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home : sports : sports   May 24, 2016

8/16/2013 10:37:00 AM
Prep football: Changing of the running back guard

Ottawa running back Weston Hoffman (left) carries out a fake while Dylan Thomas runs the ball Thursday during practice in Ottawa.NewsTribune photo/Genna Ord
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Ottawa running back Weston Hoffman (left) carries out a fake while Dylan Thomas runs the ball Thursday during practice in Ottawa.
NewsTribune photo/Genna Ord
Brandon LaChance
NewsTribune Sports Writer

Last year’s high school football season was simple in terms of recognizing a program’s plan.

The 2012-13 NewsTribune Male Athlete of the Year Curtiss Johnson was the face of Marquette football.

Ottawa was accustomed to reading the 2012 NewsTribune Offensive Football Player of the Year Michael Hermosillo’s name in the headline of game stories week in and week out and Hall’s Landon Piccatto handled the ball more often than the Red Devils’ center.

The first practices of the season saw change in the programs as the graduation scratched the area’s elite running backs off of rosters.

“Well, Curtiss Johnson will be a big hole to fill, but after a couple of games and practicing real hard, I think we can step up and fill the spot,” Marquette’s senior fullback Jacob Martini said. “It will definitely be a hole on both offense and defense, but we have people who can fill the spots and hopefully do what he did and maybe better.”

Instead of the one-man, elite all-area talent, the tide has turned to rushing by committee featuring multiple guys with different skill sets.

Even though Ottawa and Marquette — which both had 9-0 regular seasons in 2012 — have to rely on more than one person in 2013, they don’t worry about losing an edge.

“It returns back to what our offense is predicated on,” Ottawa coach Trent Swords said about the offense without Hermosillo. “It’s predicated on having three threats — two wing backs and a full back — so you can’t just key on one. And I like to involve the quarterback either through running or through throwing, whatever their strength may be.”

Hermosillo set the school record for yards in a single season with 2,015 and scored 29 touchdowns to lead the area in both categories last season. Swords said although the yards and overall box stats showed up under his name, it was a complete team effort.

The coach plans to see the numbers spread across the book under multiple names, including fullbacks Dylan Thomas and Garrett Hoffman, and halfbacks Cahill Horner, Trent Porter, Josh Williams, Caleb Smith, Weston Hoffman and Jullian Hamill.

Swords predicts Hoffman and Horner to lead the pack since they did get the rock during the Hermosillo era.

“(Hermosillo) had a great year, but if we didn’t have our other weapons — J.D. Bryant, Will Hoffman, Alex Hartman — it would have been a lot easier for defenses to commit to Michael and really do a better job on him,” Swords said. “I think our offense was very effective because we had other options. You can’t forget the offensive line did an amazing job blocking for him.”

Hall coach Randy Tieman shared the same sentiment toward his 2012 squad in terms of surprising opponents with who the offensive attacker is going to be.
However, Hall only gave the ball to Piccatto and defenses keyed in on the game plan.

“We are doing some things different this year than we did last year. It comes from learning at the varsity level,” Tieman said. “We focused on getting just Landon in space last year. I think that was a mistake when we had other kids we probably could have used a little more than we did, but Landon was our guy last year so we went with him.”

Senior Jake Byczynski and junior Jake Merkel will share the ball from the halfback slot, while there is a five-man competition for the main fullback duty with junior A.J. Gaeta leading the way.

Only a few blocks away from Ottawa, Marquette witnessed ground attack dominance of their own in Johnson.

His 1,413 yards and 21 touchdowns were second to only Hermosillo in the area.
This season, coach Tom Jobst wants to get back to sharing the ball between a host of Crusaders in the team’s traditional offense — the Wing-T.

“I can always say what I’d like to do but old habits die hard. I’m a fullback man. In our offense, the fullback is comparable to the tailback in the I (I-formation) — so you are what you are. Now having said that, I need to force myself to expand out a little bit from that,” Jobst said. “I’d like to think everyone will see the ball a third of carries. The way it worked last year, the fullback was pretty close to half (of the touches) and everybody else split the other half. I’d like to bring it down.”

Marquette brings back 2012 NewsTribune All-Area honorable mention picks Cole Lindhout and Tyler Verona for their senior campaign. The 20-plus seniors on the roster also includes fullbacks Martini and Matt Schramer, as well as running backs Mike Hogan and Nolan Durdan.

Sophomore fullback Joe Wheatland is the only non-senior in the seven rushers who will see the ball this season.

“(Leading the Marquette rushing attack) kind of pumps Cole and I up,” Verona said. “(Martini and Wheatland) know what they’re doing because they worked behind Johnson all last year, ready to go in. Cole and I got a lot of experience last year and although (Johnson) did carry us a lot, we played as a team. I think we’re ready for it, it’s going to be fun.”

Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6939, or at Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.

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