WAPAKONETA – Wapakoneta made a late season run that saw them win a thrilling 26-24 game over St. Marys to help the Redskins garner a share of the Western Buckeye League title. The Redskins followed that by defeating playoff nemesis Trotwood-Madison, 24-21, in the first round of the postseason and top-ranked Bishop Fenwick 27-17 in round two.
Unfortunately the Redskins’ run ended in the regional finals when Kettering Alter upended Wapakoneta 21-7 on a chilly November night.
Redskin head coach Travis Moyer said he hopes some of that late season success serves as motivation coming into this season, but as he likes to point out this is a whole new season with a lot of holes to fill on both sides of the ball and special teams.
“I thought that stretch showed that our kids are extremely hungry, and they understood the level of competition they were playing at that time. It led to a springboard into our off-season, and we understand that to be successful we have to have a strong work ethic in the offseason,” Moyer said. “These kids gave that to us and hopefully it will lead to us competing for a state championship.”
The offseason and the preseason are going to be vital to Moyer and his coaching staff.
On offense, the Redskins must not only completely replace their offensive line but also find a quarterback. Gone to graduation is Brady Erb, who was a dual-threat quarterback who was a key component of the Redskins’ attack.
Reed Merricle, who played receiver, is the top candidate for the signal caller’s job.
“Any time you say goodbye to your quarterback, that is usually the first question coming into the new year,” Moyer said. “We have senior Reed Merricle competing at that spot with junior Trevor Crow and sophomore Braeden Goulet. Those guys are competing right now for that position.”
Rebuilding the offensive line will be one of the Redskins’ top priorities. Gone are Brenan Knueve (WBL offensive lineman of the year), Jeffrey Plaugher, Nate Ambos, Derrick Winemiller and Devin McBride, a first-team all-WBL selection.
“When you look at the offensive line, we lost all five starters up front,” Moyer said. “I really like the guys we have coming up. They have worked really hard. They are hard workers and they want to do well. It is important they improve each and every day at that position.”
Moyer added that there are high expectations from the offensive line, and it is going to take time to develop chemistry together and meet the challenges of playing in the trenches.
“I am never going to doubt our kids’ effort, and they are going to give their best effort, but we just have to execute at a high level to be successful every night,” he said.
Letterwinners who saw some time on the line that are returning are Keith Houser, Ezekiel Arnett, Tyler Shroyer, Brandon Schneider and Isaac Meeks. Some promising newcomers include Seth Hook and Eric Carpenter.
With Merricle getting a shot at quarterback, the Redskins will also need to find some guys to throw to. Back for another season are Noah Ambos, Garrett Siefring, Devin Huelkamp and Crow.
“Noah started all 13 games last year, and he has done a tremendous job for us in terms of maturity. Hopefully he will become that go-to wide receiver we need on the outside,” Moyer said. “We want to be a balanced offense. We want to throw the ball and run the ball equally well.”
Bruising back Evan Kaeck, who was a major factor in the Redskins’ running game last season, returns to add not only talent but leadership to a relatively inexperienced offense. Kaeck, a WBL first-team selection, rushed for 1,370 yards with 23 touchdowns with a torn labrum.
Kaeck bruised and battered his way through the season with essentially one arm, and Moyer said he had surgery to fix the injury. He is working his way back to being 100 percent.
“It really was a gutsy effort by him to play with a torn labrum all season,” Moyer said. “He is a huge part of what we do. He is a big part of what we have done here not only last year but the previous three years.”
Moyer added that in addition to his on-field exploits, Kaeck has grown as a leader, and that is something the Redskin head coach said is vitally important.
Kaeck’s leadership and talent will also be called upon on the defensive side of the ball. As a linebacker last year, the senior ‘Skin was a WBL first-team selection and first-team All-Northwest District, in which he had 69.5 tackles, one interception and 4.5 tackles for loss.
Unlike the offense, there are fewer holes to fill on defense. The Redskins return seven starters from last year’s defense and six of the seven front line starters. Back are Meeks, Houser, Dylan Gonterman on the line and the linebacking crew of Kaeck, Merricle and Siefring return.
One key component not back is Brenan Knueve, the WBL defensive lineman of the year.
“It is extremely difficult to replace someone of his (Knueve) caliber,” Moyer said. “But our guys up front need to be successful and the rock of our defense. Those guys played a lot of football, and we need to continue to grow at those positions and continue to get better. “
Huelskamp is the lone returner in the defensive backfield.
Moyer said with the rebuilding of the offensive line and a new quarterback the defense will be leaned on to help carry the Redskins in the early part of the season.
“The one thing we learned here is that if you want to win a championship, you have to play well defensively,” Moyer said. “We have to do a good job of tackling. Do a good job of open field tackling especially in this day and age with the number of spread offenses that you see.”
Moyer points out that the common theme this year is replacing personnel and special teams is another area that will need to be filled. The Redskin head coach adds that the good news is there are talented seniors and juniors ready to step up and become starters.
Graham Kinnear and Braedon Harshbarger will be vying for the kicking duties.
“We understand that special teams is a third of the game so we are going to have to coach up those positions and understand them not only from a point standpoint but the ability to change the field position,” Moyer said. “We have a lot of work to get to that level.”
Moyer said early scrimmages and the first part of the schedule will dictate which way the season might go for the Redskins. The Redskins open with Bellefontaine followed by games against WBL foes St. Marys, Van Wert and Shawnee.
“There has to be a sense of urgency from the get-go to get better and improve and not waste any time on the practice field,” Moyer said. “For us to be successful we are going to have to execute at a high level and these guys are working hard to get themselves that opportunity and compete for a championship.
“We have been fortunate to have a lot of success here and every year is a new year and just because we were fortunate to win a championship last year doesn’t guarantee us we are going to win a championship this year but our kids’ work ethic and desire is there.”