need to be able throw it, they need to be able to run. It’s a lot of physical tools that quarterback has to have, but the flip side of it, if you’re really going to be successful, you need a guy at quarterback that can handle adversity, who is willing to stand up and be a leader, and we say that all the time, but we really do.
“The best quarterbacks are the ones that stand strong when things get tough,” Buening continued. “They’re the rock that people look to in that huddle when things aren’t going right. Everybody’s good when things are going well, but it’s what you do when things aren’t going well that says a lot about the type of person you are, the type of mentality of you have in those kind of things, and we’ve been fortunate to have some really strong leaders there.”
The Raiders may have some experienced options at quarterback, but they have some holes to fill in the rest of their backfield. Running backs Brad Springer, Cole Calvert and Austin Kaeck all graduated, and Southridge is bound to have different players get those touches in 2020. However, unlike quarterback, Buening could not name a front-runner for the running back spot.
Brad Springer’s brother Matt, a senior, has played well in the backfield, Buening said, but hasn’t gotten a lot of time due to how well Calvert performed. He also touted fellow senior Parker Kippenbrock, but noted he’s had the same problem Matt’s had — both have played behind really good players.
“They’ve paid their dues,” he said. “They’ve worked hard. They play really hard. That’s the thing that I think I really like the most about both of them. They’re very physical, they play hard, they’re strong kids. You look look at those two, you look at Kaden Neukam’s a junior, he’s going to be competing for time. We’ve got a plethora of other guys — Ricky Pflanz, Keannan Fuller, seniors who have been here for a while at that position, and so, there’s a lot of guys. We’ve got some younger guys, too, that will got a lot of opportunity, and again, I think that’s the fun part is seeing how those shake out in the end.”
Southridge took a 27-7 loss against Heritage Hills in the 2019 sectional championship, but one might not know that if they saw the receiving stats of Camden Gasser, now a senior. Gasser caught six passes for 192 yards and a touchdown in the losing effort.
“Camden really found himself last year,” Buening said. “Early in the season, he had a tough opener — he’d be the first one to tell you that and really kind of felt like he was at a crossroads at what direction he was going to go, and I always say that because I couldn’t be happier for the young man because he took a little criticism after that first week, and all he did was buckle down, pull his pants up and went to work, and I’m telling you what, made himself into a heck of a football player. I was extremely impressed with his season last year and how he answered the challenge.”
Buening is confident Gasser will continue to excel this season. The Raiders graduated fellow receiver Garrett Voegerl, but Buening pointed to seniors Kaleb Wibbeler, Elijah Horton and Gabe Wilkey as players who do well at split end and are good blockers who look to be part of the receiving corps as well.
Southridge did lose some offensive linemen to graduation in Sam Schroeder, Conner Oxley, Cade Patton and Weston Allen. However, they do have some senior linemen returning this year in Quinn Barnett, Adam Jochem, Luke Lange, Leyton Lauderdale and Erik Hernandez.
The 2019 Raiders often ran the Shotgun Wing-T offense, and Buening said that won’t change much in 2020.
“Our foundation, our principles, even when we went from under center to shotgun, they didn’t change much,” he said. “We believe in what we do. We believe in how we do it. Every year, as you find the identity of your team, you really want to try to utilize the things they do well. It’ll take us a little bit probably to figure that out and how we want to utilize guys and where, but I think we’ll look pretty similar to most people.”
Buening noted Southridge runs multiple defenses each year, and this season will be no different. He knows it’s crucial that the Raiders develop an aggressive style of defense that will pursue the ball.
“This just may be the smallest team weight-wise, size-wise that we’ve had, and maybe that I’ve coached ever, but we think we got a lot of tough kids who are pretty strong and can fly to the football and will run and are pretty aggressive,” Buening said. “So, regardless of what we do scheme-wise, that’s going to have to be a must.”
Barnett, Jochem, Lauderdale and Hernandez are leading candidates to be on the defensive line, while Southridge has younger players also in the mix. Buening also likes the linebacking corps the Raiders have, with Kippenbrock playing behind Calvert. Lange and Wilkey are in the mix, while returning outside linebackers Matt Springer and junior Aidan Jochem return.
The Raiders bid goodbye to Schroeder and Jadon Culbertson at safety — two players whom Buening thinks will be tough to replace at a position the coaches put a lot of pressure on. It’s a wide open position, but Buening is confident in the job safeties coach Steve Rust will do as Southridge searches for the safety vacancies. Buening floated Taylor, Niehaus and Neukam as possibilities in those spots.
Gasser is a returning cornerback, while Wibbeler and Horton are also options at the corner slots.
Southridge’s special teams will feature some experienced vets. Buening lauded Taylor as one of the better punters in the area with a “thunder leg.” Fellow senior Jaylon Leon made a lot of progress from beginning to end as a kicker last season, and Buening is happy to have him back this year.
The Indiana High School Athletic Association allowed teams to begin football practice on July 6, and Southridge began activity the night evening on July 7. Buening was pleased with what he saw and thought his players, whom he hadn’t seen in months, were in pretty good shape. The most that the Southridge coaching staff had done was send their players weekly training, and Buening thought the team was excited to be back.
“Coaching takes up plenty of time without any outside challenges, and then you throw this COVID situation in there, and man, that’s a whole new animal in itself,” the eighth-year coach and first-year athletic director said said. “But it allows us to be out, allows us to be with our guys, and as I told the coaches, ‘We’re going to take each practice, enjoy every practice, enjoy every chance you’re out there. There’s a lot of things out of our control. So, we’re not going to stress those. We’re just going to work as hard we can, do the the best we can and let people make decisions as to what we can and can’t do, and when we can and can’t.”
Southridge has five home games scheduled on its docket, including the Aug. 21 opener against Linton-Stockton. Fans can watch their Raiders in action Saturday at Raider Field against the Commodores for the team’s annual scrimmage.
“It’s a good scrimmage because we work well together,” Buening said. “Coach (Greg Gibson) does a really good job over there. They’re a big team, usually year-in-and-year-out. They’re strong, and their goals in their scrimmage is the same as ours. We want to give kids opportunity. We want to get kids out there. We want them to play. We want them against a quality opponent. We want to see them in action. We want to be able to evaluate them individually, evaluate us as a team and we got them out of this scrimmage. So, it’s a really good mix for us. It’s a good scrimmage for us, and every year, we come out of it better than we were before we went into it.”
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