VAN WERT – It’s all about building a culture.
And that’s what Van Wert head football coach Keith Recker has been doing the past 10 years at the helm.
However, Recker’s early years as the Van Wert head coach were challenging, to say the least. The Cougars went 1-9 in both 2012 and 2013. In 2016, Van Wert was winless (0-10).
Then, it started to click.
In 2020, Van Wert won the Division IV state title, defeating Mentor Lake Catholic 31-28, on a 25-yard field goal by Damon McCracken with nine seconds left in the game. That was Van Wert’s first-ever state title in football. Last season, the Cougars made it to the Division IV regional finals, where they lost to Port Clinton, 49-21.
This season, Recker returns 13 letterwinners from last year’s 12-2 squad.
The veteran head coach said his athletes realize that what has happened in the past does not guarantee success for the future.
“It’s so neat to see that they’re so confident; and our coaching staff does a very good job of making sure they stay humble,” Recker said. “They understand that whatever we did last year, or two years ago, has no effect on this year. We tell them to ‘change their best’ every day. Our guys have completely bought in to that.”
Van Wert will be dealing with some personnel changes this campaign, as several key athletes from last season have graduated. However, Recker feels confident that other athletes will step up and fill those voids.
“We lost a really good group,” Recker said. “Connor Pratt (wide receiver) is going off to Hillsdale College to play Division II football. Nate Jackson (second-leading rusher for Van Wert in 2021) and Ty Jackson, the brothers, are gone. Cullen Dunn (First Team All-Ohio offensive lineman, 2021) and Turner Witten (Second Team All-Ohio offensive lineman, 2020) are gone.
“So, we have some guys – all-league guys from a very good senior class – that we have to replace. But, with that all said, we have a really nice group, especially our skill guys that are coming back, led by Aidan Pratt (Second Team All-Ohio quarterback in 2021). Pratt (6-4, 205) has a chance to be as good as he wants to be at quarterback. He’s taken some visits to Division I schools, and has had some Division II offers, already. I think he’s really poised for a great year – even after the great season he had last year. We’re really fortunate to have somebody like that behind center.”
Pratt will have plenty of weapons to choose from this season.
“Garett Gunter (6-0, 185, Sr.) and Maddix Crutchfield (6-1, 220, Sr.) are two receivers back from last year,” Recker said. “Brylen Parker (5-11, 190, Jr.), who started at safety as a sophomore, also played a little bit at tailback last season. He (Parker) is going to be at a running back spot. He’s looking to have a really good year at both safety and running back.”
Last season, Pratt passed for 3,384 yards with 34 touchdowns and just five interceptions. On the ground, Pratt rushed for 1,291 yards and found the end zone 19 times.
Recker said that despite losing a couple key offensive and defensive linemen from last season, he feels that there are two returners they can build around.
“Line-wise, we actually have two guys who have really grown from last year. Logan Dotson (6-5, 250, Sr.) and Jackson Jones (6-1, 240, Sr.) were both starters last year, and they’re back,” Recker said. “A lot of colleges have been big on Logan, because of his 6-4 frame. He (Dotson) is about 250 (pounds) now. … He looks really good. A lot of D-II schools have been really high on him.
“Jackson plays with good leverage, and he’s a kid that’s been in the weight room, very consistently, since last season. I think he’s going to be very good for us this year, as well.”
Van Wert’s offensive philosophy will not change. The Cougars will still run a spread offense.
“We’ll be pretty much the same,” Recker said. “We will mix in as many of those formations that we can; and we will take whatever the defense gives us. Our offensive coordinator, Cole Harting, has done a really nice job of just taking what the defense gives us. We’re simple, offensively, with our guys. But, we’re pretty diverse to what we can do. They do a good job of spreading the ball around.”
Van Wert’s defensive scheme will be very similar to last year’s. However, there will be an additional Recker roaming the sidelines this fall.
“My dad, Steve Recker, who was at Delphos St. John’s for 35 years (coaching), is coming over to coach this year (as defensive coordinator),” Recker said. “So, that’s going to be really nice. We’re going to be pretty similar. So, this should be pretty easy for our guys. He’s bringing a few wrinkles that he likes out of the 4-2 (defensive scheme). So, it might be a little different than what we did in the past. But all said, I think we’re going to look very similar, defensively, and maybe a little more diverse.”
Another thing that will look very similar to last season is Van Wert’s overall depth and team speed.
“This is probably our deepest group of skill kids that we’ve ever had,” Recker said. “If we have four out there, we can put a new four and we probably don’t miss much. We’re just very deep at the skill positions. We just have to try to find some depth up front with the offensive and defensive lines.”
Coach: Keith Recker
Years at school, record: 11, N/A
Last season’s record: 12-2 overall, 8-1 in WBL, WBL champs, regional finalists
Returning letterwinners: 13
Returning starters: Logan Dotson (OL), Maddix Crutchfield (HB/DB), Jacob Fuerst (RB/LB), Aidan Pratt (QB, DL), Damon McCracken (HB/LB), Garett Gunter (WR/DB), Jackson Jones (OL/DL), Brylen Parker (RB/DB)
August 19 – Bryan
August 26 – at Celina
September 2 – Defiance
September 9 – at Wapakoneta
September 16 – St. Marys
September 23 – at Ottawa-Glandorf
September 30 – Shawnee
October 7 – at Kenton
October 14 – Elida
October 21 – at Bath
All games start at 7 p.m.