After graduating five talented seniors, Coach Daniel Burns knew he was going to have his work cut out for him heading into his third year at the helm of the Scotland County Tigers football program. But with just 31 players suiting up for two-a-day practices and a number of key absences, the challenges have mounted for Burns as SCR-I gears up to take the field Friday night in Monroe City for the annual pre-season jamboree.
“We’ll have kids step up and fill the roles,” said Burns, “but it definitely is disappointing seeing some of these kids you know could have really helped this team out, simply decide not to suit up.”
During the preseason, the key challenge has been identifying the team’s blockers. Center Landyn Swearingen will return to anchor the o-line for his senior season after earning all-conference honors in 2013.
Burns will have to replace graduates Jed Troutman and Lucas Howard. Senior Tyler Buford, a starter in 2013, will join Swearingen, as well as Will Pickerell, who saw varsity time last year as a freshman.
“Will came on last year and moved into the rotation,” said Burns. “He has done a really nice job in practice.”
The coach said the trio will have to anchor the team’s blocking formations and open some holes for the running game.
“Tyler has came into camp in really good shape,” said Burns. “He has lost some weight and has been one of the most improved players on the team so far.”
Senior William McRobert will be back after battling through an injury-marred 2013 campaign that still saw him compile nearly 1,000 yards rushing on a team-high 159 carries. He led the squad with 11 touchdowns.
The tailback will be taking handoffs from a new signal caller. Sophomore Aaron Buford has been tabbed the starter, as last year’s quarterback, Jade Holt, will be moving to slot back.
“Jade did a great job for us last year,” said Burns. “But we need him to fill the shoes of Chris Jackson, one of our key offensive weapons last year.”
Jackson was a dual threat, rushing for 724 yards and 8TDs while also leading the Tigers with 25 receptions for 320 yards and 5TDs.
Holt threw for nearly 800 yards as a sophomore, completing close to 50% of his pass attempts.
“Aaron understands the game and what we are trying to do offensively,” said Burns noting the transition should be smooth. “He’s played quarterback in our offensive system for the past three years, so he is ready for this.”
Joining McRobert, Holt and Buford as key offensive cogs will be sophomore Ryan Slaughter, who is tabbed to take over for graduate Cordie Kigar. Fellow sophomore Ian See will return at tight end and be one of Buford’s top targets. Senior Mason VanHoozen will likely carry a big load as well, splitting time with McRobert. Other backs that will figure into the rushing and passing attack will include senior Jacob Hull, sophomore Austin Day and freshman Gage Dodge.
The offensive line still has a pair of starting jobs up for grab. Junior Joshua Adams is competing for one of the spots along with Cameron Stone and freshmen Bryson Orton and Stephen Terrill. The blocking game will determine how high the Tigers offense will fly in 2014.
After struggling to keep teams out of the end zone a year ago, Burns said the SCR-I defense has looked very good in preseason workouts.
“We’re going to get after the ball more on defense,” said Burns adding that he expects to pressure the opponents with an athletic front five.
Brothers Brendan and Bryson Orton are battling for the nose guard starting nod. The winner will be flanked by Buford and Swearingen at the tackles.
“They are going to be the key to our success,” said Burns. “If they play big and secure the gaps and demand double teams, we are going to be hard to move the ball on.”
The teams defensive ends will be keys in pressuring the corners of the offense. Jade Holt and Pickerell are the likely starters.
The team will have to replace Troutman, who led the Tigers in tackles the past two seasons. McRobert will see time at the inside backer spot, as well as sophomore Aaron Blessing.
“Blessing has looked really good this summer, making a strong case to be a starter,” said Burns.
Aaron Buford will start at strong-side linebacker with VanHoozen in the other starting role. Riley Kliethermes and Day will also see plenty of playing time at linebacker.
The defensive backfield will feature Slaughter returning to start at one corner. See and Ben Giberson are battling for the other corner position. Hull and Dodge are vying for the safety job.
The 2014 schedule will feature some new faces and the return of a familiar foe.
The Tigers open on August 22nd at Salisbury. The Tigers will travel to Hamilton, IL for a September 5th road game before returning home the following week to revive the rivalry with Clark County. Fellow Clarence Cannon Conference squad Monroe City will round out the Tigers non-conference competition.
Burns said Milan likely has to be considered the team to beat again in 2014 for the Tri-Rivers Conference crown but added not to count out Putnam County, who he expects will be much improved this season.