The whole idea of a returning starter represents a bulwark against uncertainty. In a game fraught with randomness and annual surprises, seeing a depth chart with an army of starters back injects something known. We’ve seen this player before, we know what he can do and can perhaps imagine how much of a step might be taken with another year of experience.
And by that metric, the Yorktown football team can feel nearly certain about what it has in 2013.
The Tigers return 15 of 22 offensive and defensive starters from the 2012 team that went 5-6 with a trip to the second round of the playoffs. The special teams return intact and all told, only four seniors are gone from last year along with an injury to two-way starter Mason Patterson.
It gave the coaching staff a head start in the offseason, as everyone already knew how things were done.
“It’s exciting for us to be able to have so many guys that have played a lot of football on Friday nights,” said Tigers coach Mike Wilhelm, noting his roster boasts 20 seniors. “That’s really something we’ve been talking about for the last three years,
“We had a young team three years ago. We had a young team two years ago. We had a partially young team last year. We don’t have a young team anymore.”
That crew of returnees includes prolific, do-everything running back/cornerback Chandler Carroll (1,656 rushing yards, 17 touchdowns, 61 tackles, two interceptions) and junior quarterback Riley Neal. Two starting receivers from 2012 come back along with four of five offensive linemen, most of the defense and nearly every key special teamer.
The receiving core also gets a familiar face as former reserve quarterback Michael Lumpkin converted to wideout in the offseason.
But that nearly intact lineup will have to compete against larger squads from the Hoosier Heritage Conference, and its sectional gets much tougher with Delta moving down to 3A and West Lafayette joining.
The offense will be in more experienced hands after Neal started as a sophomore in 2012. He threw for 1,646 yards with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and followed it with an extremely active offseason.
Neal, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound pocket passer, went to football camps at Michigan, Miami (Fla.), Ball State and Cincinnati along with several Nike Camps. He grew a few inches in the offseason and said he’s seen a good deal of development in his game.
“I feel like I’ve had a lot, especially reading defenses,” Neal said. “Stepping up in the pocket and making some harder throws.”
He noted he grew much better progressing through reads, so instead of locking on one receiver, he can move through three or four. That will be an asset in the Tigers’ balanced spread attack.
But much like last year, Carroll will be Neal’s partner in the backfield and will still be counted on all over the field.
In addition to his role as tailback, the compact and strong Carroll was an anchor for the defense in the secondary, the primary punt and kick returner and the holder on field goals. Wilhelm said Carroll, a state finisher in wrestling, added weight during the offseason and will reprise his many roles from last season.
Only this time, his Tigers have a baseline, a group that already knows how things work, to give themselves a bit less uncertainty.
“We’re way ahead of the game right now,” Carroll said. “Way ahead of the game than we were last year. That gives us the point to where we can, instead of working on new stuff that we’ve covered, more along the lines of we can fine tune it and find ways that we can necessarily do to get better.”