Fenwick’s Jordan Rucker (1) is pursued by Alter’s Derek Willits (9) on Friday night at Centerville Stadium in a game won by Alter 45-20. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY ANGIE MOHRHAUS

High school football Week 1: Fenwick eyes a return to postseason despite key losses

Dan Haverkamp had no idea when he accepted the job as Fenwick High School football coach last spring that he was inheriting a team capable of making a playoff run.

The Falcons were coming off back-to-back 6-4 finishes and hadn’t been to the playoffs since the 2015 run to the state semifinals. It took one practice to realize the potential, though, and Fenwick went on to a successful 9-3 record in Haverkamp’s first season.

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Now, Fenwick is taking the mantra, “Set the standard,” to heart. The Falcons want to be a team that can make it into November year in and year out.

“Last year the biggest takeaway was getting a taste of what success was like in the playoffs, getting a playoff victory and now looking at how we can build from there,” Haverkamp said. “We had a successful season — didn’t win the GCLC, but we met a lot of our goals and now it’s about maintaining that success.”

The first big challenge in that is seeing how quickly new players can step up into roles left open by graduation – and there are a lot of them to fill.

Most notably, Fenwick lost its top rusher, top two receivers and starting quarterback – all of whom set school records last year. Sully Janeck threw for 1,762 yards and 16 touchdowns last year during the regular season, and Jack Fessler rushed for 1,673 yards and 22 touchdowns. Thomas Vogelsang accounted for a team-leading 741 yards receiving and seven touchdowns, and R.J. Clesceri added 459 yards and five touchdowns on 29 catches.

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Those are four big losses, but three other starters also graduated.

“It’s hard to lose guys like that, but we feel good about the talent we have coming back, that people will be able to step up and keep it going,” Haverkamp said.

Senior David Schuh, who started at cornerback and played wide receiver last year, now steps in at quarterback, and sophomore running back Colton Bradshaw, who saw a little varsity action last year, is expected to step into a bigger role in the running game. Jordan Rucker is back at receiver and capable of stepping up after making 20 catches last year.

The offensive line returns two starters in senior Eric Hendrix (6-foot-6, 235 pounds) and junior J.T. Maxwell (5-9, 195), and four others are competing for three spots: Aiden Hollo, Nate Louder, Ayden Helton and Cole Roethlisberger.

Haverkamp believes Fenwick can still be a good passing time under Schuh.

“He’s a different player than Sully, but we’re confident he can keep the offense humming,” Haverkamp said. “He has really impressed me. For not having the experience of Sully, I think his experience at defensive back helps him read defenses and with being able to find the open guy. We’re still capable of throwing the ball, and he’s pretty dynamic and will be able to run the ball himself too.”

The defense has a little more stability with six returning starters, but Haverkamp is expecting the offense and defense to run just as smoothly despite the difference in experience on one side versus the other.

Junior defensive back Logan Miller, who was a first-team All-GCLC selection, returns to lead the secondary, where he will be joined by fellow senior Jake Berning and Drew Thiery and Ralph Ross or Davis Tanaka at corner.

Senior John Stevenson returns at linebacker and will be taking on a leadership role playing alongside Maxwell and Aidan Horn. Juniors Paul Bailey and Carter Earls, Louder, Hendrix and freshman Zach Potter are all in the mix at defensive line.

“I’ve been really impressed with how the defense has done this year,” Haverkamp said. “They’ve really stepped up. In two scrimmages, aside from a play here or there, they are really smothering our opponent. I think will be difficult for passing and running teams.”

Haverkamp said acknowledged outside expectations might be lower this year because of the number of players the Falcons lost, but they don’t view it that way internally. Fenwick opens Friday night at Anna.

“Last year, we had a senior class living off the memory of the 2015 team that made a big run in the state semifinals,” Haverkamp said. “They knew what playoff football was about but hadn’t been a part of it. Now they know we are capable of accomplishing that kind of thing. We lost a lot of players but our players bought in and believe we could do this year in and year out.”

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