VAN WERT – Van Wert head football coach Keith Recker feels like he’s been in this position before.
Last season, Recker’s squad managed to go 6-4 (5-4 Western Buckeye League), and were in most games, despite losing a solid senior class from 2018.
This season, Recker is optimistic that his team will be very competitive once again, despite losing some key players to graduation.
“We kind of feel like we are in the same boat when we went from 2018 to 2019. We lost a really good senior class in ‘18, came back last year and ended up 6-4, which isn’t great, but not bad for everything we lost,” Recker said. “It kind of feels like the same situation now. In 2019, our seniors did a very good job. Coming back this year, we were not really sure what we had. But we’ve been very happy with the progression this summer, especially with our skill players. We are very deep in our skill positions. They’re some very good athletes. A lot of them played as sophomores and juniors last year.”
Leading the Cougars will be two-way player senior Owen Treece (5-11, 190). Treece made the Van Wert offense click last season, as he passed for 1,945 yards on 148 for 243 passing, and had 18 touchdown passes. Treece also rushed for 849 yards and eight TDs. On defense, Treece was second on the team in tackles (60), playing in the secondary.
“With him (Treece) being back at quarterback, there is so much consistency from last year, which is a big thing,” Recker said. “We know what we’re going to get from him. He can throw it. He can run it. … We use him a ton in our run game. Our guys are so confident with him. They just trust him. They know he’s a winner. He has all of the intangibles. He really understands our playbook and what we need to do, so well.”
In 2019, Van Wert’s spread offense ended the season second in scoring (31.7 points per game), passing offense (197.2 yards per game) and total team offense (387.9 yards per game).
“We had Connor Pratt (6-2, 180, WR/DB), Trey Laudick (5-9, 155, WR/DB), Nate Jackson (5-10, 180, RB/DB) – and those three guys all played as sophomores last year,” Recker said. “Now, they’re juniors. Dru Johnson (6-0, 180, WR/DB) played as a junior, but was hurt for about half the year. … He’s back as a senior at wide receiver. Those guys are so much more athletic, and they understand what we’re trying to do, scheme-wise, both offensively and defensively.
“We have two or three offensive linemen back. That’s probably our biggest thing to figure out – who is going to play on our offensive line, because we have the skill kids. We have to be able to put five guys out there who can take care of those guys behind them,” Recker said.
Recker said he’s excited to see what Jackson can do this season, after suffering a season-ending injury last year.
“Nate Jackson got hurt in the Bryan game (season opener), and never came back the rest of the season,” Recker said. “He broke his collar bone. He might have been an all-league defensive back. … He looked that good. He’ll also plays tailback… He’s really good. He has speed, size and definition. His twin brother Ty plays defensive end for us.”
The Cougars’ offensive unit will try to keep the opposing defenses off balance.
“Ideally, we would like to run the ball. … That’s what we like to do,” Recker said. “We’re very simple. We run very few plays, but with a lot of different motions and formations.
“We’re going to take what the defense gives us. If we can’t run it, we feel really good with the weapons we have on the outside. We have enough in our pass game with screens, short passes and some deeper passes, that we’re very confident in the way we can throw the ball. Last year, we were third or fourth in
the league in both rushing and passing. We have a lot of pride in being a little more balanced,” Recker said.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Cougars will try to keep it simple. Van Wert will show a 4-3 scheme this season.
“We’re going to try to keep everything in front of us,” Recker said. “It starts with our defensive line. We’ve got two guys who started last year – Cullen Dunn (6-2, 205) and Turner Witten (6-0, 225) – both juniors. They started both ways as sophomores on both the offensive and defensive lines.
“Defensively, it’s about not giving up big plays. We need to stop giving up big plays and start creating more turnovers. We (offensively) averaged about 32 points per game, last year. That should be good enough to win some games. So, we need to get the ball back to our offense,” he said.