Trojans feature size and talent, but depth is a concern

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Having lost two-thirds of last season’s starters to graduation, Hillsboro coach Dustin McEwen has a hole to fill in his lineup about the size of the Grand Canyon.

But the Trojan mentor, now in his eighth season, thinks he has the talent to fill it.

He just won’t have a lot of material left over when he’s done.

“Depth is a little bit of a concern,” McEwen said. “If injuries take out a couple three kids, that can really hurt.

“We have more question marks this year as far as who’s going to play, and where they’re going to play, and how to get the most out of our players,” he added.

The Trojans return only four starters on both sides of the ball. Seniors Brian Thiessen (6 feet, 215 pounds) and Caleb Marsh (5-11, 175) went both ways last year-Thiessen on the line and Marsh at a mix of skill and backfield positions.

Also returning are senior starters Tim Glahn (5-11, 180) at center, Brodie Unrau (5-11, 165) at defensive back, and Kyle Jilka (6-0, 185), who started at linebacker and played significant time at fullback by season’s end.

Offense

McEwen is looking particularly to Marsh, Jilka and Unrau to key the offensive attack this season.

“They’ve got to fill those leadership roles as guys who have played a lot,” McEwen said. “Brodie hasn’t played a lot on the offensive side, though he started to get more involved last year as a receiver.

“Jilka and Marsh have seen the battle and have been there. You’ve got to start with those three as being keys.”

One of the most intriguing questions McEwen and his assistants-Scott O’Hare, Len Coryea and Dennis Boldt-face is figuring out how best to capitalize on the versatility of Marsh.

In his first season as a Trojan in 2002, the shifty speedster averaged nearly nine yards per carry (353 yards on 41 attempts) as a running back, caught 17 passes for 453 yards and five touchdowns as a receiver, and was the backup quarterback in his spare time.

“He’s so much fun to watch catch the ball, and so much fun to watch run the ball,” McEwen said.

This season, though, Marsh may play quarterback most of the time.

“The intention right now is that Marsh will be the starting quarterback,” McEwen said. “With the questions marks we have, though, this team has to create an identity for itself and decide where we can best utilize him.

“With him at the quarterback spot, some things are going to have to be adjusted a little bit to make the best use of his talents. We’ve got find plays where he can carry the ball.”

McEwen said in some situations, he may start junior Derek Hamm (6-4, 185) at quarterback.

“There may be teams we think we can do certain things to with Marsh not being at quarterback,” McEwen said. “Hamm is very, very capable of coming in and running that position, letting Marsh branch out where we can hide him and make people worry about where he’s at.”

Jilka, meanwhile, will be the man at fullback now that speedster Alan Yoder has graduated.

“Last year he didn’t carry the ball very much from there.” McEwen said. “If you’re going to have a foot race between Yoder and anybody’s who’s left, Yoder is faster. But (Jilka) is ready to take that role and carry the ball more.”

Depending on where Marsh is playing, the speedy Unrau likely will move from receiver to running back, with hard-running sophomore Tim Funk (6-1, 170) getting his share of carries as well.

“Tim Funk is an up-and-comer who last year had a great JV season before he got injured a little bit,” McEwen said. “He’s a hard runner. The guy’s not afraid to come up and just try to bruise it.”

Junior Daniel Deckert (6-2, 175) will start at one receiver spot with four teammates battling for time at the other spot: senior Derek Mayfield (6-0, 175) and juniors Jared Fish, Tyler Goldsby and Jayce Penner.

Coming alongside Thiessen and Glahn on the offensive line will be sophomore Wade Weibert (6-4, 248) and Jeremy Klose (5-10, 175), with three candidates battling for the fifth spot: junior Jordan Allen (5-10, 245), senior Brandon Moss (6-1, 280) and sophomore Kurtis Shaw (6-1, 275).

“Wade Weibert, as a sophomore, is probably, physically, our biggest kid,” McEwen said. “He doesn’t weigh the most, but he’s probably physically the biggest kid I’ve had come through the program during the time I’ve been here. He’s a big guy and he’s going to get bigger. He’s going to be scary by the time he’s a senior.

“Klose is not a very tall guy, so you don’t think of him as being very big. But when you put him on the scale, he’s actually weighs pretty close to what you need for a nice guard to pull and get out in front.

“Allen is moving better this season. Moss came out this year-his knees haven’t allowed him to to this point-and he’s getting through all the drills.

“For Shaw, as a young sophomore, it’s a matter of getting him prepared for the varsity level. He’s going to be good when he gets to the point of being ready for the varsity level.”

Defense

Most of the offensive starters will stay on the field when the other team gets the ball, McEwen said.

Thiessen will anchor the defensive line at tackle. Weibert has been working out at linebacker, but may shift into the interior line, with Allen, Moss and Shaw battling for time as well.

Deckert will start at one defensive end with Glahn at the other. A pair of sophomores, Adam Scheele and Ben Schafer, will fill in as needed.

“Deckert’s grown and put on some weight,” McEwen said. “He’ll probably be the defensive end to fill that mode of a tall, athletic kid who can do a lot of things on the end.”

Jilka will anchor the linebacker corps in the middle with help from Hamm, Klose and Funk.

Marsh and Unrau will return to the secondary with Mayfield and Fish, and possibly Goldsby and Penner, filling the other positions.

Outlook

McEwen is the first to admit his starting lineup is not cast in stone.

“I think it’s going to take a little experimenting to see where to best utilize people and their talents.

“I’m not going to say we’re won’t be ready for the first game,” he added. “We’re going to be ready. But I don’t think for the first game we’ll be nearly as prepared as we will be by the fourth game of the season-and maybe not even as prepared as we were last year for the first game of the season. We just have to find where our niche is going to be.”

Despite the loss of so many seniors from last year’s 6-5 squad, the MCAA coaches have picked McEwen’s squad as the unanimous favorite to win the Mid Division this season.

“They need to understand that in the Mid Division they are the target, even with a 6-5 season last year,” McEwen said of his young troops. “At the end of the season, we were the ones who were still playing. Nobody else was.

“I don’t think there will be a game we’ll walk into that we’re not going to have a chance to win this year-assuming we stay healthy.

“They’re a very coachable group. They want to win. It’s our job as coaches to get them to do all the things they need to do in order to win. They work hard in practice and seem to be willing to do whatever we ask them to do in order to win.

“With this group, I think we’re going to get better and better and better as we get to those last three (district) games-just because we’re going to be pretty young, and with our experience level.”

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