HHS football retools for another winning season

 These seniors and letter-winners will fuel Trojan success this fall: front row (from left), Jesse Brown, Jake Jost, Justus Hilliard, Jesse Meier, Jordan Faul, Preston Nelson; back row, Evan Ollenburger, Chase Meisinger, David Dick, Cody Craney, Leo Sontag, Cody Delk.Eleven contributing seniors are gone from the 2012 team that completed one of the most successful football seasons in Hillsboro High history.

The Trojans went 10-1, and did it by defeating their opponents by an average margin of 37-12. But don?t use the ?R? word around second-year coach Lance Sawyer to describe his 2013 team. The Trojans are not rebuilding, he says, even though they return only one starter on offense and four on defense. Retooling might be a better word for it.

?That senior class we lost was good, but there?s always another senior class ready to come up,? Sawyer said. ?I think this senior class will be good, too.

?We?ll miss some of the leadership from some of those kids we had last year, but some of the kids this year will find their role and will be the main leaders for this team.?

Leading contributors

Sawyer said the talent shelf is hardly bare this fall.

?I think we have some great athletes coming back, it?s just we?re behind other people,? he said.

The Trojan coach will look to most of those ?great athletes? to step in?and step up?on both sides of the ball.

Heading Sawyer?s list is Evan Ollenburger, a 5-foot-11, 134-pound senior who was a first-team all-league selection on both offense and defense.

On offense, the wide receiver contributed 478 yard for the passing game, 115 yards on the ground and scored seven touchdowns. On defense, Ollenburger was credited with 61 tackles and two interceptions.

?Evan has excellent hands, he?ll probably play wide receiver and the corner position,? Sawyer said.

Senior Jesse Brown (5-11, 159) was named to the Central Kan?sas League first team as a kicker. He was used sparingly on offense, but contributed 30 tackles and five interceptions on defense.

?He?s up in the air as quarterback or receiver, and (will be) a defensive back?he?s proven himself there,? Sawyer said.

Ironically, Brown may not be the team?s place-kicker this season. Leonardo Sontag, a foreign exchange student from Brazil, likely will inherit those duties.

?He can boot the ball,? Sawyer said of Sontag (6-3, 172). ?If we can work Leo into that speciality assignment, we can give Jesse a break at some point in the game. Jesse?s going to playing a lot.?

Two other impact players returning are senior Cody Delk (6-0, 156) at tight end and defensive end, and junior Justus Hilliard (5-7, 165). Delk contributed 47 tackles and five sacks on defense in 2012, while Hilliard was credited with 17 tackles.

Delk will return to the end position on both offense and defense; Hilliard will return to the defensive backfield, but have a significant role in the offense.

?Justus Hilliard is sort of coming into his own, he?s running the ball extremely well,? Sawyer said.

Also marked for rushing duties is senior Preston Nelson (5-10, 163).

?I think Preston Nelson has a lot to offer this year,? Sawyer said. ?He?s been working hard. He?ll more than likely be playing running back, taking over for Tyrell (Thiessen), and probably play middle linebacker as well. He?s worked hard over the summer, and came into the season in shape.?

One senior who was sidelined in 2012 is expected to make an impact this fall.

?Jordan Faul (5-10, 159) has been impressive so far during practice,? Sawyer said. ?He?ll probably be a receiver, and then one of our corners.?

New contributors

The Trojans may not be rebuilding, but they do have question marks at some positions.

If Brown finds a home at receiver, quarterback duties likely will fall upon Jakob Hanschu (5-9, 152), a junior who had one carry in 2012 and has yet to throw a varsity pass.

As a group, Sawyer said he feels good about his players at the skill positions. The biggest unknowns lie with the offensive and defensive lines.

Aside from Delk, most of the candidates looking to fill vacancies in interior line are lacking size or experience at the position?or both.

One key contributor will be junior Jesse Meier (5-10, 181), who was a running back in 2012.

?He?ll probably play that left guard spot and will probably start as a linebacker as well,? Sawyer said.

Also in the mix at guard or tackle are seniors Cody Craney (5-10, 203) and Jake Jost (5-8, 136), junior Josh Funk (5-11, 160) and sophomore Levi Mendoza (5-8, 174).

Battling at the center position are junior Graham Pan?kratz (6-1, 187) and sophomore Colton Guhr (5-8, 219), a transfer from Valley Center.

Most of these players are learning new positions.

?They have worked hard, but they?re not meshing like we hope they will, so far,? Sawyer said. ?But I think we?ll get there by the first game.?

Style and outlook

Sawyer said he expects his team to run a similar up-tempo offense with an almost even balance of passing and running.

?We?ll run what we run, and if they don?t get it we?ll keep running it until they get it,? Sawyer said with a smile. ?I think we?ll catch on.?

But he knows his team will be physically smaller this fall.

?Our size, that will be the determining factor?our line will be small,? Sawyer said. ?We have a couple of guys over 200 pounds, but not very many. We?ll have to use quickness a lot more than we did last year. We won?t be able to just bowl anybody over, I don?t think.?

State of mind will be another key for team success.

?I hope to see the toughness level still there,? Sawyer said. ?We walked into many games (last season) knowing we could be more physical than other teams.?

As for the Trojans? potential in the CKL, Sawyer knows the competition will be tough.

?Our side of the league (the North Division with Smoky Valley, Halstead, Lyons and Sterling) will be really competitive,? he said.

?Hesston will be really good, of the teams on our schedule, and Nickerson will again be good. I think we have a lot of tough games on the schedule, but they?re winnable games.?

The Halstead game also will count for district play. Marion and Moundridge will return as district foes as well.

?I think our district will be tough?but again, winnable,? Sawyer said.

The Trojans open the season Friday with a home game against Lyons. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Joel H. Wiens Stadium.

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