DELPHOS — A year ago, Chris Sommers entered his first season as head football coach at Delphos Jefferson with a young, inexperienced group of players.
Those Wildcats did nothing less than finish the regular season with a 21-0 victory over rival Spencerville to claim the Northwest Conference title outright.
This season, Sommers and virtually the same group of players are a year older, a year more experienced and focused on claiming a third-straight NWC title.
“We have a number of seniors who have won a lot of football games with us,” Sommers said. “We were young last year, and we knew that going into the season. We played a lot of football players, so we got a lot of experience, and that’s a great thing. But I’ve been really happy with some of our younger players really competing to get a position. So it’s a good nucleus of older guys and younger talented players this year.
“The guys have been working really hard, and I’ve been very happy with the senior leadership.”
Jefferson returns 15 letterwinners from last year and 14 starters from a team that went 6-1 in the NWC and 8-3 overall with a first-round playoff loss to Bucyrus Wynford.
And even with all that success came two important lessons about what it takes to win in a highly competitive conference and then succeed in the playoffs.
“We want to be more of a physical football team. That’s something the postseason taught us, and it’s something we’ve emphasized in the offseason,” Sommers said. “(The NWC schedule) taught our guys it’s a grind, and you just have to keep grinding away. Anything can happen in a good football league, and the NWC is a great football league. You put yourself in the best position to compete for a title and last year it worked out for us.”
A big reason it worked out was a punishing defense. The Wildcats led the NWC in virtually every team defensive category: Rushing defense (82.2 yards per game), total team defense (217.6 ypg), scoring defense (12.1 points allowed a game) and turnover ratio (plus-9).
And this year that bruising D might be even better with seven returnees.
“Defensively, we have a number of guys back, it’s a veteran group,” Sommers said. “We’re really excited about this defensive group.”
Senior four-year starter Dalton Hicks (6-1, 225) leads the 4-3 defense after gaining honorable mention All-Ohio as a linebacker last year when he recorded 104 total tackles (80 solo). Senior defensive end Corbin Betz (5-7, 220) was another All-NWC selection after recording 70 tackles while sophomore Brenen Auer (5-6, 165) started as a freshman at linebacker and finished with 47 tackles.
Senior Josh Teman (6-1, 160, 61 tackles) and junior Jace Stockwell (5-11, 180) are key returning defensive backs.
Offensively, Jefferson’s quick-paced Wing-T is clicking even better heading into the season after transitioning out of the spread offense the team ran in 2013.
“Year 2 we’ve gotten further along with it,” Sommers said. “We noticed right away the guys had retained a lot, and it’s the type of offense where there’s so much repetition. We’ve been able to finesse things quicker than we were last year and add things to it as well.”
The squad scored 30.7 points per game and averaged 246.2 rushing yards per game. And most of that offense returns in tact.
Junior Hunter Binkley (5-8, 175, first team All-NWC) is back after rushing for 1,024 yards and 11 touchdowns a year ago, senior Mike Cline (5-11, 165) ran for 615 yards and five TDs, while Auer (33 carries, 239 yards) looks to be a very talented addition at running back. Oh by the way, Stockwell returns as the quarterback after completing 40-of-84 passes with seven touchdowns, four interceptions and rushing for 93 yards.
The offensive line returns two major cogs in senior Bryce Lindeman (6-0, 310, second team All-NWC) and senior Noah Illig (5-11, 180, first team All-NWC).
“Noah has started since his sophomore year. He’s a very tough guy, and that’s the thing that really sticks out to us as a coaching staff,” Sommers said. “He’s extremely tough and brings a lot of heart and soul to the team. Last year he was the lone returning starter to the offense and really solidified himself as the leader of the offense.”