Seniors play big role in Van Wert’s success

By Jose Nogueras - [email protected]

Van Wert’s Dru Johnson (21) has been the Cougars’ No. 1 receiver this year.

Van Wert’s Dru Johnson (21) has been the Cougars’ No. 1 receiver this year.

Amanda Wilson | The Lima News

VAN WERT — As a sophomore Owen Treece was a member of the Van Wert baseball team that made it to the state semifinals two years ago. The standout senior signal caller is now looking to help guide the Cougars to a state semifinal berth in football this year.

The Cougars can do that when they face eighth-ranked Shelby in the Division IV Region 14 regional final at 7 p.m. Saturday and judging by how the team has performed this year they are confident they can achieve that goal.

“I feel like that I was one of the few to be on that baseball team so I guess I know what going to state feels like and share that with my teammates,” Treece said.

The winning mentality on the team starts with Treece and his fellow seniors that number just eight and while that is relatively small for a football team they have made a big impact on the rest of the team.

Treece, along with teammate Dru Johnson and the rest of his classmates, have embraced their leadership role and that began in the summer prior to the season starting.

“I wanted to play quarterback ever since I started playing football,” Treece said. “I felt it was the most important position. You have to be smart to do it. You have to know what your teammates are doing. That is a leadership role and I feel like I do that really well. I get my teammates together and that’s why I feel like we are winning so many games because we have all come together as one.”

Johnson added that with the big classes at the sophomore and freshman levels, the seniors knew there was a lot of inexperience and their guidance was needed to help them prepare for the upcoming season as well as passing along that winning attitude.

“We had to really step up our game really in the summer when they were getting introduced to high school football,” Johnson said. “Some of these sophomores were even new so I think us eight seniors stepping into that leadership role was important.”

Johnson added that even though there are not that many seniors they are spaced out at the various positions that allows them to give advice across the board.

“One of the key things with this team is that we are all in this together and we all want the same thing and we don’t really care how many receptions or blocks we get, it is just that we get that win and keep moving on,” Johnson said.

Van Wert head coach Keith Recker said the seniors have been a driving force in the team’s success but adds some of the juniors and sophomores have really stepped up as well.

“A lot of those guys are very hard workers, effort guys that are going to show up every day and when you have that it kind of pushes everybody and so you have seen seniors, juniors and sophomores step up their game just because they are getting pushed, and we have that competition now especially at our skilled positions,” Recker said. “This year we have had a lot more depth than we have had in the past and you got to bring your game to practice and to games to keep that spot.”

Treece knew they had a lot of talent on the squad after going 6-4 in 2019.

“As a team we all spent our quarantine getting together and working on timing routes and footwork and that was real big and then coming into two-a-days we knew we were talented enough to get this far. Those four games last year were really close so this year was all about finishing.”

Johnson points out that getting out and working out with his teammates not only aided in the team getting ready for the season but it was something that he said helped keep him motivated.

“It got me through quarantine,” Johnson said. “We woke up every day not knowing if we were going to have a season and not knowing if we would even play a game but going out and exercising your body and getting out of the house no matter what the precautions we had to take, it was needed and wasn’t only wanted. We loved it but we needed it.”

The effort put in during the off season, coupled with the senior leadership, paid off early when the Cougars opened the season with four straight wins. However, in week five, Ottawa-Glandorf edged Van Wert, 35-34, and Treece said that was a humbling experience but they learned from it and since then have ripped off five straight wins.

“After that we went back to work because we knew there was a long season ahead of us and that was a minor setback and we just started working harder, making sure we don’t feel that feeling again,” Treece said.

Recker said some of the team’s weaknesses were exposed in that loss to the Titans but added that he saw this as a turning point for the players who realized that a loss can happen at any time. It has also paid off in the postseason.

“They accepted the challenge and continued to improve, and I think that has been a huge difference when we have gotten into some games with teams that we aren’t familiar with that we needed to play well against like a Keystone and Bellevue.”

One consistency throughout the season has been the ability to make the big play and that has been one of the reasons for the team’s success, and it doesn’t hurt when you have the talents of Treece and Johnson in your lineup.

The two have hooked up 44 times for 983 yards and 13 touchdowns in nine games.

As an individual, Treece has rushed for 879 yards and 18 touchdowns and thrown for 2,441 yards and 28 scores.

Against Bellevue, the No. 4 team in the state, many did not thing the Cougars were capable of producing the win, however, Van Wert steamrolled past to a 41-22 win. In the game, Treece ran for 162 yards and four touchdowns and Johnson had six catches for 119 yards and one touchdown.

The two have formed a special bond over the years and Johnson said that gives them an advantage.

“We put in that extra work, bonding and getting that connection,” Johnson said. “So Owen knows if the safety is playing over the top I am going to change my route to this and we are automatically able to do that in a game and that is a huge plus for us to have that mental link.”

Recker admits that they never really pondered whether they would be in the regional final, instead they live by the motto ‘change your best,’ and it has paid off for the Cougars.

“Can we go to a state final, I don’t know,” Recker said. “But what we are going to worry about is Shelby right now and do our best there and they have really bought into that and it has been like every game. It has been like that since June and the next workout.”

Shelby (10-0), coming off a 28-14 win against Clyde in its regional semifinal is averaging 45 points a game and giving up 18 points a game. In three playoff games, Shelby has allowed 53 points game.

Shelby’s Owen Fisher is the main offensive weapon for the Whippets. The senior running back has rushed for 1,674 yards and 25 touchdowns, averaging 186 yards per game.

Whippet quarterback Marshall Shephard has passed for 1,552 yards and 18 touchdowns and has rushed for 296 yards and four touchdowns.

Van Wert’s Dru Johnson (21) has been the Cougars’ No. 1 receiver this year. Wert’s Dru Johnson (21) has been the Cougars’ No. 1 receiver this year. Amanda Wilson | The Lima News

By Jose Nogueras

[email protected]

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