HARROD – Some might find it a surprise that Allen East is off to a 4-0 start this season.
Since 2010, Allen East has had two winning seasons and last year was the first time the Mustangs, at 4-3, had a winning mark in the Northwest Conference. From 2010-2018, the team’s overall record is 28-52.
But Wes Schroeder, who took over the program last year, said he thinks the team is right where it should be.
“I think we kind believed this would happen,” Schroeder said. “Last year we were 5-5 and in those five losses we were competitive in all of them.”
Schroeder added that they probably would have been better last year if it was their second season but in his first year he had to introduce the players to his brand of football and the culture he expects around the team.
After taking over at Allen East, Schroeder’s philosophy was simple. You are either all in or all out and admits that he lost some players but for those who stuck around they are reaping the benefits under the second-year coach’s tutelage.
“Last year was a big culture year. We lost some players that would have helped us but if you don’t buy into the culture you are either in or out,” Schroeder said. “That is why we are where we are. If you weren’t bought into what we were doing you were gone. If you are you are here and reaping the benefits. You can’t have half in. You got to be all in or all out.”
By bringing in a more wide open style of offense, the Mustangs bounced back from a 2-8 season in 2017 to a 5-5 season and its first winning record, 4-3, in the NWC.
Schroeder added that the eight seniors who stuck it out last year laid the foundation for the team’s winning ways and this year’s seniors have picked up where they left off.
“My seniors last year bought into the culture early and that is hard to do with a new guy who is preparing for the future but my seniors did that and those guys have carried it over,” Schroeder said. “We do everything we can the best we can. We take care of our locker room. We take care of our equipment. We take care of the underclassmen. We support each other. We love each other.”
“It is what we have as a culture based on showing up, working hard and loving your teammates.”
With a year under Schroeder, the Mustangs came in with confidence and the desire and dedication to improve on last year and with the culture aspect established, the coaching staff could focus on the finer details of playing on both offense and defense and hit the “ground running” at the onset of the preseason.
“Last year we were coaching formations,” Schroeder said. “Now we are adding things and refining what we do and defensively we know our players. We know how they play under the lights and how physical they were going to be so we can get guys in the right position. Last year we didn’t do that because we just didn’t know.”
Not so coincidental, the Mustang defense is one of the main reasons for the team’s early season success. After four weeks, the Mustangs are giving up an average of 11.5 points a contest which is tops in the NWC. Crestview is second in the league yielding 22.3 points a contest.
As a team, the Mustangs are tops in total yards allowed in the NWC, giving up 884 yards a contest. They are tops in yards rushing allowed (104 yards a game) and third in passing yards allowed, 117 yards a game.
Schroeder said going into the season he expected the defense to be better than the offense and it is the same defense that was run at Columbus Olentangy Liberty where he coached.
“It is unique to the area and nobody really runs anything like it but we just try to fly to the ball and get guys in position and we knew it would cause some problems for some teams if we coached it right and all the assistants that I have. It is a collective effort,” Schroeder said. “Everyone bought into it.”
Not too be overshadowed is the work of the offense. Even though they were quite pass happy last year, Schroeder said this season he has seen a more balanced approach.
Schroeder points out that last week the Mustangs did not score an offensive touchdown in its 14-11 win over Columbus Grove Friday.
Allen East is averaging 25 points a game and the Mustangs are third in passing, averaging 171 yards a game and sixth in rushing, averaging 121.8 yards a contest.
Yes, the Mustangs still throw the ball but are not as reliant as they were last season. Quarterback Bryce Belcher has passed for 643 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions. The Mustangs have three receivers in the top 10 in receiving yards in the NWC. Bradden Crumrine has caught 14 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns. Logan McCluer has hauled in 14 catches for 174 yards and one touchdown and Cole Fletcher has 12 catches for 164 yards and 1 touchdown.
Schroeder said the offense has had some success because they have learned to adapt.
“We still throw the ball a lot but it is different,” Schroeder said. “When we beat Wynford we were up 22-0 and ran the ball twice for touchdowns and threw the ball twice in the second half. We beat Perry and we threw the ball 10 or 15 times. We change to our personnel.”
Schroeder adds that despite the unbeaten record, the Mustangs are still a work in progress and they will be tested this week when the face perennial NWC power Spencerville, who won or shared the NWC title the last two years under the direction of Chris Sommers and finished second from 2013 to 2017 behind the Sommers’ led Delphos Jefferson teams.
Allen East has not beaten Spencerville since 2010 and Schroeder understands a victory over the Bearcat would go a long way to capturing the NWC title as well as a huge confidence booster.
Schroeder said he understands the significance of this game but is trying to prepare for the game like any other regular season opponent.
“It’s big and you would be foolish to think your kids don’t know it’s big,” Schroeder said. “The coaches and the community, everyone knows its big, but we try to prepare for them like we prepare for Bluffton, Jefferson and everyone because if they don’t have your full attention you get bit.”
This early part of the season has been sort of a revenge tour for the Mustangs. After losing to Perry, Wynford and Columbus Grove beat them last year only for Allen East to return the favor this year and looking to do the same against Spencerville.
“Every game is big,” Schroeder said. “We had these first five where none was bigger than the other but Spencerville there is something to it. Chris Sommers is an outstanding coach and they are always in position and we respect each other and they will be ready for us.”