By Maria Leichty / For Daily Reporter
FORTVILLE — The 2017 season will be a year of firsts for the Mt. Vernon football team. A new field. A new coach. And a new sectional.
The team practiced on their brand-new field turf for the first time on Aug. 5 and dug in for their team scrimmage last Friday.
“I’m really interested to see how hard they play and how they react when things get tough,” first-year head coach Neil Kazmierczak said of his new team.
Kazmierczak moved to the coaching position at Mt. Vernon after going 11-11 in two seasons at Lebanon High School. He replaces former head coach Doug Armstrong, who was 45-23 through six seasons, and led the team to an 8-4 record in 2016. They finished second in the Hoosier Heritage Conference with a 6-1 record, their only loss to New Palestine.
Another major change for the team will be who leads them from the pocket. Kamierczak said three guys have risen to the top, a senior and two juniors.
“I think all three of them are good as far as throwing the ball from the pocket,” Kazmierczak said. “It’s a matter of who’s going to step up and learn the fastest and overcome the fact they don’t have a great amount of experience.”
Senior Robbie Campbell and juniors Tyson Harley and Austin Finke are currently battling for the chance to replace Zac Montgomery, who transferred in last year and transferred to Delta this year for his senior year.
Montgomery brought a strong passing game last year, finishing with 2,123 passing yards while also rushing for 842 yards. However, the Marauders will be able to look to senior No. 1 running back Eric Jones to bring his experience into the season.
“We just want him to continue doing what he does,” Kazmierczak said. “He runs the ball very hard. He’s a downhill, very physical runner and, especially with an inexperienced quarterback, we need him to really step up and carry the load, especially early.”
Jones was a Hoosier Heritage honorable mention last season and ran for 1,136 yards and six touchdowns. Other tools Mt. Vernon will be leaning on early is their defense and special teams.
“We’re looking for the defense to set up some opportunities for the offense and give them some good field positions,” Kazmierczak said. “We’re hoping to have a very good kicking game as well with Trevor Bond and hoping he can help us control the field position.”
Defensively, he added that he will be looking to Campbell, at linebacker, and fellow senior Josh Freeman, at lineman, to lead the team.
Offensively, along with Jones, he pointed to seniors Conner Nelson, at lineman, and Adam Lackey, at wide receiver.
He said their type of offense has yet to be determined, but depending on how things shake out at the quarterback position, they would like to be balanced.
The final new challenge for the Class 4A Marauders, along with everyone else, is the sectional realignment. Mt. Vernon was the Sectional 22 runner-up last year but will be witnessing different competition come October of this year.
The new teams in the sectional include Beech Grove, Greenwood, Mooresville and Shelbyville. Greenwood lost in the Sectional 21 final last season to eventual state champion Roncalli. Returning teams in the sectional include Connersville, New Castle and Richmond.
“The kids are focused on having a winning season and trying to win sectional and get past that,” Kazmierczak said. “But our first goal is to get better every time we go out.”
With 17 seniors on the roster, the team will be taking on Hamilton Heights in their first game of the season. The Marauders will look for revenge after losing to the Huskies in the season opener the past two seasons.
“I think both teams played very hard,” he said. “I think Heights will be a challenge; they are always a solid program and have an edge of experience on us as far as knowing their system. We’re going to have to really play well.”
The Marauders will continue their season with an away game at Marion before diving into the Hoosier Heritage Conference against Greenfield-Central on Sept. 1. Their sights will also be set on rival New Palestine on Sept. 8.