Look for the 2012 Hillsboro High School football team to play an up-tempo game under first-year coach Lance Sawyer.
“My biggest thing is that we play fast,” said Sawyer, an Inman native and Kansas State alum who led White City to a 7-2 record last season. He was 15-30 in his five years at the 8-man, Division I school in the Wheat State League.
“The first three years at White City, I tried to pound it out,” Sawyer said. “That wasn’t my style. So we started moving to a complete spread offense. We were wide open, we were fast. That really seemed to work.”
Sawyer said he has a similar plan for the Trojans.
“Really, I think they’ve picked it up pretty well,” he said about his scheme. “They’ve really picked up the terminology, which I think is the toughest part. You can tell they’ve studied.
“Whatever we do, we want to play fast, up-tempo—both defense and offense,” Sawyer added. “I want to play downhill everywhere we go, and I want to be a big turnover team on defense.”
Leading the offense
“With our roster, it fits us best to be a passing team, I believe,” Sawyer said. “As for depth, we don’t have a whole lot of linemen, but we have plenty of skilled receivers.”
Heading the latter list is Shaq Thiessen, a 5-foot-11-inch senior who was a first team all-league selection a year ago. Half of his 16 receptions went for touchdowns. He averaged 18.8 yards per reception for 301 yards.
Complementing him will be Evan Ollenburger (5-11, 135), who led the Trojans with 22 receptions. The junior received all-league honorable mention in 2011 with two touchdowns and 268 yards, or 12.2 per catch.
“Shaq obviously will be there, and Evan Ollenburger has been extremely impressive so far,” Sawyer said.
Providing depth at receiver will be seniors Josh Wiebe (6-1, 190) and Tyler Proffitt (6-0, 159), juniors Jordan Faul (5-9, 145) and Cody Delk (6-1, 152) and sophomore Justus Hilliard (5-6, 146).
“Justus Hilliard has been feisty,” Sawyer said. “The kid’s fast and fun to coach.”
The person charged to get the football to them as quarterback will be senior Lucas Sinclair (5-11, 167), who went 4-for-9 for 78 yards last season as a backup to Luke Moore, who graduated.
As situations arise, Proffitt will be the one to step into the role.
“They both have their definite strengths,” Sawyer said. “Tyler is the better runner and Sinclair is the better passer right now.”
Sawyer identified three players as his leading candidates at tailback: senior Tyrell Thiessen (5-11, 275), who brings size but surprising speed to the position, junior Scott Brazil (5-6, 167) and senior Preston Nelson (5-9, 166).
“Tyrell will be tough to tackle,” Sawyer said. “I think if we spread it out, he’ll definitely have some advantage going through the line.
“Scott Brazil is small but he’s fast,” he added. “He’s been playing pretty well and he’s a real smart player.”
The athletes charged with protecting the passer and opening holes for the runners at the tackle and guard positions include seniors Nathan Unruh (6-3, 210), Dylan Jirak (6-1, 198), Tanner Jones (5-8, 179) and Carter Pankratz (6-0, 285) along with sophomore Cody Craney (6-0, 175).
Jirak received all-league honorable mention last season as an offensive lineman.
Senior newcomer Josh Davidson (6-4, 255) and sophomore Josh Funk (6-0, 156) have been battling to play center.
“For what we’re going to run, our linemen will fit,” Sawyer said about the size of his linemen. “We’re a little bit smaller, but they’re fast and they can pull. For what we’re going to run, they’re going to be good.”
Defense, special teams
Putting legs to Sawyer’s goal for an up-tempo defense is a front line that includes Unruh, Jirak and Tyrell Thiessen in the interior, with Wiebe and Delk at the ends.
Tyrell Thiessen also will see some time at linebacker, along with Jones, Sinclair, Brazil, Nelson and Davidson.
Providing coverage in the secondary will be first-team all-league selection Shaq Thiessen, who snagged five interceptions in 2011, plus Ollenburger, Proffitt, Jesse Brown (5-11, 150) and Hilliard.
“Going against our offense, we should be pretty used to covering spread,” Sawyer said. “Our coverage should be pretty good, but you’re not going to find four better players than our front line. They’re strong and they’ve been playing pretty well.
“Our linebackers have been doing a pretty decent job,” he added. “Tanner Jones is going to be a force. He’ll be a player this year.”
With a week to go before the first game, Sawyer said he hadn’t decided on his kickers yet, but the leading candidates are senior Tyler Burst (6-0, 176), Brown and Tyrell Thiessen.
With this being his first season at HHS, Sawyer said he and his coaches haven’t spent much time trying to access the Central Kansas League—except for one team.
“We’re pretty focused on Lyons, and I think that’s the way it needs to be,” he said.
The Trojans open the season Friday against Lyons.
Hillsboro plays in the North Division of the CKL. Halstead (4-0, 7-2) is the defending champion, followed by Smoky Valley (3-1, 4-5), Sterling (2-2, 8-3), Hillsboro (1-3, 5-5) and Lyons (0-4, 1-8).
“Lyons will be a good game for us,” Sawyer said. “I think Lyons will show us where we’re at, and I think Lyons will be much improved as well.”
As for the rest of the season, Sawyer said he’s optimistic about his team’s chances. For the Trojans to reach the state playoffs for the seventh straight season, they will need to win or be the runner-up in a district that includes Moundridge, Marion and Halstead.
“We need to go in having pretty high expectations,” Sawyer said. “I know they went to the first round of playoffs last year, and I think we have the opportunity to go that deep and even deeper. It just depends on how well we buy in and how well we come together.”