This summer, Ben Gottsch arrived as a junior with strong QB credentials from Indiana after his father, Mike, a former college quarterback and quarterback coach, was named head football coach at Tabor College.
The only wrinkle in this double bonanza is that Brown is back for his senior season, leaving Coryea with the enviable challenge of having two quality captains to navigate the ship this season.
“There is no ‘quarterback controversy,’” Coryea adamantly maintained. “Spencer is the returning quarterback. He hasn’t done anything to lose his job. He does have a kid behind him who’s very good.”
Rather than competing quarterbacks, Coryea is blessed with complementary quarterbacks.
Last season, Brown (5 feet 11 inches, 181 pounds) completed 50 percent of his passes for 1,309 yards and 12 touchdowns. And yet he’s particularly dangerous on the ground, where his speed and agility helped him amass 405 rushing yards on fewer than 80 carries while setting up his teammates for more than 2,000 additional rushing yards.
Meanwhile, Gottsch (5-11, 162) doesn’t have Brown’s legs, but he does have a strong arm and football mind.
“Gottsch’s strength is throwing, and he sees the field,” Coryea said. “He’s been around a quarterback coach all his life, you can tell. He makes up for (having less speed) with his knowledge of the game.
“We’ve got to get Gottsch involved,” he added. “He’s good enough that we can’t take a kid like him and sit him. He’s got to play.”
The good news, according to Coryea, is that both athletes are unselfish leaders who are prepared to do whatever it takes to help this year’s squad be successful.
“I told Spencer, ‘If we sub Gottsch in, we want you to be a halfback or receiver—you’re not coming out and standing,’” Coryea said. “I said, ‘If I sub, it’s only to give you the ball more, not to take you out of the scheme.’
“Spencer’s remark was, ‘I’ll play anywhere. I’m fine with that.’ That’s the kind of kid he is.”
Coryea said his playbook includes more pass options this year, thanks in part to Gottsch’s skills. But running the ball will still be critical.
A primary weapon in that arsenal will be senior Jacob Yoder, who average nearly six yards per carry a year ago on the way to 716 total yards.
“With his speed and strength, he’ll match anybody in the state,” Coryea said.
The other starting halfback likely will be junior Ishmael Morris (6-3, 162), who played only a limited role last season.
“He’s fast and strong, too.” Coryea said. “Ishmael doesn’t see everything the same, and he doesn’t have the hands (that Yoder has). But to run the ball, I think he’ll get us the yards with speed, and he will run into you.”
Also in the mix for run support are juniors Isaac Leihy (6-0, 164) and Tyler Jones (5-7, 152)—in addition to Brown when Gottsch is at quarterback.
When the Trojans do throw, Coryea said he has a promising corps of receivers to catch the ball. Heading the list is a former quarterback candidate, junior Daniel Jost (6-1, 169).
“Daniel Jost may be as good as any we’ve had,” Coryea said. “He’s got real good hands and he’s just got that happy attitude.”
On the other side of the formation, the leading candidates are senior Grant Schneider (6-4, 161) and Dave Loewen (6-5, 192), with seniors Dustin Strunk (6-1, 165), Mitchell Koop (5-7, 127), Yoder and Brown in the hunt.
Despite losing his top two receivers (Troy Frick and Lucas Hamm, 55 receptions) from a year ago, Coryea said, “I think we can catch as many ball as we did last year. We don’t have tall kids, but we have speed. We don’t lose anything with (this year’s) receivers.”
How successful the Trojans are at running or passing will depend to a large degree on the prowess of the offensive line—which is Coryea’s biggest unknown coming into the season.
The Trojans will be replacing an interior line that averaged nearly 6-3, 215 pounds with one that checks in around 5-11, 185 pounds.
“We’re definitely smaller,” Coryea said. “Last year I was the shortest guy among the offensive line in the huddle. This year I’m the tallest guy in the huddle—that’s the difference.”
But what this year’s line lacks in height, it offsets with muscle.
“If we would do physical strength tests, I think we’re stronger, physically, than we were a year ago” Coryea said. “What we don’t have is leverage. With a tall guy, the defense has to look around him. With a short guy, they can look over the top.”
To offset the height issue, Coryea said his linemen are working more on double-teams and the tight ends are more involved as blockers than they were last season.
“We’ve spent more time on that this year than in the past—because we’ve got to,” Coryea said. “It’s just so important that people work together.”
Coryea said one of two seniors, either Zach Jost (6-0, 162) or Daniel Roble (6-0, 200), will anchor the line at center.
The one not playing center will be paired with junior John Hein (6-2, 203) at a tackle spot. Senior Michael Scheele (5-11, 182) and junior Tyler Lofton (5-7, 190) will man the guard positions.
Rotating in are senior CJ Shaw (6-0, 243) and junior Jake Kenney (5-10, 183).
Line play will be equally important on the defensive side of the ball if the Trojans hope to hold their opponents under 200 yards total offense per game, as they did a year ago.
Hein and Lofton have the edge at tackle, with Shaw and possibly Roble stepping in as well. At defensive end, Scheele, Zach Jost and Andy Klassen (6-1, 159) will share playing time.
Roble likely will see more time at linebacker, and Yoder will move to that position from the secondary. Also battling for playing time there are Jones, Leihy and junior Brandon Brown (5-11, 188).
“I’d say we’re really green at linebacker,” said Coryea, who lost all three starters from last year. “That’s were the real ‘controversies’ are—the true battles are there, not at the quarterback spot.”
Leading candidates to patrol the secondary this fall are Daniel Jost, Spencer Brown, Morris, Gottsch and Strunk.
“The guy who is our safety is the guy who can cover, and then come up and make the most breakups and tackles in practice,” Coryea said.
The Trojan kicking game is solid at punter with Yoder’s strong right leg.
“Jake Yoder is as good a punter as you’ll see in the state of Kansas,” Coryea said. “I’ve seen him punt numerous balls 60, 70 yards in the air.”
Spencer Brown has been working at kicking off, but the battle for extra-point kicking is wide open.
“At extra point, I have no idea,” Coryea said. “I’ll say we’ll probably have one; it may be a freshman.”
All things considered, the Trojans’ early schedule is favorable for a team that has some unanswered questions.
Hillsboro’s first two games are against Mid-Central Activities Association Central Division foes Nickerson and Haven, both of whom have some question marks of their own.
“Nickerson has some good individuals,” said Coryea, who mentioned the Panthers’ defeat of Smoky Valley in the state playoffs as an indicator of the team’s improvement over the course of last season.
Haven, meanwhile, has a new coach and reportedly is down in numbers—hallmarks of a rebuilding year.
Elsewhere in the division, Coryea expects Smoky Valley to be strong again, but he’s not sure what kind of team Wichita Collegiate will put on the field.
“They’ll have a few of the skill and speed people back, but they also lost a lot of really good kids,” he said.
Coryea tags Hesston not only as the strong favorite in the Central Division, but as one of the best teams in Class 3A this season.
“Hesston has the potential to be the western representative (in the state championship game),” he said. “(Coach Nate Wollenberg) has got speed, size and a ton of kids returning. They’ve got big kids with athleticism, and they have all that speed coming back.”
How does Coryea see his team fitting into the Central Division mix?
“I’m hoping that when we come to Hesston (Game 8), we’re knocking on the door,” he said. “I think we could.”
The Swathers also will be the team to beat in the four-team district, which also will include Marion and Remington.
Hillsboro’s season opener at Nickerson is scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff.