GREENFIELD – A football group that lost only three games during its middle school and freshmen team seasons has arrived in full force on the Greenfield-Central varsity roster.
A handful of the current sophomores will get a chance to contribute immediately to a program coming off two straight losing seasons.
“That freshman group (last year) was one that was a pretty good football class, and there’s going to be some of those guys thrown in the fire right away,” said G-C coach Roger Dodson, whose team will open 2014 on Friday at home against Indianapolis Shortridge. “They’re going to make some mistakes. They’re now sophomores playing with seniors instead of freshmen playing with freshmen, so there’s an adjustment there to be made there.”
The Cougars’ varsity unit is 52 players deep, with nearly half (25) comprised of those sophomores, who lost two games as seventh graders, ran the table in eighth grade and went perfect last year, as well, save for a loss to Yorktown’s C Team, which included players other than freshmen.
The second-year high schoolers will be most noticeable this season on G-C’s defensive side of the ball. Michael Sosnowski will start at linebacker and fellow sophomores Austin Herald and Bryce Ratliff are in the lineup at cornerback and safety, respectively. Linebackers KJ Mills, Spencer Hert and Skylar Gary and corner Drey Jameson are also in the rotation.
Most of those sophomores will see playing time on offense as backups, at least to start the year.
“We’re going to be pretty young,” Dodson said. “We potentially could have potentially five sophomores starting on defense for us, and two or three on offense.”
That’s not to say G-C doesn’t have a veteran presence. The Cougars’ entire offensive line is upperclassmen: seniors Trevor Taphorn, Bobby Sawyer, Mitch Antle and Zach Phillips and junior Noah Houser.
Phillips, Kim and senior Tino Faitele comprise the front end of the Cougars’ 3-4 defense.
That group received more experience than G-C would have preferred a year ago, as the club’s original starting lineup was decimated by injury. Linemen Jacob Mize and Logan Addington, cornerback Drew Dougherty and safety Stephen Dickerson were just a few of the senior Cougars who missed significant time. Standout two-way lineman Tyler Beeson played in all 11 games, but was dinged up much of his final prep campaign.
“We do have some good kids coming back,” Dodson said. “We have some seniors uSome of the Cougars’ walking wounded, including Mize, a North/South All-Star selection, made it back in time for the postseason, where G-C played some of its best football of the year. It defeated Muncie Central 23-22 with a fourth-quarter comeback and fell 16-13 in the sectional semifinal to a 9-win Mt. Vernon club.
“Our running game was really improved with some of the people we got back,” Dodson said. “It was a tough year last year, anyway. But being able to come out and just keep battling … in that sense, it’s a positive thing that the kids can see what it means to never quit.”
It’s at running back where the Cougars are perhaps the strongest.
Cameron Nuckols and Andy Kim combined for 1,252 yards on 271 carries last season, and they’ll start in the backfield again behind junior quarterback Jeremiah Fields (79-of-175, 806 yards, nine touchdowns, seven interceptions).
Fields will also be handing off occasionally to Sosnowski, Gary and Herald.
“In the running department, those guys will help us out quite a bit,” Dodson said of the sophomores. “So, we’ve got about five backs who we can move around in there that gives us some decent depth. And we’ve got some speed with some of the track kids (Sosnowski and Herald).”
The ninth-year coach added that Fields (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) has come into his own.
“Since the end of last season to right now, all he has done is work,” Dodson said. “In the weight room, at football camps … his work ethic has been tremendous. We talk all the time about worth ethic and attitude, and Jeremiah is tremendous in both.
“Now, we just have to give him the opportunity to be successful.”
The Cougars’ other playmakers include flanker Austin Johns, wideout Geordan Stump and tight end Ethan Kahl, all seniors.
Johns and fellow senior Dustin Staton will start in the secondary, with seniors Nuckols and Jacob Morris and junior Christian Henderson at linebacker.
The Cougars’ mix of youth and experience has a chance to get off to a quick start. In a revamped schedule, Class 4A G-C hosts Class A Shortridge and 4A Indianapolis Northwest in Weeks 1 and 2. Shortridge went 7-4 last season against a small-school schedule, while Northwest was 1-9.
Gone from the docket are Rushville, which left G-C’s Hoosier Heritage Conference, and Lebanon. Former season-opening foe and new HHC member New Castle was moved to Week 9, the final of seven straight conference games to close the regular season.
“I think we’re going to have a competitive team,” Dodson said. “If we can stay healthy, we could be a fun team to watch.” p there. And one thing about our injury situation last year is a lot of those kids got some playing time. Hopefully it will help them out at the beginning of the year and get us going.”