WARSAW – There was a curious optimism last year around the Warsaw football program. The introduction of head coach Bart Curtis and his flexbone offense had Tiger football buzzing, and ‘Bart Ball’ had Warsaw pushing Penn in the sectional tournament.
It’s finishing the job in 2019, where Warsaw comes into the season needing to find answers on how to close the deal.
Warsaw was in the hunt for a Northern Lakes Conference title until Jaden Miller sacked Josh West on a two-point try to help NorthWood escape with a win in week eight, keeping the Panthers unbeaten and sending Warsaw to a second NLC loss and out of the title run. Warsaw also held a lead at the half at Penn, somewhat stunning considering the history of Tiger football against the Kingsmen, but not so much considering Curtis’ résumé versus the Class 6-A giants. Warsaw, however, ran out of answers in the second half and saw its season come to a disappointing close at 7-3.
“We were two plays from being 9-0 in the regular season, but we were about three plays from being 3-6 in the regular season,” said Curtis at the Fort Wayne area media day in July. “It was that close. It truly is a game of one play here, one play there. It’s carried over and these kids have had a really nice summer and worked extremely hard.”
The 7-2 regular season was the best Warsaw had seen in 17 years, and got there primarily from its defense. While the flexbone offense was all the talk of Curtis’ arrival, the defense gave up just 12 points per game last season, the 19th-best figure in all of Indiana football. Defensively, that mindset doesn’t change, as Warsaw allowed 17 or more points just once in its 10 games, an overtime loss at Plymouth.
Key returners like senior defensive back Blake Marsh picked off five passes a year ago, a figure that helped Warsaw go plus-eight in turnover margin for the season. The secondary for Warsaw should be stout, with Marsh and returners like senior Jack Williamson and juniors Luke Adamiec, Mason Martz and Caden Silveus.
The front seven, however, is going to need some work and has been one of Curtis’ prime objectives over the offseason. Losing names like John Culbertson (86.5 tackles), Logan Johnson (49 tackles) and Cobe VanHouten (43.5 tackles, 4 sacks) are going to be hard to replace. Only senior Gage Lyon (34 tackles, 1 sack) returns at linebacker. Warsaw’s entire defensive line will be new.
“We’ve got six vacancies in our front seven on defense, that’s my biggest concern,” Curtis stated. “We were pretty good on defense. We only gave up more than two touchdowns once all season. I’m as proud of that as much as anything. We really played with a chip, a bridled enthusiasm on defense. So that is going to be hardest thing to replace.
“We’ve got to get people to throw the ball,” continued Curtis. “It all comes down to physicality and gap responsibility and being sound up front on defense. If we can’t stop people running the ball, we’ll never find out if our secondary can play or not.”
Warsaw will see its third quarterback in three years when senior Wyatt Amiss moves over from receiver to signal caller for the offense. Amiss replaces the graduated Josh West under center, but did get some time at quarterback last season, going 3-6 for 104 yards and a touchdown, and rushing 40 times for 192 yards and a score. Warsaw’s top three running backs have moved on, with nearly 1,900 yards and 20 touchdowns gone between West, Kane Dawson and Bryce Garner.
Junior Juan Jaramillo (299 yards) and senior Keagan Larsh (16 yards), along with Amiss (192 yards, 1 TD) comprise top rushing options for the offense.
Warsaw only completed 24 passes last season, but nine went for touchdowns. Adamiec’s three catches all went for touchdowns, and Amiss led the receiving corps with 7-150 and two scores.
“I feel like going into this, all offseason we worked in the weight room getting bigger and stronger, so I feel like the change to quarterback I’ll be ready for the extra toll I might take,” Amiss said about shifting from receiver to quarterback full time. “We can’t have a slow start like we did last year. We have to come out firing on all cylinders and put four quarters together. That Plymouth loss should have never happened, and it cost us big time. We have to stay sharp and make sure we don’t put ourselves in those positions to lose games like that.”
Senior Brock Hueber will lead the boys in the trenches on the offensive line, knowing full well their work is what will make the flexbone operate.
“Our O-line, we call ourselves the Wild Hogs and we really are a small family within the unit,” Hueber said. “I think we do a really good job taking care of each other. If someone’s not having a great day, we pick them up. And that goes a long way as the season goes along. The younger kids pick up on it, they feel encouraged and are becoming excited about being an O-lineman. That’s something the seniors are doing a good job of, bringing up the younger guys so that when we’re gone, it’s not well let’s start over. We want to build a program and continue on for quite a while.”
Warsaw opens up the season with a pair of new opponents, first at home Friday night against Huntington North and then at Class 5-A No. 5 Michigan City in week two, the first time Warsaw and Michigan City have met since 1922.