Coming off an 8-3 season, a Heart of America League title and a bi-district championship, the Goessel Bluebirds football team will operate against some new competition in the first year of the Wheat State League.
Joining with former HOA mates Peabody-Burns and Little River, plus six members of the defunct Dwight D. Eisenhower League—Centre, Hope, Solomon, Wakefield, White City and Elyria Christian—Goessel was one of three teams in the new league to reach the state playoffs last season. Centre and Hope were the other two.
In its sixth consecutive state playoff appearance, Goessel fell, 58-24, in the Division 2 quarterfinals to the eventual state runner-up, Baileyville B&B. In the first round, the Bluebirds beat Burden Central, 50-20.
Returning four starters and three letter-winners from 2009, eighth-year head coach Justin Coup has a veteran core with playoff experience.
Returning at quarterback is senior Neal Brubaker, who threw for 1,100 yards in 2009. The backfield combination of Brubaker and John Berkholz was responsible for 15 touchdowns last season. Jake Smucker will return to play wide receiver.
The Bluebird offensive line will be anchored by senior right guard Alex Ross. Juniors Joe Campbell and Drake Sterk lettered at offensive line in 2009.
On defense, the same four starters return, but there are some question marks at middle linebacker with the graduation of Weston Hiebert, a walk-on at Kansas State University this fall.
“Our weakness will be filling holes at the defensive line and locating a good middle linebacker as the season progresses,” Coup said. “We will have to improve quickly as we begin district play Week 3.”
Ross also will start on the defensive line. Sterk and Campbell also have experience up front, but are not locked into those positions. Linebacker John Berkholz and defensive back Jake Smucker are returning starters. Sophomore linebacker and defensive back Trey Schmidt is a returning letter-winner.
“We have some people who had to step in last year when we were hurt by injuries,” Coup said. “They experienced playoff football and how to come up and hit.”
Goessel is picked to finish third in the Wheat State behind Little River and Centre. Hope was picked fourth followed by Peabody-Burns, Solomon, Wakefield and White City.
The Bluebirds will play in 8-man Division 1 District 8 and is picked to finish third. Little River is picked to win it followed by Claflin, Goessel, Peabody-Burns, Lincoln, Solomon and Canton-Galva.
Goessel opens its season Sept. 3 with a home game against Wakefield.