VAN WERT – Van Wert will be trying to fill some voids left from graduation.
After a successful 2018 football campaign in which the Cougars went 9-3 (7-2 Western Buckeye League) and made the Division IV playoffs, Van Wert will try to reload after graduating 16 letter winners.
“Obviously, that senior class that we had was really good with Nate Place at quarterback, Drew Bagley playing H-back and defensive end and with Joey Schaufelberger playing at defensive end,” Van Wert head coach Keith Recker said. “All three of those guys are going off to play college football.”
In 2018, Place led the WBL in rushing from the quarterback position. However, Recker feels confident that the person taking over the signal-calling duties this season will do just fine.
“We have some really good skill players back,” Recker said. “Owen Treece (5-10, 175, Jr.) started both ways for us last year as a receiver and at defensive back. He’s going to step in at quarterback. … He’s been wanting to play quarterback since he was 3 or 4 years old. So, he’s excited for the opportunity to get to play quarterback. So, I think he will do a really good job.
“Owen is a good runner. He’s not as fast as Nate, but he’s a tough runner. So, he’ll get some yards. Our biggest thing, offensively, is that Drew Bagley did so much at that H-back slot. But every year, we’re not going to have a 6-4, 220-pound H-back that can run out, catch a pass and run that well. He’s big enough to block a defensive end. We have some good skill kids. But when it’s third-and-one, it comes down to what we can do to get that tough yard.”
Behind Treece will be running back Jake Hilleary (6-2, 205, Sr.), who was third in the league in rushing last season with 1,057 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“We have Jake Hilleary back. He was second-team all-league last year,” Recker said.
Recker’s biggest concern is developing play in the trenches. The Cougars lost four out of their five starting offensive linemen from a year ago.
“Our big hit was really the offensive and defensive lines,” he said. “That’s going to be a huge key for us, in replacing those guys. I think we’re starting to find pieces, especially offensive linemen. On the defensive line, we’re really not going to know until we get pads on and find out how they can play and how they get off blocks and things like that.”
Colin Place (6-4, 250, Sr.) is one of Van Wert’s starters back on the offensive line.
According to Recker, the offensive scheme will not be much different this year. It will be an option and read type of offense.
“We’ll probably do most of the same stuff. It’s just kind of what we emphasize,” Recker said. “Like Nate’s (Place) junior year, we didn’t run the ball as well. We ended up throwing it about 65 percent of the time. His senior year, we were able to run the ball. We ran it about 70 to 75 percent of the time. So, really, we have it all in the playbook. We can give it to our tailback. We can give it to an outside receiver. We can run the quarterback. Our plays won’t change. It’s all about what we emphasize.”
On the defensive side of the football, Van Wert will be mostly in a four-man front, a 4-2 or 4-3.
“The big player on our defense is Keagon Hammonds (6-0, 200, Sr.),” Recker said. “He plays defensive tackle. He was all-league last year. He had 14 sacks (first in the WBL) on the year. He’s just an undersized defensive tackle, who’s really strong, really tough and has really good athleticism for a defensive tackle.
“Parker Conrad (6-0, 205, Sr.), who was honorable mention all-league last year at linebacker, is back. He’s a really smart kid who knows football really well. He has a knack of getting to the football. We’re going to move him to offensive line as well.”
Van Wert’s secondary looks pretty solid, at least on paper.
“Owen Treece can play defensive back,” Recker said. “We have Tanner Barnhart (6-3, 175, Sr.), who started both ways for us last year at wide receiver and corner. Dru Johnson (5-11, 175, Jr.), who also started both ways at wide receiver and corner, is also back. So, in the secondary, we’re pretty solid. It just comes down to who will be our other two or three defensive linemen who can fill in this year, so we can stop the running game.”