Bigger is better

Following are a few words you probably haven’t heard used in quite some time to describe the football team at Tabor College, at least in a nonfiction article.

Depth. Size. Speed. Skill.

You’d better get used to these words. They’re necessary to describe this year’s team, and head coach Tim McCarty expects them to be heard for quite some time in the future.

Depth. On the heels of a gallant but overmatched team of 40-plus players a year ago, McCarty and his staff find themselves with 77 players this fall.

“We anticipated 86 in the program,” McCarty said. “Six didn’t show up…and we’ve had three kids quit. We feel fairly confident that those 77 kids will be with us, barring injuries.”

But this year’s depth means more than numbers.

“We not only have depth, we have quality depth,” McCarty said, “Talent-wise, there’s no question that anybody who’s been out at practice, even our own players, know that our level of play has risen dramatically. That just means we have some good, young players.”

This may be the first season in Tabor football history where the concept of a “depth chart” is talked about with a straight face. Players are ranked three and four deep at most positions.

“Our two weakest areas right now in terms of depth are the offensive line, where we’re about two-deep, and the secondary, where we’re about two and a half deep,” he said.

In almost all other cases, depth creates an entirely different problem. The biggest concern of Dave Kroeker, the Bluejays’ linebacker coach, is how to keep 10 linebackers happy because, with their size and ability, they all deserve to start.

Size. Almost 50 of McCarty’s players weigh more than 200 pounds and about 20 are at least 6-3. Many are bigger.

Consider the dimensions of players vying for spots on the offensive line: Dustin Rutledge, an all-conference sophomore, 6-5, 315; Joel Odom, freshman, 6-3, 340; Richard Chandler, freshman, 6-1, 330; Noel McNeely, freshman, 6-5, 285; Andrew Marklewitz, sophomore, 6-2, 315; Joel Hentz, 6-3, 315.

On the defensive line, meet Kevin Wahl, a freshman defensive tackle from Fairview, Okla., who is 6-5, 285 pounds. Ben Compton, a returning junior from League City, Texas,, is 6-2, 265, and Kevin Doris, a sophomore from Goddard is 6-3, 300.

But McCarty has players with size in almost every position, including quarterback, where Travis Davis of Wichita, one of three candidates vying for the position, stands 6-5 and weighs 215.

Or take sophomore Harvey Scruggs, a gifted junior college running back who stands 5-11 but weighs in at a muscular 220. And there’s Mike Rogers, a 5-11, 245-pound junior fullback from Coffeyville.

“We’re going to physically go after people on both sides of the ball,” McCarty said.

Speed. The crazy thing is that McCarty’s big people are also unusually fast.

“Our overall team speed is way up and, defensively, we’re able to run to the football and make some things happen,” McCarty said.

Chad Duerksen, a Hillsboro sophomore defensive end who transferred in from Emporia State, is the prototype.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s a bonafide player who can make things happen,” McCarty said. “He’s fast and he’s strong and he has a good temperament. We’re going to set him at defensive end and just turn him loose.”

If you’re wondering about those skill positions on offense, rest easy. The Bluejays have speed to burn.

Two of the team’s fastest feet belong to Tyler Marsch, a running back and wide receiver from Elk City, Okla., who was recruited by much bigger schools, but ended up at Tabor instead.

“Tyler is a multi-talented player who is going to have a hard time leaving the field,” McCarty said.

Skill. Marsch is only one on a long list of recruits who have racked up numerous statewide honors in high school. How they came to Tabor borders at times on divine intervention.

“To be honest, we have about 15 players we really shouldn’t have because they could play at a higher level,” McCarty said.

The Tabor coach especially likes his receiver corps, which includes Hillsboroans Nathan Funk, a returning all-conference wide receiver, and Tyson Ratzlaff, a freshman who has had “an absolutely phenomenal camp.”

“Our receiver position, I think from top to bottom, is one of the best in our conference if not potentially the nation,” McCarty said.

Competing for the chance to throw some footballs their way are Davis, Matt Insley, a 6-2, 185-pound standout from Hays, and Shaun Craft, a 6-0, 185-pound transfer from Marion.

“If there’s a true horse race out there, that’s where it is,” McCarty said. “They’re all three looking very good and all have their strong points.”

For all the Bluejays’ newfound depth, size, speed and skill, one other word continues a constant theme from years past: inexperience. And that has kept McCarty leery about promoting his team too heartily.

He knows he is less than one year away from a undermanned team that battled gallantly, but lost every game by an average margin of 55 points.

“We have our own expectations, but at the same time, we understand where we are,” he said. “Athletically, I would venture to say we have the people to do what it takes. What we don’t have is experience, and that leads to one word: inconsistency. Young players make mistakes.”

McCarty’s fellow KCAC coaches have noticed the progress at Tabor. Earlier this summer, they picked his team to finish eighth-above a rebuilding McPherson team and a first-year program from St. Mary.

“Right now, I’m going to call it realistic,” he said of the poll. “Obviously we want to surprise some people. But at the same time, we have to step back and honor the other teams for what they’ve done.”

McCarty is enthused not only about the physical attributes of his team, but also its spirit-which has been no small accomplishments given the 100-degree heat on the practice field and, for many, dorms without air conditioning when they’re done.

“I’ve coached 17 years and this is the best attitude in a football camp that I’ve ever been around,” he said. “They’ve kept their focus and their attitude.

Assisting McCarty this fall is an expanded corps of assistants: Kent Keith, offensive coordinator; Dave Kroeker, defensive coordinator; Ed Rigby, offensive line; Max Heinrichs, receivers; Sean Spoonts. defensive line; Heath Marrs, safeties; and Gary Myers, cornerbacks.

“The team is unified,” McCarty said. “The coaches done a great job, with heat, of keeping things positive.”

He and his staff are expecting a positive outcome, too. And they aren’t the only ones.

“The best thing about our team… is our freshman and sophomores,” McCarty said. “Every one one of those kids out there knows that something’s going on. And they believe that their time is coming. It’s just a matter of when. We talk about that every day.”

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