Hillsboro High School football coach Max Heinrichs may have lost a record-setting quarterback and dangerous wide receiver from last year’s 7-4, bi-district championship team.
But the second-year coach feels he has enough weapons in the arsenal this year—including 12 letter-winners—that the Trojans should be sufficiently armed for another successful season this fall.
“I think we can be a pretty good team,” said Heinrichs, who multi-tasks as the HHS principal, too.
Gone through graduation is Jacob Fish, who set passing records last year for yardage (2,216) and touchdowns (24), and the speedy Jacob Edwards, who caught 29 passes for 531 yards and six touchdowns.
“It’s nothing against my last year’s seniors, but I think I like this group even more,” Heinrichs said. “They spent time in the weight room to make themselves better. Hopefully, some of those things show up.”
Weapons on offense
On the offense, senior Ben Bebermeyer (5 feet, 11 inches, 165 pounds) heads the list of returning players. The second-team all-league receiver led the Trojans with 46 receptions for 894 yards and 10 touchdowns.
A corps of candidates are competing for catching passes at tight end or wide receiver, including juniors Dylan Delk (6-3, 190), Devin Dick (5-10, 175) and Jesse Allen (6-1, 175) and sophomores Shaq Thiessen (6-0, 145) and Tyler Proffitt (5-10, 140).
In the backfield, senior Chance Reece rambled for a team-high 531 yards on 138 carries (3.6 yards per carry) and five touchdowns as a junior in 2009.
Joining him in the backfield will be senior Caleb Hillard (5-10, 170), who ran for only 56 yards on 18 carries last year, but has been impressing Heinrichs on the practice field this fall with his speed and intensity.
“Hilliard is one of those kids who can play anywhere,” he said. “He’s very versatile.”
One of several impressive newcomers to the team this year is Ben Gardner (5-11, 185), a transfer from Ohio, who will see time at fullback.
“I can see us doing a lot of different things with that fullback,” Heinrichs said. “I like to put him in motion, he’s a guy we can put out in the pass coverages. When we split a tight end out, we’ll put him as a slot off the ball where the tight end would have been.
“We can do a lot of things that cause people to be out of position so we can have a successful play.”
Sophomore Tyrell Thiessen (5-11, 245) could see some time at fullback as well, or may shift into the offensive line at times.
“Tyrell could be a huge force,” Heinrichs said.
Of course, the quarterback position is key to success on offense. The Trojans have had two players competing to fill Fish’s shoes this fall, junior Luke Moore (5-10, 175) and sophomore Lucas Sinclair (5-10, 145).
“Both of them had pretty good years last year on junior varsity,” Heinrich said. “They’ve been competing hard against each other—that makes you better right there when you have two guys competing that hard at a position.”
Heinrichs said the starting nod probably will go to Moore, given his extra year of experience. Last season he took limited snaps in varsity action as Fish’s backup.
“They both have learned a lot in the past few days,” Heinrichs said. “They’ve come a long way in the passing game.”
Neither running nor passing will work well without solid line play. Heinrichs said this year’s line has the potential to be better than last year’s—as long as the starters stay healthy.
Anchoring the line at center will be senior Matt Wiebe (6-1, 200), with junior Brandon Rooker (6-1, 231), senior Daniel Kenney (6-2, 240), sophomore Dylan Jirak (60-185) and senior Ethan Frantz (6-4, 245) stepping in at guard and tackle.
“We’ll put a line out there that looks pretty good,” Heinrichs said.
Frantz and Gardner will handle the place kicking while Reece returns as the team’s punter.
Heinrichs said he plans to run and throw the ball again this year, but the game plan will depend to some degree on what the opponent defenses are trying hardest to stop.
“I like to go with whatever they give us,” he said. “You can almost never go wrong with the run, but I believe the kids at Hillsboro like to play fastbreak. We’re not going to shy away from throwing the ball. I think we can do it pretty well.”
Solid on offense
Heinrichs said he “feels pretty good” about his defense after having questions about some positions before the season began. He credits defensive coordinator Dennis Boldt for the progress.
“I believe we have some depth this season on defense,” Boldt said. “It will be important for us to rotate guys to give rest.”
Heading into the last week of preseason practice, Boldt said he hadn’t determined the starters, but he’s looking at Frantz, Rooker and Kenney to rotate with others on the defensive line.
Candidates for defensive ends include Delk, junior Aaron Klassen (6-1, 170) and Wiebe.
Hilliard returns at linebacker after receiving second-team all-league honors there last season.
“The addition of Ben Gardner impacts the linebacking core with returner Chance Reece,” Boldt said. “Tyrell Thiessen will be valuable, as he will be splitting time as a defensive lineman and linebacker.”
Dick and seniors Corey Abbott (5-8, 180) and Tanner Johnson (5-8, 145) will also work at the outside linebacker position.
The Trojan secondary may be as strong as it has been in years.
Bebermeyer and Hilliard return as starters, with Proffitt, junior Derek Kelsey (5-11, 155) Allen and Shaq Thiessen rotating at the corner and safety positions.
Heinrichs said he likes what he’s seen in practice during the preseason.
“The kids have a lot of enthusiasm,” he said. “We’ve had some really hot days and they’ve been warriors out there. They kept at it and kept their enthusiasm high.”
Playing a year under his system has helped.
“We’re ahead of last year, just knowing what we’re doing and then doing it,” Heinrichs said.
If anything tempers Heinrich’s hopes of matching or exceeding last season, it’s knowing that several of Hillsboro’s victories could have gone either way in 2009.
Even though the Central Kansas League is new this year, it’s comprised of a lot of the same schools that Hillsboro faced in the Mid-Central Activities Association.
Heinrichs said if had to pick a favorite, he’d choose Pratt because of its size. The Greenbacks aren’t on Hillsboro’s schedule this year, but Halstead, the Trojans’ first opponent, should be battling for the title, too.
“We’re going to have a great test right away because I do believe Halstead will be the toughest team we play,” Heinrichs said. “They’ve got some speed, they’re physical. They beat Hoisington (last year) and Hoisington crushed us. But then they lost to Sedgwick and we beat Sedgwick.
“You just don’t know.”
When district play begins, the Trojans will face three non-league opponents this year: Southeast of Saline on the road, followed by Remington and Marion at home.
Kickoff Friday against Halstead will be at 7 p.m. in Joel H. Wiens Stadium.