SYRACUSE — Experience is said to be the teacher of all things. That’s what the Wawasee football program is counting on in some areas of its game this season. The Warriors implemented a flexbone offense in 2015, a scheme centered around the triple option, which was a big change of pace from the spread formation the team ran the season before. With another offseason of work under their belts, the Warriors are hoping to use the flexbone as a true advantage in 2016.
“I think the knowledge with the scheme is really coming along,” began Josh Ekovich, Wawasee’s head coach entering his fourth year at the helm of the program. “We’ve made a lot of adjustments in the way that we run it as opposed to just running it one way. We’ve done that by getting in a little more shotgun, which helps the vision with our backs and quarterback. It doesn’t hit as fast, but it allows us to be a little more diverse.”
Ekovich was definitely positive about the prospects of his offense this season, and with good reason. While the Warriors lost several linemen to graduation, they return virtually all of their skill players that produced regularly last season, with the exception of Zac McKee. That leaves Wawasee with another season of using guys like Tyler Smith, who will return under center, Noah Wadkins, Michael Katzer, Alec Rosbrugh and speedster Cole VanLue.
“We’re excited about what we have coming back,” Ekovich said. “We’ve got our two leading rushers back with Tyler and Noah. Michael Katzer is really good, he’s a very hard worker and just a phenomenal kid. Alec Rosbrugh has been doing great for us and we’ve moved Cole VanLue into the slot. With the motions and stuff, we could see him running the ball a little bit. We have Paul Mendoza back from injury, so we really have a good group of able-bodied running backs, that’s exciting.”
One focus of the team this season was to be faster overall. Players like VanLue and Dylan Hepler are known for their individual speed, but Ekovich and his staff are making changes on the defensive side of the ball to make the team faster in order to keep up with the athletic Northern Lakes Conference.
“We’re a lot better in terms of team speed then we were last year,” Ekovich explained. “We’ve altered our approach defensively trying to get more speed on the field by incorporating some 3-4 schemes and rotating corners to safeties, safeties to linebackers and linebackers to the defensive line. You kind of half to with so many teams being spread offenses in the NLC. ”
Wawasee lost a few key contributors on defense, including Austin Pearish and Stephen Possell, both who signed to continue their careers in college. But there are still familiar faces returning for the Warriors in guys like Katzer, Hepler, Rosbrugh, Rylan Kuhn and Jeremiah Dilley.
Dilley will also be a key player on offense as he should anchor down a tackle position for the Warriors. Dilley, Alex Castro, Bryce Woody, Trevor Harter, Riley Pierson and move-in Elisha Tipping will have the privilege of setting the tone for every play on offense on Friday night’s. The success of the offensive line will be a key factor in determining just how far the Warriors can go this season.
“Everyone always wants to win state,” Ekovich said with a smirk when asked about goals, “but the goals we’ve talked about to this point are on a week to week basis. Lay it all on the line, care more about the person next to you then you care about a win or a loss. I think when you have that kind of culture on and off the field, then the chips will fall in your favor. Right now, we’re focused on Washington.”
Wawasee had five consecutive seasons with a .500 or better record before last season’s 3-7 mark. The Warriors will look to start 2016 off right when they host South Bend Washington Friday night. It will be the first meeting between the two schools since the 2005 sectional, a 38-14 win for the Warriors.