ELIDA – The one constant about a young football team is that it will eventually mature.
Elida is hoping its growing pains from a year ago will equate to a winning season in 2019.
Elida returns 20 letter winners from last year’s 2-8 (2-7 Western Buckeye League) team.
With a slew of returners, the Bulldogs are very optimistic.
“We were pretty youthful last year,” Elida head coach Bill Speller said. “When you combine the youth and the injuries we accumulated, it didn’t turn out to be too good. It was a 2-8 campaign. It was tough to go through, but it was a growing curve. Some of those guys who are playing this year got some valuable experience last year, when maybe they weren’t expected to play.”
Returning behind center for the Bulldogs is sophomore Evan Unruh (5-11, 150). In 2018, Unruh completed 179 of 331 pass attempts for 2,280 yards with 24 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Unruh finished second in the WBL in individual total offense (2,749 yards).
“Evan has a lot of athletic potential,” Speller said about his young quarterback. “We just have to make sure we stay healthy. Brandon Howard (5-11, 160, Soph.) is his backup. He has a lot of potential as well. Evan has that little extra athleticism to him. Hopefully, he can take advantage of it this year.”
In front of Unruh will be an experienced offensive line, something he did not have last season when he started as a freshman.
“It’s probably our closest-knit group on the team,” Speller said about his offensive line. “We are excited about the guys up front.
“Dylan Harmon (6-1, 260, Jr.) is returning at center. Then Jordan (Speller, 6-5, 315, Sr.) is going to be playing guard for us. … He’s gotten a lot bigger and a lot stronger. Those two with D.J. Schultheis (6-0, 240, Sr.) are returning as well. Those three in the middle are incredibly strong. They’ll be a lot of fun to run behind. Ira Collier (6-1, 220, Sr.) will be at right tackle and Mason Chiles (6-0, 205, Sr.) will be our left tackle.”
Jordan Speller, the son of coach Speller, will anchor this year’s offensive line.
“We definitely have the chemistry (on the offensive line),” Jordan Speller said. “We’ll definitely be on the same page this year.”
Elida should showcase speed at the other skill positions.
“Keshawn Spivey (5-10, 170, Sr.) will probably play at one of our slots,” Coach Speller said. “Joel Purugganan (5-6, 140, Sr.) will probably be at the other slot. Devon Barnett (6-0, 170, Sr.) is returning at a split end. The other split end is probably going to come down to Colin Smith (6-5, 200, Sr.), Jayden Irons (6-2, 150, Soph.) and B.J. Carter (6-2, 170, Sr.). Marcel Poe (5-9, 170, Sr.) is going to be our running back. Dominic Pryor (5-11, 180, Jr.) is probably going to see a lot of time back there too. This is the fastest team that I’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Spivey, a track standout, is a two-time Division II state qualifier in the 110-meter hurdles.
With a spread offense that will push the tempo with a quick, no-huddle approach, Elida’s philosophy will be fairly simple.
“Our offense is based off what the defense is going to give us,” Coach Speller said.
Defensively, Elida is hopeful it will vastly improve from last year’s performance. In 2018, Elida was last in the WBL in scoring defense (44.9 points per game), total team defense (466.1 yards per game) and rushing defense (318.3 yards per game).
“We gave up 45 points per game,” Coach Speller said. “Nobody is satisfied with that. We ran a 3-4 front last year. We’re going to go back to our 4-3. We have some guys that we feel can get it done. There’s a battle right now on who can play our defensive ends. We have Jordan (Speller) and Dylan Harmon anchoring the middle. … Those two are pretty solid.
“Linebacker-wise, we return some guys who got some time last year. Mike Niebel (5-8, 170, Soph.) played as a freshman. Austin Kirk (5-10, 210, Sr.) was in there a little bit last year. He (Kirk) was our middle linebacker. Andrew Etzkorn (5-10, 175, Jr.) saw quite a bit of time, due to some injuries. He’ll be playing linebacker.”
Elida’s secondary is still in the works.
“At the defensive backs, we have some good, young guys coming up,” Coach Speller said. “Jayden Irons, Gunner Kuhn (5-8, 140, Soph.), Zaine Hile (6-0, 160, Soph.) are coming up. B.J. Carter is returning at free safety.
“Devon Barnett is probably going to play at strong safety for us. We’re really excited about another freshman, Kaylon Spivey (5-8, 150), Keshawn’s little brother. He’s a really athletic kid.”
Barnett is optimistic about this year’s defensive unit.
“We have a lot of guys coming back,” Barnett said. “With our new defense, we’re all learning positions. We seniors all know it (the new defense). It’s not actually new to us, but we just have to get used to it again. I think it will all come together.”
Added Coach Speller, “I think with our experience, we can hopefully be in that mix (top of the WBL) as long as we stay healthy.”