VAN WERT – There’s a difference between hope and optimism.
In his third year at the helm for Van Wert, Keith Recker seems to be entering the 2014 season with genuine optimism rather than just hoping his team can make something happen.
The optimism comes from a myriad of positive sources.
This year, the Cougars are predominantly seniors and juniors as opposed to underclassmen. The team speed is eye-catching. The team has a better grasp on the offense. And a defensive switch seems like it could pay off in a major way.
Indeed, after back-to-back 1-9 seasons, this may be the year Recker’s Cougars turn the corner.
“We’ve had a really good showing so far with our practices. We’ve really matured physically and athletically,” Recker said. “My hope is defensively, you’ll see a lot better team all around. Offensively, we have some guys who can do some things with the ball between our quarterback, our tailback and our receivers. And we’re better up front.”
See? Optimism. Based on fact.
A year ago, Van Wert introduced a spread offense to a young team of juniors and sophomores and scored an average of 21.3 points per game. Those players now are a year older with a better grasp of the offense.
Junior quarterback Colin Smith (375 rushing yards with three TDs/1,769 passing with 16 TDs/13 Ints. in 2013) is back. He’s a bigger (6-foot-2, 175) and smarter quarterback with nice weapons at his disposal.
Those players include the quartet of Quincy Salcido (WR), Kris Hart (RB), Hunter Perl (WR) and Nicholas Krugh (WR), whose sprinting speed took them to the state track meet last spring.
Up front, Nolan Smith (6-foot-3, 273 pounds; junior) returns as a top lineman who played sparingly a year ago due to knee injuries. However, his freshman season he played very well and in the past offseason got invited to the Purdue camp.
“Watching our film from last year, you don’t realize at the time how far behind you are,” Recker said. “But seeing where we were at this time last year to now, everything is so much smoother. It’s the athletes putting the time in. Last year there was a learning curve and once we hit July this year, they were just so strong in how they went about things.”
The big improvement Recker is hoping to see is on the defense. A year ago, his 4-3 scheme struggled in a big way, allowing 44.3 points per game.
“We just weren’t physical enough to stay in a 4-3 against a team like O-G or Wapak,” Recker said. “Then we’d go against a good passing team like Kenton or Celina and we’d have to go to a three-man front. So we were always adjusting, it was like a new defense every week. We couldn’t stop the run, we couldn’t stop the pass, we had missed assignments…”
To improve and simplify things, Van Wert switched to a 3-3 to get more athletes on the field who can just react and make tackles.
“The guys can just play,” Recker said. “They don’t have to think, it’s looked really good. We just really needed to figure out a way to stop the run because everyone just ran the ball all over us. We’re really anxious to see how it works for us.”