SYRACUSE – Jon Reutebuch has been coaching for over 25 years. The longtime Wawasee football assistant will finally get his chance to run the program he has served for so long, and hopefully provide a new air of confidence in a program needing a boost.
Wawasee is looking to reset itself after a tumultuous 2018 season, one that had the Warriors drop its first eight games and lose its head coach, Mike Eshbach, immediately after the conclusion of the season. Reutebuch, who was the special teams coach last season, will have his hands full, but understands you can’t build Rome in one day.
“It’s been a smooth transition since I’ve been in the community for such a long time,” Reutebuch said at the Fort Wayne area football media day in late July. “I know the kids and the kids know me, and I’ve retained several of the coaches. We are going to tweak the offense, we’ll still be spread formation, but we’ll go two backs, two tight ends or go empty backfield. We’ll have a lot of variations.”
The offense for Wawasee last season was anemic to say the least. The Warriors were able to clear 20 points just twice, and both of those were in shootout losses to Concord (49-28) and Memorial (45-32), while piecing just 20 total points in its first three games to Lakeland, West Noble and Northridge. Three of its top players are gone in Dylan Hepler, Keyan Peete and Josh Slabaugh, which accounted for over half its offensive output, as is quarterback Evan Eshbach, who transferred to DeKalb.
With all of that said, Wawasee does return a very athletic core group that has seen success in other sports, and hopes to translate that to the football field.
Parker Young will take over at quarterback, the junior backstop in baseball calling signals for the first time at the varsity level. Joining Young in the backfield are seniors Levi Brown and Jesse Landeros, both with experience handling the rock. At receiver, Wawasee will have several seniors on call in Austin Brown, Ethan Garza, Gabe Moore and LaShaun Morris. One wrinkle Reutebuch is excited about is the addition of senior Ethan Hardy, who comes into the program for the first time after starting for the basketball team last winter. Hardy, a 6-3 target and also an exterior blocking end, gives Wawasee a new dimension it hasn’t had in years.
“Having soft hands and the ability to catch the ball like I do on the basketball court, a lot of that stuff will help transition me to the football field,” Hardy said. “We just have to have the grit and determination on the football field to never quit and earn back our name. We have to push back and earn that respect back, let people know who we are.”
One area of emphasis from Reutebuch was how his offensive and defensive lines will have to stay consistent. With the realization that much of his team will have to play two ways – just 43 are listed on the preseason roster – being able to maintain a high level for four quarters, along with staying healthy, will be paramount to Wawasee turning the ship around. Reutebuch noted a pair of linemen, senior Evan Gregory and junior Justin Castro, have shown an immense level of leadership in the preseason, and the promise of bringing along others is beginning to look special.
“He has really risen from last year to this year and has really come out of his shell,” Reutebuch said of Castro. “He is a man-child. He is all over the place. He’s at everything and has big numbers in the weight room. He’s taking a leadership role on that D-line as well. He’s a big part of what we want to do.”
Castro, however, will miss time heading into the season after suffering a knee injury during preseason practice. His timetable was not immediately announced ahead of week one.
Added Gregory, “The big thing has been communication, where we lacked it in the past, we have a close knit group of offensive and defensive linemen, specifically on the offensive line. We’re able to communicate and make sure everybody is where they need to be. It’s been able to help us keep fluid in our movements across the line.”
An area most wouldn’t necessarily prioritize as a major loss, but one Wawasee will have a huge void in filling, is its kicking game. Gone is Division-1 talent Brayden Johnson, who was lethal in all three areas of the kicking game. Between touchbacks, long field goals and the ability to punt a ball 60-plus yards, Reutebuch noted, “I don’t think you replace a guy like that, he’s the type of guy you get every 20-30 years. He’s extraordinary and a guy who really worked at it to get to where he is at.” Looking to handle the duties this fall are sophomore Caleb Clevenger in spot kicks and Brown with the punting unit.
“I think part of knowing an offense or knowing a defense is being prepared,” Reutebuch said. “That’s where it has to start. Once you know what you are doing, then you can start playing fast. The other part is having guys with experience. Last year we would make two great plays then give up a long one on third down, or have a penalty that kills a drive. We are really hammering the money down, third down, making that stop and forcing a team to punt. That has definitely been a focus in the offseason and it’s going to continue to be the focus.”
Wawasee opens its season at home this Friday against Lakeland.