VAN WERT – Winning a state championship is a tough act to follow.
Last season, Van Wert won the Division IV state football championship, and ended the season with an 11-1 overall record.
Van Wert head coach Keith Recker doesn’t want to put any extra pressure on this year’s football team.
“There was one day when we talked about the state championship,” Recker said. “We just wanted to make sure these guys understand that it’s a completely different team (this season). Although there’s a lot of pieces back from that (2020) team – it’s a totally different team, a totally different year.
“We’re just trying to get them to understand that they can decide how that goes (this upcoming season). What we did before – whether it was a state
championship (last season) or five years before when we were 0-10 – has no effect on that. We’re just trying to pound that into their brains. We don’t have to be a complete replica of last year. We have to do our own thing in order to be as successful as we can be.”
Recker is being cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season. Even though his team lost eight valuable letterwinners from its state championship squad, it does return 20 letterwinners.
“We have our top seven O-linemen, plus another kid that is right there,” Recker said. “Our line should be really good. We lost (quarterback) Owen (Treece). We lost (wide receiver) Dru (Johnson) and a couple other seniors that played some big roles for us. But we still have some guys who can play.” Last season, Treece was the focal point of the Van Wert offense. Last season, Treece was named the offensive player of the year in Division IV. Johnson was named first team all-Ohio at wide receiver. Recker was named co-coach of the year in Division IV.
Treece will be playing football this fall at Wittenberg University. Johnson will be playing football at Ashland University.
Despite both Treece and Johnson moving on, Recker and his staff feel confident the offense will still be very potent.
“Aidan Pratt (6-4, 195, Jr.) has been looking really good this offseason (at quarterback),” Recker said. “We also have Carson Smith (6-1, 170, Jr.) and Brylen Parker (5-11, 175, So.), who are kind of right there (at quarterback). We feel pretty comfortable with all of them. But Aidan has such a really good arm. He (Pratt) understands that there are some things that he does differently than Owen. … But he doesn’t have to be Owen. Owen kept plays alive and ran a lot, and did those kinds of things. Aidan is not that type of quarterback. But some of the things Aidan can do, I think will be really good. He’s 6-4, and can stay in the pocket and make every throw. We just have to be able to run the ball with our running back a little bit more than we did last year,” Recker said.
Last season, Treece accounted for 124 points and 20 touchdowns for the Van Wert offense. Treece passed for 3,099 yards and rushed for another 1,036.
Recker said he plans on mixing up the offense a little bit this fall.
“We’ll put in the exact same plays,” Recker said. “But we want to throw more quick screens. We want to give some of the option and read looks. It’s what we want to emphasize. Last year, the quarterback (Treece) ran more. This year, it’s probably going to be a little bit more tailback runs. We want to get Maddix Crutchfield (6-1, 210, Jr.), our H-back, involved, through both the run game and
the pass game. We also want to do a lot of drop back passes, because Aidan is very good at that. He has a really strong arm. He sees the field well. He has his brother Connor Pratt (6-3, 180, Sr.) on the outside (at wide receiver). He (Connor Pratt) is looking really good. So, the stuff that will emphasized will be a little bit different, but what we use will be the same,” Recker said.
In the backfield, senior Nate Jackson (5-10, 180), an all-WBL running back in 2020, will lead the way for the Cougars.
“Crutchfield is kind of like a tight end, but off the ball. Nate Jackson will be back at tailback,” Recker said. “He can run the ball, and he can catch the ball. He allows us to be so versatile. He’s (Jackson) going to be the main one in the backfield.”
Defensively, the Cougars look to be very solid and deep.
“Last year, we did a great job at stopping the run,” Recker said. “And we have all four defensive linemen back. The one interesting thing for us is that our quarterback (Aidan Pratt) is our defensive end. But he’s so good, we just can’t take him off the field. We have a handful of guys like that – who are just too good to take off the field.”
The Cougars boast both speed and experience in the secondary. Seniors Trey Laudick (5-10, 160), Connor Pratt and Jackson all return in the defensive backfield.
Recker said this year’s squad has just one thing on its mind.
“This group has bought into concerning themselves with the only thing they have control of – which is their effort and focus,” he said.