Could this be the year the Holy Innocents’ football program has been waiting for?
Third-year coach Todd Winter isn’t making any such predictions, though a look at some numbers and his senior-led roster has to have his Golden Bear family filled with optimism.
They were 6-6 last year with only five seniors; this time around HI will line up with 16 upperclassmen. Also, the Bears have three Preseason All-State performers in running back Michael Cox, linebacker/running back Hunter Hawk and punter Marshall Nichols. Finally, a solid spring game last May and a great two weeks of practice could put even the most pessimistic in a positive mindset when looking at the upcoming 2019 season.
“Yes, we’ve got 16 seniors which has translated to great senior leadership,” Winter said. “This has led to very efficient practices. Also, our overall knowledge of the game is a lot farther along than last year, and we are also farther along in strength and conditioning.”
The Bears return eight starters on offense and 10 on defense — two more very positive stats. On the offensive side, Matt Davis will get the nod at quarterback, with Ronny Williams getting in reps as the backup. They will have two exceptional but different-in-style B backs to hand it to in Michael Cox and Donovan Johnson.
“Michael is the power runner, while Donovan is more of a tailback, finesse type of back,” Winter said. Cox broke season records in touchdowns and yards rushing last year, while at the same time carried the ball 240 times with no fumbles.
As for the A-backs, Hawk, TyQuann Alexander, Jack Felton and Leighton Dickson are four who should see plenty of action.
Still, another positive is that HI will run it behind a solid offensive line. James Gleeson and Conor Swennumson are both working at center; the guards are Charlie Hawk, Tyler White and Hall O’Neal; and the tackles include Mac Mitchell and Blake Dobbs.
At tight end are Landon Kardian, William Willis and Hayes Reifenberger. The split ends include Christian Padgett, Dickson, Kardian and Johnson.
On the defensive side, Winter has a slew of linemen, some of whom include Cox, Sam Aiken, O’Neal, Griffin McKinnis, Moreland Bell, Spencer Goetz, Charlie Mallady and Dobbs. As for the linebacker corps, Willis, Hawk and Bell should all see plenty of time. Bo Maxwell, Kardian and Williams are the outside linebackers.
In the secondary, Alexander, Dickson and Donovan should be the cornerbacks, Padgett and Felton the safeties.
The kicking crew should be as strong as ever with Nichols — already receiving D1 offers as only a junior — will again handle the punting, while Peter Wandkte has been a pleasant surprise as a kicker.
Looking at the schedule, every game is vital with the Power Ranking system, though Winter still has his eye on three games in particular.
“Basically, you must beat the teams that don’t win a lot of games, and I feel we have to win six to get into the playoffs,” he said. “We messed around and cut that close last year. As for three key games, I feel that Hebron Christian, Wesleyan and Eagles Landing will all be big.”
Winter, with a simple but effective work ethic philosophy, broke down his team’s goals this way when looking at both sides of the ball.
“On offense, there are three things: don’t turn the ball over, get a first down on every possession and eliminate penalties,” he said. “Defensively, the name of the game is to create negative plays.”
The Bears will kick off regular season Saturday, Aug. 24th against Mt. Pisgah at Riverwood.