FORTVILLE — The Mt. Vernon Marauders aren’t dwelling on the past, but they haven’t forgotten it either.
Opening the 2015 season 2-1 before falling to 3-2, the Marauders finished 6-5 while contending with several key injuries to give head coach Doug Armstrong his fourth straight winning season in five years at Mt. Vernon.
While a nice streak to maintain, senior team captain Nathan Seifert believes that number should have been more decisive. In two of the team’s losses last fall, the margin of defeat was by a mere three points or less.
Those two letdowns don’t settle well with Seifert, the team’s leading tackler at linebacker last season with 150 total and seven for a loss.
“That’s motivating us a lot. We practice hard with a focus to finish out games,” Seifert said. “We want to win the close ones this year. That’s our biggest focus, defense.”
Swagger is high on the Marauders’ priority list as well, which comes fairly naturally for a team with eight returning starters on offense and nine on defense.
Ten seniors will see time in the Marauders’ spread formation in 2016, while six will drive their multiple defensive sets as Mt. Vernon looks to improve upon its fourth-place finish in the Hoosier Heritage Conference at 4-3.
“Shelbyville, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, those are all good offenses,” Seifert said. “We want to get better and come ready to work against the conference.”
Seifert and fellow senior Mitch McCarthy will anchor the Marauders’ black, white and old gold curtain.
McCarthy returns at linebacker next to Seifert to power the inside rush and pass defense. He racked up 137 total tackles with six for a loss last season. Both combined for three sacks and two interceptions.
“All summer, we’ve been grinding,” McCarthy said. “Last year, we had a lot of close ones, a lot of games we thought we should have had, but it’s just correcting those and working on the little things. We know what we can be and that’s what we’re pushing to be.”
The Marauders are loaded in the backfield where they return a handful of quality rushers with undeniable playmaking ability. Seifert is coming off a nine touchdown junior year with 940 yards rushing on 123 carries. He averaged 7.6 yards per rush and 85.5 yards per game.
Collectively, the Marauders ran for 2,852 yards and hinged their success between the tackles with 33 touchdowns and nearly 260 yards rushing per game.
McCarthy (135 yards rushing, three touchdowns) and junior Eric Jones (386 yards, five touchdowns) file in behind Seifert out of the backfield, but the Marauders are eager to unveil a new look when they open at Hamilton Heights on Friday.
Traditionally a tight formation offense, especially last season, coach Armstrong is incorporating a variable attack with the addition of junior move-in Zac Montgomery, a 6-foot, 190-pound quarterback.
“He is very experienced at running the spread system. He’s like another coach on the field. He connects well with his receivers, and he can scramble and run the ball as needed,” Armstrong remarked on Montgomery, who lived in Memphis, Tenn., previously. “That’s a whole other element in the spread offense that is hard to defend. Dual-threat quarterbacks are a whole other animal.”
Montgomery’s presence pushed 6-0 junior Robbie Campbell out of the quarterback role and into the wide receiver corp. full-time where he’s exceeded expectations. Campbell saw limited action under center last year, but he’s used the knowledge and has applied it in training camp, Armstrong said.
Campbell, along with 6-0 senior Alex Barnett, 6-1 junior Damari Gatewood, and 5-10 junior Cole Van Slyke give Montgomery several options as the Marauders seek balance on offense.
“I’m sort of a tight formation coach, but we have weapons at quarterback and running back,” Armstrong said. “I like to adjust the formation and the strategy to whatever fits the kids. We’ve been tight formations before because that’s what we’ve had. That’s what we did best. This year, we can do something different.”
In the trenches, 6-1, 230-pound senior Kreig Frye, 6-2, 240-pound senior John Hanson, and 6-1, 240-pound senior Nick Anderson return on the offensive line. Senior Peyton Wuerch, a 6-1, 275-pound center, and 6-1, 220-pound senior Jackson Bond boast a mature and hefty front line.
“A lot of these players on the team will be three-year starters, and they know what it takes,” Armstrong said. “The focus is bringing everyone up to your level, not going down to anyone else’s.”
On defense, the intensity is running at full throttle.
“I’d say we spend more time on that then we do on defense at practice,” Seifert said. “Not that we don’t work on offense, but we are trying to make sure everything is perfect, and we’re not just trying to make it basic. We’re trying to make it tough.”
Senior defensive end Charles DeGraff, who stands 6-0 and weighs 190 pounds, set the tone on the line last season with 92 total tackles, a team-best 15 for a loss, and eight sacks.
Max Burhenn, a 6-4, 190-pound sophomore, will start on the opposite end while 6-4, 225-pound junior Conner Nelson and Anderson occupy the gaps.
The defensive secondary could run five deep, depending on the game plan, with Campbell at inside safety along with Van Slyke (25 tackles).
Barnett and 5-9, 170-pound senior Josh Williams will start at cornerback. Gatewood (85 tackles, interception) is back in the secondary as the team’s starting free safety.
Junior Trevor Bond will handle kicking duties. He converted 27 of 30 extra-point attempts last season.
“The goal is always to win conference and to win sectional,” Armstrong said. “Once you win sectional, you reset your goals. We’ve accomplished that since I’ve been here and we’d like to get back to winning championships.
“That’s what we’re looking toward. We’re going to have to win some good, close games to do it. Attitude and toughness is the key.”
Friday, 7 p.m.
Second straight year Marauders open with Huskies
Friday, Aug. 26, 7 p.m.
MV 5-0 against since 2011
Friday, Sept. 2, 7:30 p.m.
Owns 5-game winning streak against
Friday, Sept. 9, 7:30 p.m.
MV 0-4 against since 2013
Friday, Sept. 16, 7:30 p.m.
MV 4-1 against since 2012
Friday, Sept. 23, 7:30 p.m.
Teams split series 1-1 in 2015
Friday, Sept. 30, 7 p.m.
Outscored New Castle 85-27 since 2014
Saturday, Oct. 8, 4:45 p.m.
Teams play at Lucas Oil Stadium
Friday, Oct. 14, 7:30 p.m.
5-2 vs. YHS in past seven meetings