“We’re primed and ready to see what we’re made of,” Vonderheide said. “This is kind of who we’ve always wanted to be for seven years. Now we feel like we’ve got a lot of those pieces in place and we’re ready to go.”
PREP FOOTBALL SEASON PREVIEWS
The Braves started 15 sophomores in a 1-9 campaign last year, but the squad showed steady improvement and finished with a 10-8 victory over Ross.
Vonderheide said taking that one-game winning streak into the offseason was huge for his young crew.
“That 48 minutes of cold, rainy football was finally the piece of that puzzle that said, ‘OK, what coach has been saying makes sense now,’ ” Vonderheide said. “We needed that ‘W’ for the light to click with these kids.
“Our big motto has been, ‘Love the process.’ I think a lot of times we get lost in enjoying the moment and looking at scoreboards and looking toward the future. The kids have really bought into every single day working hard and loving the process, and now maybe the process will love them back.
“For this team, 2017 was part of that process. We needed to raise those kids on the field on Friday nights. We threw a lot of sophomores to the wolves, and that’s a really dicey proposition. But I thought these three classes came out of 2017 as good as we possibly could’ve hoped.”
Junior quarterback Adam Crank (6-2, 180) returns to direct the spread offense after throwing for 1,339 yards and rushing for a team-best 405 yards last season.
“You don’t want your quarterback running the ball 30 times a game, but boy, he’s a pretty good runner,” Vonderheide said. “He was the guy that they gave the ball to when he was growing up, so he’s got some real natural ability as a runner.”
Also back are senior Tyler Prater (5-10, 160), who left the squad after two games in 2017, and junior Terell Wills (6-3, 220).
“You’ll see Terell as a wide receiver, a tailback in the backfield, all over the place,” Vonderheide said. “Him and Prater may be bouncing between running back and wide receiver. They are maybe unclassifiable as far as offensive skill. We want to make it tough on defensive coaches, keep ’em guessing.
PREP FOOTBALL PRESEASON POLLS
“I think they’re both capable of carrying the load, but we’re hoping that neither of them have to. We really like our personnel right now because we feel like they can all do it by committee and be really strong.”
Junior Tyler Engelhard (5-10, 170) and senior Christopher Richardson (6-2, 230) have experience at wideout and tight end, respectively. Junior Luke Richardson (5-11, 175) will be a wide receiver this year after focusing on a safety position as a sophomore.
Senior Andrew Marcum (6-2, 290) is the lone returning starter on the offensive line. He’ll be a tackle this year after splitting time between center and tackle in 2017.
Junior Nathan Fox (6-1, 230) was a full-time defensive end last season and will add center to his duties, and senior guard Tyler Short (6-2, 220) has some experience. Stepping into O-line roles are junior guard Tanner Abrams (6-1, 250) and sophomore tackle Nathan Detherage (6-2, 280).
“The offensive line wasn’t a strength for us last year. We had seven different combinations of kids in the first seven games,” Vonderheide said. “But we like where we’re at with these kids.”
Defensively, Talawanda has switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3, and everything starts with junior middle linebacker Dalton Norris (6-2, 210).
“He’s the quarterback of the defense,” Vonderheide said. “The calls come through him. If this was the NFL, he’d have the dot on the back of his helmet.”
Juniors Caleb Allen (5-10, 165), Kyle Campbell (6-0, 180) and Michael Schwab (6-3, 220), who hasn’t played football since the eighth grade, are in the linebacker mix. Wills could be in there as well.
“Terell will have a role on defense,” Vonderheide said. “He can line up at all three levels on defense.”
Fpx and Christopher Richardson are the defensive ends, and Marcum and sophomore Andrew Miller (6-0, 315) are the tackles. The secondary includes sophomore Dylan Betz (5-9, 165) and Engelhard at cornerback, and Prater and Luke Richardson at safety.
“We’ve developed some big guys, so we’re back to our comfortable four-man front,” Vonderheide said. “The 4-3 gives us a lot of moving pieces because we’ll be going from spread teams to Wing-T teams to triple-option teams.”
Returning in the kicking game are Engelhard as the place-kicker and junior Evan Keebler as the punter.
“From the skill-position standpoint, this is the most offensive and defensive skill we’ve had,” Vonderheide said. “Up front, it may be the biggest team we’ve had. We feel like we’re on the verge of taking the next step, but we’ve got to go out and prove it. We’re 1-9 until we’re not 1-9.”
The Braves’ last scrimmage will be at home against Roger Bacon on Friday at 7 p.m.
Coach: J.D. Vonderheide, seventh season (15-46)
OHSAA designation: Division II, Region 8
Playoff history: 1-3 in 3 appearances (1991, 2000, 2014)
2017 record: 1-9 overall, 1-5 in the Southwest Ohio Conference (sixth)
Schedule: Aug. 24 — at Preble Shawnee, 7 p.m.; Aug. 31 — vs. Badin at Hamilton, 7 p.m.; Sept. 7 — Eaton, 7 p.m.; Sept. 14 — at New Richmond, 7 p.m.; Sept. 21 — Little Miami, 7 p.m.; Sept. 28 — Harrison, 7 p.m.; Oct. 5 — at Mount Healthy, 7 p.m.; Oct. 12 — Edgewood, 7 p.m.; Oct. 19 — at Northwest, 7 p.m.; Oct. 26 — at Ross, 7 p.m.