CHURUBUSCO — Reimaging, probably. Restructuring, yes. Redesigning, certainly. Refocusing, for sure.
Transitioning, but definitely not rebuilding.
With the mix of returning players and past success, 2019 doesn’t really qualify as a project year at Churubusco.
“We’ve got a really good-sized senior class,” Eagles coach Paul Sade commented. “We’ve got about 15 seniors and we have a lot of experience.”
That’s the good news. That’s a seemingly stacked deck of potential and talent.
But, the not-so-good news: the players who graduated were monumental to the Eagles’ recent success.
“We have a lot of shoes to fill,” Sade said. “We’ve got some holes and are looking to hit the ground running.”
He’s dealing with the loss of perennial starters in quarterback Tommy Richards (73-of-103 passing for 1,027 yards and 12 touchdowns), fullback Nathaniel Keener (203 carries for 959 yards, 10 TDs). Both were All-Northeast Corner Conference Small School division selections.
Then there’s Mr. Everything Joey Emenhiser (14 catches for 176 yards and two touchdowns receiving/33 carries, 229 yards, 4 TDs rushing, 47 made extra-point kicks), who played halfback and defensive back and was placekicker and punter, and another All-Stater in Tanner Allen (72 tackles, 23.5 for loss, 6.5 sacks). They’ve also graduated.
Allen leaves big shoes to fill on the offensive line and at linebacker.
Players will also have a learning curve.
Sade has tweaked the offense a little. The running game will still be huge, but there will be some new looks.
“We’ll still be a Wing-T, but we’ll probably be in the shotgun more,” Sade said. “We did some of it last year. We want to expand on that. Just getting comfortable is our biggest focus of the summer.”
Four of the top five receivers are back including Blake Trostel (10 catches for 281 yards and 4 touchdowns), Sam Wood ( 22-226, 1 TD), Jake Fulk (10-155, 1 TD) and Gage Kelly (9-109, 3 TDs). Wood, the state runner-up in the pole vault this past spring, will replace Richards at quarterback.
The run game loses a lot with Keener’s graduation and someone will need to pick up the slack. This is a team that pounded out 252 yards per game by the run.
Kelly looks to be the heir apparent. He’s a double threat by ground and air, he averaged more than 10 yards a carry and had seven scores. In limited action, he recorded 46 carries for 473 yards. Fulk (55-448, 3 TDs) and Wood (30-420, 5 TDs) are also back. Wood averaged more than 113 yards a game in all-purpose yardage. That’s the best on the team.
Depth in the secondary and linebacker remains question marks.
Lots of experience returns with defensive back Wood (71 tackles, 6 interceptions), Linebacker Fulk (59 tackles, 8 sacks) joins lineman Reese Wicker (74 tackles, including 18 for loss) as anchors on the defensive line.
The Eagles limited opponents to just 89 yards rushing per game, and were equally difficult against the pass, giving up just 99 yards a game.
That will be essential as the Eagles’ on-field success hinges on players stepping up to be leaders. Early in practice, Sade admits it’s slow arriving. “To be honest, we are waiting for our leadership to develop,” he said.
He added, “I think we have a good group of seniors with experience and talent. After that, I’m not so sure. I do believe there is potential and the doors are open. But, we need more than seniors.
“It’s probably not going to be one or two people.”