The operative word this fall for the Hillsboro High School football program is ?new.? The new season comes with a new head coach, a new stadium and opportunities for new players to claim a varsity role.
That mix may be the key reason the 2009 roster is at record levels with 50 players. Enthusi?asm is high, according to coach Max Heinrichs.
?They?re playing with a high spirit,? he said of his bumper crop of players. ?They get the idea that we want them to compete for their position, and that?s causing more enthusiasm because everybody knows they have a shot.?
The flip side of offering new playing opportunities is that the Trojans lost heavily to graduation?about seven starters on each side of the ball.
But Heinrichs inherits a program that has some upside.
?The junior varsity won the league title last year,? he said. ?I?ve got two good quarterbacks, including one who has a winning varsity record; I?ve got two good tailbacks, including one who moved in; I?ve got a good kicker. Where?s the down side??
It may be the dearth of varsity experience, especially in the line. But that doesn?t dampen Heinrichs? outlook.
?We?ve got some kids who have experience,? he said. ?If (the linemen) can do what they?re capable of, we?re going to win a lot of ball games.?
The look on offense
If football games are won in the trenches, Heinrichs will look to three upper classmen to anchor Trojan hopes.
?We?ve got probably three guys that I know will start right now,? Heinrichs said. ?That would be Ethan Frantz (6-foot, 4-inch, 230-pound junior), Neil Kaiser (6-5, 215 senior) and Evan Just (5-11, 173 senior).?
Auditions were still open last week for the other two interior positions. Heinrichs said he was seeing some ?pretty good battles? among younger players.
Securing playing time at tight end are seniors Taylor Hagen (5-1, 170) and Jacob Edwards (5-11, 162).
Meanwhile, leading the attack as quarterback are senior Jacob Fish (6-3, 152), who has been a situational starter the past two seasons, and sophomore Luke Moore (5-9, 168).
?They?ll both get significant playing time,? Heinrichs said. ?They?re both doing a nice job and competing very hard.
?They?re also both doing a lot of different things than they?re used to,? he added. ?I?ll use the shotgun some, but we?ll be under center the majority of the time, which is totally different from what those guys are used to.?
Heinrichs said each player brings strengths to the position.
?It?s just one of those things where I need to measure where each one is with the team as a leader,? Heinrichs said. ?They?re both good at that position, which is making it a tough decision.?
Heinrichs? quarterback will be handing off much of the time to either Chance Reece (5-11, 174) or newcomer Caleb Hilliard (5-8, 153), both juniors.
?Chance Reece has really worked his tail off,? Heinrichs said. ?He is a big kid that can run. He?s impressed me. Caleb Hilliard is just very smooth. He can do anything we want him to do.
?Do I see them both on the field at the same time? Yeah, a lot of times. Are they my best two tailbacks? Yeah. Are they both fullbacks? Yeah. Those guys are going to see a lot of action.?
He described both athletes as being hit-you-in-the-mouth type of players with adequate speed.
?We don?t have a state-class sprinter like we?ve had the past couple of seasons,? Heinrichs said. ?But I feel pretty good about our backs.?
Working into the rotation will be seniors Matt Yoder (5-11, 150) and Chris Couts (5-8, 146) and freshman Tyrel Thiessen (5-11, 224).
When the Trojans decide to throw the ball, junior Ben Bebermeyer (5-11, 157) will be a primary target at wide-out.
?I can also put Hilliard there and a couple of other kids, but Ben is going to see a lot of playing action there,? Heinrichs said.
He describes his offensive approach as ?a little bit of everything,? with a mix of running and passing from a variety of formations and schemes.
?Our goal is to be 50-50,? he said. ?But if I can run the ball every play and have a chance to win, I?m going to run the ball. If I have to throw it every play because they?re stacking it inside, then we?ll throw.?
When the Trojans reach the end zone, Jake Wiebe is being counted on to kick the extra points. Last season as a sophomore he made 23 of 26 attempts. Joining him as possible kickoff candidates are Frantz and Hagen.
The look on defense
Heinrichs said he is looking to Dennis Boldt to call the signals on defense. It will be the 16th time he has done so in his 20 years as a Trojan assistant.
?We lost seven defensive senior starters to graduation,? Boldt said. ?Every position?tackle, end, backer, secondary?will be affected this year. There is still competition for spots.?
Leading candidates at tackle are Frantz and Kaiser, with senior Jared King (6-1, 159) and junior Dylan Delk (6-0, 158) at the ends.
At linebacker, the mix includes Moore, Hagen, Reece and junior Chris Schafer (5-9, 180).
In the secondary, Beber?meyer and Edwards will man the corners while Fish, Hilliard and Yoder will share time at safety.
?We have some backup spots to fill, particularly on the line and ends,? Boldt said. ?I feel we are solid at most positions, but we will not have great depth.?
Fish and Bebermeyer have varsity experience in the secondary, as do Hagen and Reece at linebacker and Edwards at end.
?What I see coming from our defense this season will be a rotation of athletes at every position, and we will rely heavily on athletes playing multiple positions,? Boldt said.
The Trojans were picked by one preseason ranking to finish fourth in the six-team Mid Division of the Mid-Central Activities Association.
Heinrichs picked Marion as his preseason favorite and has high regard for Hoisington and Lyons as key contenders. But he?s not willing to concede any games at this point.
?I think we can beat any of them, I really do,? Heinrichs said. ?I told the kids we can win (the division), but it?s just going to be stepping onto the field and taking care of it. There?s nobody who can just step on to the field and beat us (based on superior talent).?
The four-team district includes Southeast of Saline, Herington and Marion for the second year in a row. Heinrichs picked Southeast as the favorite and sees the runner-up invitation to the state playoffs coming down once more to the final game of the regular season between Hillsboro and Marion.
By a quirk of the schedule, the Trojans open their season with four straight home games at the new Joel Wiens Stadium. Heinrichs would have preferred a few more home games later in the season, but right now his sights are fixed on Friday?s opener against Sacred Heart.
?If we can get past them, I think we can really get on a roll for the rest of the season,? Heinrichs said.
Game time is 7 p.m.