HARROD – Allen East made a trek to where no other Mustangs’ football team had ever gone.
Allen East went 10-4 and reached the regional finals for the first time in program history.
It was there that it fell to state-power Coldwater.
The Mustangs return six starters on offense and seven more on defense.
So, there’s plenty to be optimistic about around the turf field this season.
Previous to last year, the Mustangs farthest playoff trip was to the second round in 2006.
“Everything is baby steps toward achieving more,” Allen East third-year coach Joel Billings said. “It becomes an expectation to want to get there every year. … It’s given them some confidence. They see success and it drives their work ethic for sure.
“The biggest thing is they got to play four more games. We had a lot of juniors last year who didn’t play a lot the year before.’’
Among the key losses are first team all-NWC offensive lineman Gunner Rister, second team all-NWC offensive lineman Alek Winner and the teams’ top two wide receivers Chase Miller and Carter Young.
“All of those were great kids and most of them played on both sides of the ball,” Billings said. “But we do have a lot of kids to replace them and kids who have been waiting. Some of the ones who are going to play this year got some experience with our injuries last year. They got a little taste of it, but we need to develop offensive and defensive linemen and get them up to speed.’’
One of the top returnees is quarterback Jacob Hershberger, who threw for 1,575 yards and 11
TDs last year. On the ground, he ran for 1,092 yards and 19 TDs.
That earned him second team all-NWC.
“He hadn’t played quarterback (full time) up until last year,” Billings said. “He was a wide receiver and defensive back. We started to get him ready his sophomore year with a couple of games.
“He learned a lot last year and I could see in our seven-on-sevens that he’s seeing things better, pre-snap. He’s obviously still a threat to run, but his throwing has made a lot of strides with his anticipation, reading things and accuracy.’’
The Mustangs will run a four-wide receivers, one-back spread attack.
The running back, Jack Hoel, is back. He ran for 1,157 yards (6.1 yards-per-carry) with 13 TDs.
“He’s short, squatty and runs very physical,” Billings said. “He gets better as the game goes on. By the fourth quarter, he’s hard to tackle and you can keep feeding him the ball.’’
The top returning receiver is Keaton Lehman, who had 20 catches for 224 yards and one TD.
Also back is wide receiver/running back Joe Hoel, who had seven receptions for 161 yards and two TDs.
Also at wide receiver will be Carson Clum, Caleb Hopkins, Bryce Avery and Trey Hensley.
Two offensive linemen are back in center Gage Wireman and Troy Wildermuth, who moves from guard to tackle.
The defense will roll out a 3-5-3 look.
Brogan Paxson is back on the defensive line.
The linebacking unit returns four starters in Lehman, Kade Wireman (second-leading tackler), Joe Hoel and Gage Wireman.
The secondary has first team all-NWC Hershberger at free safety, where he led the team in tackles last year (97) and also had five interceptions.
“He (Hershberger) sees things well and cleans things up back there at free safety,” Billings said.
Clum was a second team all-NWC cornerback last year and had seven interceptions.
There’s plenty of playoff experience on both sides of the ball, as the Mustangs shoot for another playoff run.
“It’s really about chasing our potential,” Billings said. “We can’t hang onto last year. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. It’s just experience.’’
Coach: Joel Billings
Year at School, Record: 3rd year (15-8)
Last year’s record: 10-4 (5-2 NWC)
Returning Lettermen: 16 Returning Starters: Jacob Hershberger (Sr., QB/FS); Jack Hoel (Jr., RB); Keaton Lehman (Sr., WR/LB); Braylon Kimmet (Sr., LB); Joe Hoel (Sr., WR/RB/LB); Gage Wireman (Sr., C/LB); Brogan Paxson (Jr., DL); Troy Wildermuth (Sr., T); Kade Wireman (Sr., LB); Carson Clum (Jr., CB).
August 19 – at Upper Scioto Valley
August 26 – at Perry
September 2 – Elmwood
September 9 – at Crestview
September 16 – Columbus Grove
September 23 – Spencerville
September 30 – Delphos Jefferson
October 7 – at Bluffton
October 14 – Leipsic
October 21 – Ada
All games start at 7 p.m.
Offense: Spread, 4 WRs, 1 back
Defense: 3-5-3 P
Player to Watch: Jacob Hershberger was first team all-NWC at his free safety spot and led the team in tackles. He also was second team all-NWC at quarterback. He threw for 1,575 yards and ran for 1,092.
Top Newcomers: Trey Hensley (Jr., WR/DB); Braylen Kennedy (Sr., K); Lane Wildermuth (Soph, OL/LB); Boston Culbertson (Sr. OL); Caleb Hopkins (Sr., WR).