VAN WERT – At times, last football season, Van Wert coach Keith Recker felt like he was trying to solve a jig-saw puzzle.
Despite having a core of good athletes, Recker was forced to shuffle them around to different positions.
The result was a 5-5 campaign (4-5 in the Western Buckeye League) for the Cougars.
This season, Recker feels like the pieces are in place.
The Cougars bring back a total of 18 letter winners (16 starters) from 2017.
“Last season, it was a thing of moving people around to different positions,” Recker said. “This summer, it’s been nice. We know where people will be playing. This season we had some coaches leave, but it’s nice that we know pretty much where the kids will be playing.
“We have a very experienced team with 18 returning lettermen. With that, we are much further ahead this year than in 2017 – because there is less of a learning curve.”
Undoubtedly, the key mainstay for Recker is senior Nate Place (6-foot-2, 185). Last season, Place was inserted into the quarterback position, where he passed for 1,793 yards with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Place was a dual threat, rushing for another 648 yards and eight scores.
“We really want to have the football in Nate’s hands,” Recker said. “Last year, he had to come in and learn the position. This year, he’s ready to go.
“Nate will be one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and there will be some very good quarterbacks in the WBL this season.”
Van Wert will continue to run the spread offense.
Despite the loss from graduation of wide-out Jacoby Kelly (52 catches, 849 yards, nine TDs), Place will have other options to choose from.
Senior Drew Bagley (6-4, 215) leads the returning receivers for the Cougars. In 2017, Bagley hauled in 60 receptions for 658 yards and four TDs. Bagley also leads the way on the defensive side of the football (51 tackles, eight sacks in 2017). Last season, Bagley earned first team all-WBL honors on offense, and second team all-WBL accolades on the defensive side of the football.
“We have a really good group of receivers,” Recker said. “We have four receivers that are at least 6-3. They have a good combination of size and athleticism that should create some good matchups for us.”
According to Recker, the one area Van Wert will need to refine is the offensive line.
“As with any football team, you need five offensive linemen to step up and take it upon themselves,” he said. “If we can do that, we can have a good season.”
This year, Recker is emphasizing the importance of focusing on one day at a time.
“We have a group of guys that have bought into ‘changing the best’,” he said. “We are not going to worry about what happens in two days or in two weeks. We are taking care of what we can control – our effort today. If we continue to take care of what we can control, we will be competitive against the teams in our league.