The Middies will kick off the Engleka era on the road Friday against Lima Senior, with the program in search of its first winning record since 2011.
“These kids have a number of things they want to prove to themselves, their coaches, their community, their friends, their family … and this is where it starts,” Engleka said.
“I’m not concerned in the least about Lima. We’re concerned with the 65 guys that we’re going to put out on the field. We’ve done everything we can to prepare for Lima. Now our focus is on us.”
Lima has been a Division II playoff team the last two years, but is under new leadership this year.
Andre Griffin, a Saginaw Valley State University assistant the last eight seasons and the son of two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin, is the Spartans’ head coach.
“We’re on the right track, but we have to play a game just to see where we’re at,” Griffin said. “Scrimmage to scrimmage, we definitely improved just like Middletown did. I think these two teams are pretty even.”
The Middies opened against Centerville, then met Fenwick and Thurgood Marshall in a tri-scrimmage. The latter included a fight between Middletown and Marshall.
Engleka’s only comment on the melee: “That’s a team matter that we deal with in house.”
He said Middletown is “extremely healthy” and the quarterback competition between juniors Blake Marshall and Zach Maloney has gone very well.
“Both of them have showed through two-a-days and throughout both of the scrimmages that they can step in at any time and run the entire offense,” Engleka said. “We feel confident that sticking either one in there at any time gives us a great chance to win.”
So who will be the starter? “We’ll see who Friday’s starter will be on Friday night,” Engleka said.
He likes the possibilities with his three primary running backs — senior Marquise Petty and juniors Alonso Corbin and Diondre Cooper — and said the offensive line has grown up quickly.
Senior center Nolan Jackson (6-1, 235) is the lone returning starter on the line. Senior Nick Howard (6-3, 225) has moved from tight end/receiver to tackle, the two new guards are sophomores (5-11, 200-pound Nick Holland and 5-11, 220-pound Dylan McFaddin), and the other tackle spot is still up for grabs.
“From the first scrimmage to the second scrimmage, that was the area of our team that improved the most,” Engleka said.
Another sophomore, Gene Underhill (6-0, 200), will play a key defensive role at linebacker.
“I think the biggest concern right now is we’ve got a number of young kids who are playing positions for the first time,” Engleka said. “They’ve grown up a great deal, but this is the first time they’re going to step out under the Friday night lights for real.
“If we come out early and they have success, they’re going to grow in confidence that much more, and that’s going to be huge for us.”
These teams look similar offensively with their spread attacks. Lima senior tailback Jaden Walker (5-11, 173) ran for more than 1,700 yards and 26 touchdowns last year, and the Spartans return four starters on the O-line.
Senior outside linebacker D’Niyae Morris (5-8, 179) and senior inside linebacker Miguel Clark (5-11, 197) head the 4-2-5 defense.
“We’re more of a speed team,” Griffin said. “I think we’re fast, athletic and very tough. But we do have five guys going both ways.”