ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
A word to friend or foe: Don’t be fooled by the supposed “void” in this year’s Hillsboro High School football team.
Sure, the Trojans graduated C.J. Hill and Tyson Ratzlaff, arguably the best running back and wide receiver, respectively, in HHS history. The dynamic duo led the Trojans to a 9-2 record and a bi-district championship.
But opposing teams shouldn’t be licking their chops just yet.
“We’ll be right in the hunt of it again, no doubt about it,” head coach Dustin McEwen said about his team’s prospects.
On the offensive side, the Trojans lose Hill’s 1,418 rushing yards, but have three slippery-fast running backs to step in: senior Jeremy Loewen, junior Ross Duerksen, and sophomore Alan Yoder.
As Hill’s understudy last season, Loewen rolled up 584 rushing yards, averaging 7.5 yards per carry-compared to Hill’s 7.9.
Duerksen and Yoder saw mostly junior varsity action last season, but were impressive in brief varsity appearances, averaging 5.8 and 6.7 yards per carry, respectively.
Phillip Terrell, a junior, returns at fullback.
Meanwhile, at receiver, the Trojans will counter Ratzlaff’s 45 receptions and 14 touchdowns with senior Dan Funk and junior Adam Woods. Funk caught four passes for 62 yards last season as “the other” wide receiver, and Woods, at 6-4, 208 pounds, will provide a formidable presence at tight end.
Best of all, the Trojans return quarterback Ronn Coates, who, as a sophomore, surprised a lot of people by completing 52 percent of his passes for a school record 1,456 yards.
“Ronn coming back is big for us,” McEwen said. “Last year as a sophomore, he was able to get away with some things because he had C.J. Hill and Tyson Ratzlaff there who could make a bad thing turn into a good thing once in a while.
“We’re asking for a bit more out of him this year as far as reads and leadership. So far he has been stepping up to the challenge.”
If Coates falters or is injured, McEwen said sophomore Dustin Jost has been looking good in preseason practices, too.
“If Dustin had to step in and start for us, I’d feel just confident in Dustin as I did last year in Ronn starting as a sophomore,” McEwen said. “That’s a nice situation to have.”
Succinctly put, if the Trojans have a question mark this season, it’s not at the skill positions. But, to approach last year’s 370 yards total offense per game, the true test will come in the offensive line.
“We’ve got two kids back who started last year, and the other guys we lost-Jesse Hamm, Justin Friesen and Kane Adams-aren’t the ones you think about right off the bat, but they are kids who had played for a while,” McEwen said.
Senior Corey Thiessen and junior Andrew Hein return at guard and tackle, respectively. Leading contenders for the other slots are senior Scott Winter at tackle, senior Matt Foth and junior Ronnie Davis at guard, and senior Andrew Jost and junior Carson Greenhaw at center.
“Our biggest deal is to get our offensive line solidified,” McEwen said. “Right now, we’re playing around with a bunch of combinations. But I think it’s a good problem because there are so many of them who are pretty equally talented.”
The kicking game, which has been suspect some years, is looking solid for 2000.
Sheldon Funk, who emerged in mid-season to finally give the Trojans a dependable extra-point kicker, returns for his junior season. He is being challenged, though, by Sascha Hechler, an exchange student from Germany.
Woods will handle the kickoff and punting chores for Hillsboro.
Defensively, look for Hillsboro to open in their familiar 4-3 formation.
Ronnie Davis will again anchor the Trojan line. The 5-8, 223-pound tackle led the Trojans in tackles as a sophomore last season with 98.
The battle for the other tackle spot is between Foth (6-3, 177), and juniors Wade Sorensen (6-4, 205) and Erik Roble (5-10, 195).
Winter will return as a starter at defensive end, and Andrew Jost is expected to succeed Kane Adams at the other end.
Woods has the clear nod at one outside linebacker spot and Andrew Hein should fill the middle. The other outside position likely will be filled by Greenhaw, who has experience there, or the Trojans may move up one of two defensive backs, Terrell or senior Ryan Jilka.
Depending on the situation at linebacker, Jilka and Loewen will be starting at the corners, and Terrell and Funk at safety.
“That still leaves me with some great subs in the secondary,” McEwen said, noting Duerksen, Yoder, senior Phillip Thiessen and junior Layne Frick.
The Trojans may have the talent to make a run at last year’s 9-2 record, but this year’s schedule won’t make it easy.
Nickerson has been dropped from the regular-season lineup and Hesston has replaced Southeast of Saline in district competition. Central Division powers Smoky Valley and Lyons will fill the void.
“It will be interesting to play some of those teams with the rich tradition,” McEwen said.
The Trojans open this Friday at Sterling, then play Halstead the following week. The next four games -against Smoky Valley, Ellinwood, Wichita Collegiate and Lyons-will say a lot about the Trojans’ fortunes.
“We could 2-4 or 5-1,” he said. “Whatever it is, that stretch of games will be big for us.”
McEwen expects opposing teams to play with additional enthusiasm this year, thinking the Trojans may be vulnerable without last year’s stars.
“That’s one of things we’re going to have to weather early-until we establish that we’re a good quality team,” he said.
McEwen, who specializes with the quarterbacks and defensive secondary, is again assisted by coaches Dennis Boldt (defensive coordinator, linebackers and receivers), Len Coryea (offensive and defensive line) and Scott O’Hare (running backs and defensive ends).
HHS FOOTBALL 2000 ROSTER
Seniors: Matt Foth, Daniel Funk, Sacha Hechler, Ryan Jilka, Andrew Jost, Jeremy Loewen, Corey Thiessen, Phillip Thiessen, Scott Winter.
Juniors: Ronn Coates, Ronnie Davis, Ross Duerksen, Layne Frick, Sheldon Funk, Carson Greenhaw, Andrew Hein, Jesse Janzen, Austin Jost, Peter Richert, Erik Roble, Jason Rooker, Wade Sorensen, Phillip Terrell, Adam Woods.
Sophomores: Grant Anderson, James Bina, Steven Chisholm, Shawn Hughbanks, Kris Jones, Dustin Jost, Jason Pschigoda, Danny Ratzlaff, Graham Ratzlaff, Alan Yoder.
Freshmen: Tim Glahn, Ryan Janzen, Kyle Jilka, Tracy Jost, Brandon Moss, Cody Pankratz, Tyler Peachey, Brian Thiessen, Brodie Unrau.