MARSHALL, ILL. —
Coming off an 11-1 campaign that ended in the Class 2A state quarterfinals in 2011, fifth-year Marshall (Ill.) High School football coach Todd Evers isn’t sure what the Lions will do for an encore when they start their season at home tonight against St. Joseph-Ogden.
For starters, Marshall is now part of the Little Illini Conference Egyptian Division with Flora, Lawrenceville, Newton, Olney and former Apollo Conference member Robinson.
On offense, Evers plans to go with 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior Austin Osborn, a former second-stringer, as his starting quarterback.
“He wasn’t your average backup quarterback,” Evers insisted. “He just happened to play behind Jacob Duncan the last few years. He’s a very solid quarterback.
“He’s already established himself as one of the leaders on the team. He’s got a very strong arm and he’s accurate. He’s not quite the running threat that Jacob Duncan was, but we’re still going to count on him to carry the ball.”
Backing up Osborn at QB is junior Derick Davidson.
Also expected to carry the ball are senior running backs Cole Rice and Brock Hook, who filled in late last season when standout Andre Strohm was injured.
“They’re both [Rice and Hook] interchangeable,” Evers indicated. “Hook is probably more of an elusive, shifty runner and Rice is more of a downhill, power running back.”
Evers added that junior Chad Leitch also will see action as a running back/slot receiver.
Frontrunners for the wide-receiver spots are seniors Kendall Bombard and 6-5 Taylor Maurer, junior Brett Hook (Brock’s brother) and Davidson. Two of these four will start and the other two should see significant action, Evers said.
“They’ve got big shoes to fill,” the Lions’ coach mentioned. “But I definitely think they’re a good group of wideouts for us.”
Evers said a new starter, senior Logan Goldsberry, will line up at tight end.
Manning the offensive line are returning starters Justin Lewis (senior left guard) and Adam Kendall (senior right guard) along with Zach Bartnick (senior left tackle) and Nolan Miller (a 6-4, 280-pound senior right tackle).
When Evers did the interview for this story, he said junior Ben Tomasino was penciled in at center, but two other players were pushing him hard for playing time.
“It’s a good, all-around solid group,” Evers said of the men in the trenches. “We’ve got some decent depth there as well.”
Reflecting on his offense, Evers said it might be changing its identity a bit from past seasons.
“We’re not relying on just a couple of players like last year,” he explained. “We’ll need contributions from the unit as a whole.”
Marshall’s placekicker again will be 2011 All-LIC performer Daniel Littlejohn, a senior who booted a 42-yard field goal last season. Littlejohn also may handle punting duties, although Evers admitted he wouldn’t mind if someone new emerged to take over that position.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate,” Evers noted. “We’ve had good kickers since I’ve been here.”
On defense, the line has three returning starters — Kendall and Bartnick at tackles and Maurer at end. A likely new starter is sophomore Jon Newbold at end.
“I’d say our defensive line is our strongest unit on the defensive side of the ball,” Evers acknowledged, “because we have three solid returning starters there.”
Evers named Rice (a returning starter) and Goldsberry as his primary outside linebackers, while Lewis and junior Zack Tharp will rotate in at middle linebacker.
“We’re fairly inexperienced at the linebacker position,” Evers said, “but they’ve come along and gotten better this summer.”
In the secondary, Evers anticipates Bombard and Brett Hook starting at cornerbacks and Brock Hook (a returning starter) and Davidson starting at safeties.
“I feel we’re very athletic in the secondary,” the Marshall coach remarked. “But there’s always room for improvement.
“As a whole, I think our defense is better suited to stop the run game, which is more prevalent in our conference than the passing game.”
Asked to name the favorite to win the LIC-Egyptian, Evers replied that it’s probably Robinson, adding that Marshall can contend “as long as we stay injury-free and continue to improve each week.”
I I I
n Casey — Jim Sullivan, a 1993 Casey graduate and the school’s assistant principal for the last three years, knows he has big shoes to fill in replacing the legendary Keith Sinclair, who retired in March after serving 27 seasons as the Warriors’ head coach.
“It was an opportunity that presented itself,” explained Sullivan, an Eastern Illinois University grad with a degree in history. “I talked it over with my family [before accepting the job in April] and they were OK with it.”
Sullivan, 37, thinks the transition will be smooth.
“I’ve got a really good staff,” he pointed out. “We complement each other really well.”
Casey will compete in the Little Illini Conference Eastern Division with Edwards County, Red Hill, Oblong, Palestine and Cumberland this season.
Sullivan inherits portions of a Casey squad that finished 12-2 and lost to Morrison 23-14 in the Class 2A state championship game last season.
Sullivan said the starting quarterback in his spread offense will be 6-foot, 170-pound junior Nicco Stepina.
“He’s mature enough now to step up and be a varsity player,” the Warriors’ coach mentioned. “He’s fast and he’s strong.”
Third-year starter Ajaye Meeks — a 5-9, 170-pound senior — will be lined up in the backfield. He should be joined by senior fullback Dalton Livvix (6-0, 200) and senior slotman Josh Blome (5-9, 165).
“They’re all hard-working kids,” Sullivan emphasized. “Ajaye Meeks is probably healthy for the first time since late in his sophomore year… He’s got a lot of talent. We really expect him to shine this year.”
At wide receiver, Casey has four players — junior Zack Murphy (6-1, 180, started some last season), seniors Anthony Wilson (6-2, 190) and Levi Keigley (5-10, 150) and sophomore Evan Blankenship (6-3, 170) — battling for playing time at two positions.
The Warriors possess an experienced offensive line that consists of third-year starters Matt McCown (6-3, 235, senior) at tackle, Shawn McCown (6-2, 250, senior) at center and Austin Justice (6-0, 270, senior) at guard and second-year starter Austin Schaefer (6-3, 240, senior) at another tackle. Sullivan said four different players were vying for the fifth starting spot.
“They’re good football players and fine young men as well,” Sullivan said of the linemen.
There will be no tight end in Sullivan’s offensive scheme.
On special teams, Murphy will punt and senior Jesse Burnett — a first-year football player whose past athletic experience is in club soccer — will handle the placekicking.
Turning to defense, Sullivan said juniors Colton Sewell (5-11, 185) and Jordan Brandenburg (6-2, 220) will be rotated with senior Derek Belt (5-11, 180) and Wilson at ends and Shawn McCown and junior Bryce Currey (5-10, 220) will be rotated with Jerimyah Budd (6-2, 220), Justice and Schaefer at tackles.
“Shawn McCown will be the mainstay of the group,” Sullivan stated.
Matt McCown is back to start at middle linebacker., while junior Austin Glidewell (5-7, 160); Livvix, a third-year starter; and Meeks will be rotated on the outside.
Starting in the secondary will be Murphy and Blankenship at safeties and Blome and senior Mack Disch (5-10, 145) on the corners.
“They’re an athletic bunch that will get better,” Sullivan assessed.
Sullivan anticipates the defensive unit to “continue the tradition of being aggressive and getting a lot of different kids to the ball.”
Sullivan said the Warriors might be favored to win the LIC Eastern Division, but he promised they won’t overlook anyone along the way.
“People [on opposing teams] are going to bring their best games at us every week,” he pointed out.
Casey will be at home tonight to take on East Richland.