HARROD – Allen East is coming off a 4-6 season (2-6 in the Northwest Conference) and is looking to take it to the next level in 2014.
“We only have 13 returning letter winners,” Allen East coach Mike Abbey said. “But, a lot of those guys played on both sides of the ball. We have to replace Ross Stewart our fullback. We have a couple guys vying for that spot. So, that’s probably the main spot we have to fill.”
Last season, Stewart was a workhorse for the Mustangs, rushing for 1,508 yards on 240 carries and 17 touchdowns.
“We lost a couple linebackers also,” Abbey said. “But our strength is probably our returning linemen. We only lost one lineman from last year. So, that should be a strength for us.”
Senior Jacob Sherrick (6-foot-3, 285 pounds) is one of those returning linemen.
“We have a good, solid core coming back — me, Garrett Heuerman (6-3, 292, Sr.) and Travis Wireman (5-10, 190, Sr.), three seniors, who all have started three-plus years,” Sherrick said. “We have a lot of experience. We have another guy coming in, junior Austin Louth (6-0, 265). He looks to be real solid. So, we have just one spot to fill. We know it (the offensive line) is going to be our mainstay and will be solid every night.”
Heuerman feels the Mustangs can compete in the upper echelon of the NWC.
“We only had one guy who graduated last year (on the offensive line). We’re looking for that to be our strength this year,” Heuerman said. “That’s where we would like to be. The NWC is a very tough league. The teams that are going to be at the top will be at the top. We’re hoping to be in the mix this year, definitely.”
Allen East will also have its signal-caller back, Tanner Stippich (6-1, 171, Sr.). In 2013, Stippich completed 28 of 65 passes for 463 yards, four TDs and two interceptions.
“He’s a senior this year. He had a great summer and should have a nice season,” Abbey said about Stippich.
Allen East has traditionally been a running team over the years. However, the Mustangs look to be a threat in the air as well.
“We might look to throw it around a little more this year,” Stippich said. “We really worked hard at it (passing) this summer. So, we’re looking to improve on that part of our game this year.”
Despite having its quarterback and most of its linemen back, the Allen East coaching staff still faces the huge task of replacing Stewart in the backfield.
“Logan Schick (6-1, 181, Jr.) looks like he might be right there (to take Stewart’s spot),” Abbey said. “He had a knee surgery last year. The other guy is Izak Ackerman (5-10, 200, Sr.). He actually played guard last year when we had a guy blow his knee out. He’s going to try his hand at fullback this year. We have a sophomore, Johnny Brinkman (5-9, 185), a big, strong kid. So, those are the three that are looking to fill his shoes.”
The halfback positions could be filled by several different athletes. Spencer Miller (6-0, 180, Soph.), Caleb Smelcer (5-9, 147, Soph.), Trevor Smelcer (6-0, 167, Sr.), Cody Musselman (5-8, 146, Jr.) and Johnny Brinkman will all have an opportunity to play at the halfback spots.
Allen East will stick with the hybrid Wing-T offense with plenty of motion in the backfield.
Abbey is hoping his underclassmen can find their roles and contribute right away.
“We have 16 freshmen and 16 sophomores. So, we have a couple really good classes of underclassmen,” Abbey said. “We have eight seniors this year. They’re great leaders. This is their fifth year with me. I coached junior high football when they were eighth graders and I’ve been the head coach now for four years. I know them and they know me quite well.”
Defensively, the Mustangs will employ a 5-3 look.
“We’re pretty much a 5-3. It’s more of a run league now,” Abbey said. “If you don’t stop Bluffton’s run or Ada’s run, even though they run a spread, they’ll run it down your throat.”
The numbers are up and the enthusiasm is running high at Allen East.
“We’ve had a really nice summer,” Abbey said. “We had 36-40 guys out here everyday for lifting. We have 50 on the roster. So, this is the first time in many years that we’ve gotten to that 50-mark.”