NEW PARIS — The National Trail football team hopes to win more games this year with its large group of upperclassmen.
Randy Kerns returns to New Paris for his second season as head coach for the Blazers.
“Last year didn’t finish up the way we wanted to, going only 3-7,” Kerns said about his first season at the helm. “We had only one senior on the team but we gained a lot of players coming back this year and we’re looking forward to their experience. A second year is always better than a first, but it wasn’t all bad.
“We did lose Micheal Bane, who was a great athlete — his contribution defensively was a major asset to the program,” Kerns added.
Over 20 lettermen are returning from 2015, benefiting from gaining experience while having so few seniors on the past year’s team. A number of those players are returning starters.
Thirty-one players are on the roster — not a large number but about average. “Sometimes, with what we ask of our kids, we could use a few more. The things it takes to reach a program to the championship level and to maintain that level consistently, can be too much on some kids. But our kids are doing well.”
At quarterback, Kerns will enjoy returning starter and All-CCC senior Ben Sullivan (6-4, 240) who is also a state wrestling champion. “Sullivan brings size, athleticism, and a mental toughness that is a blessing for the team,” said Kerns. “He’s really picked up the position really quick from last year and he’s just a brilliant kid to coach.”
Sullivan is eager for his final year as a senior.
“I started playing back in fourth grade, I was a lot smaller back then and it’s been quite a ride since,” Sullivan said. “Our expectations are higher than before, but we just expect everyone to do their best. Our running game should be pretty decent and we have some fast guy as well.”
The backfield will see returning All-CCC fullback and defensive end senior Tyler Glander (6-2, 250).
“Tyler should be one of the best defensive lineman in the league this year,” said Kerns of Glander. “He’s one of the strongest players on the team and he’s a horse. He and Sullivan are a force and they need to keep healthy in order to carry the team.”
“Being a fullback and on the interior defensive line is hard on the body,” said Glander.” I didn’t think at the beginning of last season it was so bad, but at the end of the year, it’s tough. I like it because on offense, I can score touchdowns and on defense, I can make the big plays. I like smacking quarterbacks a lot more than running the ball. It takes a lot of mental and emotional toughness to play both positions.”
All the offensive linemen are back from last season. Dalton Mason (junior) and Trey Mann, a senior who was honorable mention All-CCC, are the most experienced men up front. Junior Malachi Short is also a superb lineman, along with a horde of juniors who will battle in the trenches against opponents.
Kerns said he has a total of nine returning starters offensively and defensively, as many kids played both sides of the ball.
“Defensively, we stick to our base scheme of a 3-4 formation. We will be about the same as we were last year, but only smarter, as so many kids had to learn the basics last season,” Kerns said. “We expect our defensive line to be the strength of the team, just as the offensive line is — and the front guys will be the best position group on the team. The linebackers and secondary need to step up as well, but it all starts with the big guys.”
Sullivan is a force at defensive end, while Glander will be a defensive tackle. Mason, Mann, Short, and junior Levi Norton will see playing time in rotations. Mann is back at linebacker, as is junior Mike Behringer and senior Corbin Hoblit, who will be the centerpiece of the defense. The Blazers will be a bit more aggressive and will enjoy a good rotation of back up players, according to Kerns.
Junior Angel Garabito returns in the secondary and looks to pick off quarterbacks regularly.
“He’s been a lockdown defensive back for us,” Kerns said. “We desperately need him to be as good as he was last year. He’s fast, athletic and very comfortable at his position. On the other side at cornerback is Noah Brinkley, a bigger back (6-1) who is solid. The safety positions will be younger than most of the other starters on the team. Jacob Heck has missed two years of football due to injuries. He broke a collarbone one year, then broke the other collarbone the next. But he’s back and healthy — he might be one of the athletes in the school. Lucas Boggs is back and is looking to be a starter as a junior who started most of last year.”
National Trail does not have a kicker on the team, but Corbin Hoblit and Ben Sullivan will be the punters for the Blazers. Sullivan is known for booming some very deep balls on punting, according to Kerns.
“We think we can dictate what we want, to be more aggressive defensively against teams we feel we can control up front in our schemes. But there are some teams we need to pull the reins in on and figure out what they are doing. We teach college-level techniques and schemes, and our kids are responding, so it’s looking good.
“I’m biased, but my assistant coaches are the best a head coach can have,” Kerns bragged. “The guys have been with the teams all summer long in camps and workouts. You normally don’t see that out of assistant coaches at the bigger schools, so these guys have shown they are committed.”
Kerns’ assistant coaches are Marcus Calvert, Jeff Schmidt, John Day, Joe Simpson, and Kyle Fischer.
On Friday, Aug. 26, the Blazers will travel to Camden to play against county foe Preble Shawnee. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“That’s a big game for us,” said Kerns. “It’s the first game of the season, followed by Miami East, so we have two big games right off the start. The gap between us and Preble Shawnee last year was immeasurable. They beat us big last season and we need to be better than that. We preached all year long since last season about ‘closing the gap’, and that’s been our motto for this season. The gap is big and we need to compete with great effort and I think this will be a great game if we do that.
“The Cross County Conference is strong with Miami East and Covington being the best on a regular basis. Twin Valley South and Tri-County North are figured to be strong as well. But with so many teams in the conference, the competition will be tough from top to bottom,” Kerns said.
Reach Oliver Sanders at 937-683-4062 or on Twitter @osanders_RH.