With grind in mind, Rangers reshape regime

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Forest Park coach Ross Fuhs supervised his team’s warmup session at the start of practice Aug. 3 at the Ferdinand State Forest. Fuhs, a former Southridge player who takes over for Terry Wagner this season as the Rangers’ head coach, has placed more emphasis on physical play as Forest Park transitions from a pass-heavy offense to a more grinding running game.

Herald Sports Writer

First-year Forest Park coach Ross Fuhs knows more than most about two things in particular: the grueling nature of Pocket Athletic Conference football, and more importantly, what it takes to conquer it.

After all, he proved it.

In 2002, Fuhs earned all-state honors at offensive guard and competed in the Class 2A state championship his senior season at Southridge. He’s since student-taught at Heritage Hills and served three years as a Ranger assistant coach before succeeding Terry Wagner as head coach this season.

Fuhs also added a few new coaches to his staff, including offensive coordinator Greg Gogel, the former Crawford County head coach who played quarterback at Heritage Hills and Hanover College, Kyle Chase, who also suited up for the Patriots, and Tom Nord.

With the new faces arrives a new mentality. Summed up succinctly, Fuhs is about one thing: the grind.

Where Wagner cautiously avoided excessive tackling and blocking drills because of Forest Park’s small roster, Fuhs has made them routine, hoping to simulate the brutality of the PAC, he said.

Emphasizing on the game’s physical aspects remains imperative, as the Rangers transition from using an aerial offensive system featuring big-play receivers to a more smashmouth style.

“(Previously) we’ve been a bit more passing,” Fuhs said. “And that’s not to say we can’t or shouldn’t have big plays this year, but it’ll be a bit more grind-it-out than finesse.”

Built primarily around I-formation and split-back sets, the ground attack will feature two returning starters — running back and last year’s leading rusher Travis Schnell (99 carries, 380 yards) and fullback Josh Voegerl.

The Rangers’ offensive line raises some questions. It contains four seniors when Dylan Popplewell is healthy, but until the center recovers from an ankle injury — he’s estimated to return in a couple weeks — the unit offers little positional experience.

Six-foot-three senior T.J. Bieker will play all of his 295 pounds at the tackle position, with senior Nathan Libbert, a three-year starter at defensive tackle, assuming the other tackle spot. Guards include Ethan Knust, playing his first varsity season at the position, and Austin Kempf, a starting linebacker last season. For now, sophomore Justin Freyberger will accept snapping responsibilities with Popplewell out.

With the graduation of quarterback Miles Leonard, the Rangers turn to junior Trent Bayer, who’s amassed two years of junior varsity experience at the position. And fortunately for the first-year starter, he’s got a few reliable sets of hands to target.


Senior Lance Buechler (304 yards, three touchdowns in 2011), who starts for a third season at receiver, anchors the wideout core.

Alongside Buechler will be senior wide receiver Austin Fisher and the junior tight end tandem of 6-foot-4, 215-pound Alec Hassfurther plus 6-4 Austin Egloff, who won’t see the field for another six weeks after breaking his ankle in Friday’s preseason scrimmage.

Though Fuhs describes the system as “grind-it-out,” Buechler’s view of it differs slightly. Fuhs’ emphasis on weightlifting and fitness — three 6:30 a.m. lifting sessions tied in with track workouts each week — has allowed the offense, and defense, to become a more speed-oriented package, he said.

“We’ve got some quick backs, we’ve got a stacked receiving corps, a quarterback who throws a pretty good ball and an offensive line who’s not as big as it used to be but really fast,” Buechler said.

On the other side of the ball, the defensive line must also wait for Popplewell and Egloff, who are slated to start at defensive tackle and defensive end, respectively, when they return. Freyberger will play at the other end, while Schnell fills in for Egloff. Libbert fastens the line at his tackle post, which he’s owned since his sophomore year.

Both starting outside linebackers return — Voegerl and Kempf — while Hassfurther and Knust fill the inside positions. In the secondary, Buechler roams as the lone safety, flanked by senior Victor Weyer and Fisher at cornerback. Also rotating into the secondary will be junior newcomers Bryce Bettag and Reece Heilers.

The Rangers’ scheme transforms from strictly man-to-man under Wagner to significantly more zone coverage. Fuhs sees the adjustment helping in more ways than one. It can counteract spread offenses and systems with dangerous quarterbacks while also allowing defenders to register and react quicker to run plays.

Along with the change in design comes a modification that isn’t sketched in a playbook, Buechler said.

“We like to hit a lot more,” he said. “We don’t get trucked anymore like we used to. We’re more physical than we used to be.”

And some of that might have to do with what Fuhs said he feels in the biggest personality difference in this year’s squad compared with a season ago.

“I think these guys are just a little bit meaner,” said Fuhs, who called Kempf and Knust the meanest of the mean.

It’s an attitude change fit for the PAC, said Fuhs.

“Like I said, you’ve got to be able to bring it every week,” said Fuhs. “Every team is loaded. There’s no break. ... And that can be hard for a young team but I think they’re doing a good job of realizing that.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.


2012 SCHEDULE (all times Eastern; home games in caps)
Aug. 17 — GIBSON SOUTHERN, 8 p.m.
Aug. 24 — at Perry Central, 8 p.m. EDT
Aug. 31 — SOUTHRIDGE, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 7 — at Crawford County, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 — at Pike Central, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 — NORTH POSEY, 8 p.m.
Sept. 28 — at South Spencer, 7:30 p.m. EDT
Oct. 5 — at Heritage Hills, 8 p.m. EDT
Oct. 12 — TELL CITY, 8 p.m.

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