BASCOM - Six of the past 10 years, Hopewell-Loudon has claimed a Midland Athletic League championship. As the league enters its final year and the Chieftains prepare to say goodbye to longtime rivals, a seventh - and final - title holds that much more meaning.
"I think that's a pretty important goal for our seniors, knowing that this is the last go-around in the MAL," Hopewell-Loudon coach Jeremy Nutter said. "Obviously it's a little bittersweet. We won't have some of our rivalries that have been so good to us over the years. If it's got to end, it'd be nice to end it on a championship, for sure."
The Chieftains will move into the Blanchard Valley Conference in 2014. They were able to keep Calvert on their schedule as a non-conference game, but this year will be the last time for the foreseeable future they face-off against traditional rivals.
"What a great league this has been for us the last 23 years. I grew up playing in it, coached in it at Seneca East, coached in it here," Nutter said. "Familiar faces, familiar rivalries. It's good, solid football in this league. It will be a shame not to have Carey on the schedule or Mohawk or Seneca East. We were fortunate, though, to keep Calvert on the schedule week 1 in 2014."
Improving on last year's 3-4 league mark might be tough considering the Chieftains have to replace Mark Bouillon, last year's MAL leader in rushing (114.8 ypg) and scoring (18 TDs, 110 points).
To replace that production, the Chieftains will be doing a lot of running west. Not directionally. But behind left tackle Weston Hill, who Nutter says "might be one of the best offensive linemen I've ever coached."
|2012: 4-6, 3-4 Midland Athletic League|
|Head coach: Jeremy Nutter.|
|Assistant coaches: Dave Long, Andy Amlin, Matt Rader, Joe Hudok, Andrew Brose.|
|Aug. 30||at Leipsic|
|Sept. 13||TOLEDO CHRISTIAN|
|Sept. 20||at North Baltimore|
|Sept. 27||at Lakota|
|Oct. 11||FREMONT ST. JOE|
|Oct. 18||at Seneca East|
Cody Malone was H-L's second leading rusher a year ago (79 carries, 555 yards) and moves into the primary ball carrying role. But Nutter says there are others ready to step up and run with the ball.
"We have two more pretty solid running backs," he said. "Matt Huth's a junior, and a sophomore that's really stuck out to me is Noah Breidenbach. He's done a nice job so far in camp carrying the ball. He's quick on his cuts. He reads things properly. I think all three will get some touches."
Last year's Chieftains featured a solid ground attack, while in years prior, due to the personnel, they liked to throw the ball. This year Nutter says the team should be able to strike an ideal balance.
"We're probably as balanced as we've ever been at my time here," he said. "Two years ago we were probably more pass heavy and last year we gave it to Mark a lot. This year I think we can get that ideal 50-50 split, take what the defense gives us and be able to do both."
The quarterback job is still up in the air. Junior Derek Runion is competing with sophomore Austin Tooker for the job. Don't expect the two to split time though. Nutter says by the time the first ball is kicked off, one of them will win the job.
"Throughout camp it's been a pretty good battle," he said. "Right now Derek probably has the edge on the younger guy just in terms of experience. That will be a race right down to the wire I'm sure. We'll go with the guy that gives us the best chance to win.
"I suppose I believe in the old saying 'if you got two quarterbacks, you really have none.' I think someone's going to win this job and that's going to be the guy we're going to go with. ... The guy that wins it will be the guy we stick with."
Jordan Stewart (37 rec., 503 yards, 4 TDs) returns as the No. 1 receiver with Ryan Lommerse, Eli Tooker and Zach Clouse also splitting out. Logan Tyree is a 6-3 tight end, giving the Chieftains another big target to throw to.
"Really I don't think teams will be able to focus on one or even two wide receivers," Nutter said. "I think we'll be able to spread it around when we do throw it."
Up front, Hill will be joined by fellow seniors Adam Foos and Wesley Armon at the guard spots. Christian Potteiger will be the center and LRay Burns will be the other tackle. Adam Borer and Eli Bustillos will also rotate in when needed.
Nutter describes his defense as "Athletic in the second and third rows. We have hopefully seven or eight bodies we can put up in the front that can really rotate through and stay fresh."
Malone and Huth will be the inside linebackers with Breidenbach, Lommerse and Clouse rotating at the outside spots.
The secondary will feature returning starter Ben Bodart at corner and Eli Tooker at the other side, with Stewart returning at free saftey.
Hill again anchors the defensive line as Nutter says he "will obviously be on the field as much as we can keep him out there." The rest of the line will feature a rotation of Foos, Armon, Tyree, Borer, Burns and Anson Tran.
The success of this year's Chieftains will likely depend on the senior class. And so far, Nutter is pleased with what he's seen out of the group.
"I can't ask for any more than what they've given us so far," he said. "We got eight guys and every single one is going to contribute for us. There's not a single one of them that won't play a critical role on Friday nights. When you got a group like that, and it's a smaller group, but eight guys that are definitely going to play and know they're all going to contribute, they pull together tighter and they know what's at stake here. There are expectations here and they understand that and are willing to work toward that. And they know when we take the field Friday night, our community expects hard work and hustle, and that's exactly what they'll get out of our seniors."