By John Montgomery
FOSTORIA - As rosters go, it's still small. But when compared to St. Wendelin's recent history, it's huge.
The Mohawks have 21 on their team this fall, seven more than last year and the most players to take the field since 27 filled out the roster in 2008 when this year's seniors were in seventh grade.
Granted, 12 of this year's Mohawks are freshmen, but that's also the most players from a single class since 14 seniors suited up in 2008 and the most freshmen since 19 in 2005.
|Head coach: Jim Bodart, second season.|
|Assistant coaches: Jerry Rumschlag, Bill Whetsel, Adam Flugga, Eric Perkins.|
|Aug. 31||HARDIN NORTHERN|
|Sept. 7||at Livingston County|
|Sept. 28||at Battle Creek|
|Oct. 5||WEST CHRISTIAN|
|Oct. 12||at Troy (Mich.)|
|Oct. 26||at Grand Rapids WMCAA|
|Nov. 1||at Cory-Rawson|
In fact, this is the first year St. Wendelin has had 10 or more from one grade on the team since 10 sophomores played in 2009.
"The big thing I take away from this team, last year, it was the small numbers. This year, we do have better numbers. I attribute a lot of that to this year's upperclassmen who have been pushing St. Wendelin football, almost to a point of preaching St. Wendelin football to people. And holding together classes like this eighth grade and freshman class that just came in here," St. Wendelin coach Jim Bodart said. "They had 12, 13 kids and we got them all out on the football field. For a while now, that hasn't been happening. I think that's a good thing, a positive thing for the kids and the program.
"Better numbers. Young, obviously. A lot of freshmen, but definitely better numbers makes practice go a little bit smoother; gives you a little bit of depth, even if it's young depth," he said. "We at least have a backup body for about every position, where last year that backup body was playing another position."
And more than a backup.
At least two of the freshmen will start and several will see extensive playing time, which will challenge both the team's youngest players and St. Wendelin as a whole as the rookies find themselves facing off with players two to three years older, often much bigger and with more experience.
But if there's a group which knows how to prepare the freshmen, it's the nine returning letterwinners, Bodart said.
"A freshman is that, a freshman. For them coming in, this is the biggest differential they'll see in size and strength ever [in high school]," Bodart said. "With that being said, I can't say enough about the seniors and the juniors and the sophomores that we have. They're doing a great job mentoring the kids that we have.
"Most of these kids, the older kids, played as freshmen - 14, 15 kids on a team, 16 kids on a team, they were playing, so they really have a good basis to mentor these kids. They were in that boat. They're doing a great job leading them," he said. "When it's time to put in the mouthpiece and start scrimmaging, we put a freshman in around two or three upperclassmen, it's positive. They help him. Can't say enough about this group of kids."
They'll all need a little help this fall as the Mohawks tweak a few things.
Last year's power-I offense isn't totally gone, but Bodart said St. Wendelin's offense will also offer some different looks.
"We're not going to abandon that, but we are introducing a little bit of a wing set now, a pistol, possibly a pistol quarterback set, pistol wing, just to try to get a little bit of downhill aggression into the line to try to run the ball," he said. "I like some of the angles and advantages that's going to give us."
Senior Brad Buhrow gets the nod in running the offense, pushed into the starting role while freshman Cyle Smith recovers from a broken collarbone he suffered this summer. Bodart said Smith should crack the lineup soon after the season starts, but added Buhrow is more than capable.
"I think he's going to do a good job. He's a good athlete, smart kid," Bodart said.
Senior Brady Rutter returns at fullback and will be joined in the backfield by senior Cole Williams, who will play see time at both halfback and wingback.
"He worked really hard in the offseason, packed on some muscle weight," Bodart said of Williams. "Trent Whetsel did the same thing and made some vast improvement in his foot speed. He worked really hard on that, along with Donovan Scudder.
"Donovan Scudder was a tackle last year and he'll probably find himself in a tight end or wingback position. From a position standpoint, it's a big change, but he made some improvements," he said.
Whetsel will play his senior year on the line, along with classmates Caleb Colburn and Austin Turner and junior Rob Park. Sophomore Justin Walter will spend time at tight end and split end.
Freshmen Andrew Schetter, Justin Meyers, Logan Colburn, Joel Lopez, Devin Frankart, Brody Whetsel, Luke Volkmer, Isiah Cassidy and Spencer Hipsher will add depth on the line.
Classmates Nick Kelbley and Jessica Holman will play as wide receivers.
The 4-4 defense will return this year, but the Mohawks will also employ a five-man front from time to time.
Bodart said the 4-4 will serve them well against their Christian Athletic League of America foes, while the 50 front will allow them to disguise coverages a little more and give them more options.
"I think (the 4-4 is) a pretty solid defense for the league that we're playing in. For the CALA, I think it lends itself to most teams, defending them well," he said. "We will probably start to introduce a little bit of 5(-man front) a little more than we have, because I think as we start competing with some of these OHSAA schools, you have to have more levels to your defense."
The names on offense are the same on the other side of the ball.
Trent Whetsel, Caleb Colburn, Turner and Park return along the line, and Scudder and Walter anchor the linebacking corps.
Williams, Buhrow and Rutter are back in the secondary.
Schetter, Meyers, Logan Colburn, Lopez, Frankart, Brody Whetsel, Volkmer, Cassidy and Hipsher will vie for time along the line.
Smith, Holman and Kebley will help flesh out the secondary.
The Mohawks are the second year of a two-year agreement with the CALA and will play seven games against teams in the league. Teams are from Michigan, Ohio and Indiana and are composed of players who are home-schooled, whose high school does not field a football team or those who do not play for their high school team.
St. Wendelin's other three games come against Ohio High School Athletic Association members. Hardin Northern, which is competing as a junior varsity program this year because of numbers and the ages of players, travels Saturday to St. Wendelin for the home-opener. Arcadia comes to town in Week 8 and the Mohawks go to Cory-Rawson for the season finale.
The Mohawks return to a OHSAA schedule next fall as a member of what will be the new Sandusky River League.
"The CALA has been a good fit for the situation we found ourselves in. It's good competition. The coaches are very fair, very understanding," Bodart said. "They have their years like we do - have smaller teams, missing kids doing stuff. They were very good to work with in that light.
"It fit us well, and I think we're stepping back towards the OHSAA, and I think that's good. I think we need local games, local teams, local support," he said.