WARSAW – The Warsaw football program took a step forward last year.
The Tigers bounced back from back-to-back losing seasons to finish 6-4 overall and contend for the Northern Lakes Conference title until the final game of the regular season.
A large senior class has coach Phil Jensen pointing to even bigger things this fall.
“We flirted with it last year and now this is the year for us to go for it,” said Jensen. “We are where we want to be with our seniors (23) as our leaders.
“This is a great group and I love coming to practice to coach them. They get it. Our team chemistry is as good this year as I can ever remember it being.
“This is our senior’s team. It’s the last shot for them and we will be disappointed, no question about it, if we don’t have a good season.”
The unquestioned leader of the Tigers is star senior Tristan McClone. The 5-11, 210-pound tailback burst on the scene last fall by rushing for a school record 1,718 yards on 320 carries with 16 touchdowns. McClone had a school single-game record of 322 yards versus Northridge to go with five touchdowns.
“Everything that is said and written about Tristan is deserved,” said Jensen. “The great thing is that our other 22 seniors know that and they don’t care.
“Tristan is just so driven and he’s all about his team. Everyone respects him and I just want him to keep being him. When you look up the word leader in the dictionary it should have a picture of Tristan.”
McClone, for his part, knows he will be a marked man this fall. The humble star is ready for it.
“It’s motivated me more,” said McClone of the fact that every defense now knows who he is and will be focused to stop him. “It’s just made me prepare even harder. I just want to do everything I can for this team to succeed. We have so many seniors and we want to leave our legacy.”
McClone spent a busy summer attending 10-11 college exposure camps. He is being recruited by schools like Air Force, Yale, Indiana State and many more smaller college programs.
“I just want to lead by example, but I will be more vocal this year,” said McClone. “There’s no extra pressure on me. I just want to give everything I have and lay it all on the line for my team.”
Jensen would love to see his offense pose a little more balance this season, although No. 20 will get plenty of carries.
“We want to be more multiple,” said Jensen. “The next step now is what else can we do offensively. We’ve been working on that.”
Senior Austin Head will direct the attack at quarterback with junior Jake Mangas serving as his backup. Head missed part of last season due to a shoulder injury suffered late in the year versus Wawasee.
“Austin has recovered well from surgery and looks great,” Jensen said. “We’re fortunate to have two experienced quarterbacks we can count on.”
The Tigers will also count on senior fullback Jason Taylor, senior receiver Connor McCammack, senior receiver Chad Goon and sophomore receivers Riley Rhoades and Thomas Hickerson and junior tight end Austin Perdieu. Senior Tanner Balazs looked great in the scrimmage for the Tigers on Friday and will play multiple positions.
“We just need to stay healthy and develop our depth and our younger kids,” said Jensen.
Warsaw returns its fair share of talent and experience on defense too. The junior tandem of Ben Plummer and Caleb Wooldridge are back on the line with seniors Seth Fouts and Marcos Roeriguez returning at linebackers and Balazs and Gabe Furnivall back in the defensive backfield.
The Tigers, who lost three of their final four games in 2012, move up to Class 6-A this fall and will play in Sectional 3 along with Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne Northrop and Homestead.
Warsaw hosts Columbia City Friday night to kick-off the campaign. The Tigers then play at East Noble Aug. 30 before entertaining Plymouth Sept. 6 in the NLC opener.