In his first season as head coach, Bucyrus head coach Aaron Eckert hoped his young team would mature quickly in 2012.
This year, experience is not an issue. Eckert welcomes back 18 starters from a team that went 4-6, 2-5 in the rugged North Central Conference Black Division.
“We have a lot of guys back,” Eckert said. “Those first-year players have a year under their belt. I like what I see so far.”
On the surface, the Redmen’s record may seem unimpressive. However, four NCC opponents made the playoffs and a non-league foe, Hillsdale, did as well, showing the toughness of the slate.
“We had three playoff teams in our division,” Eckert said. “I thought we did well to win the games we did and be in some games people thought we wouldn’t.”
Eckert will look to build on that with his returning experience.
The loss of Michael Purcell — who led the NCC with 65 receptions and rushed for 551 yards — is significant. But the silver lining for Eckert is that others will get opportunities to fill the void.
In the spread offense, receivers are key and Eckert has a stable full of them. Senior tight ends Greg Patrick (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) and Tyler Zehring (5-8, 160) combined for 56 catches for 588 yards and three touchdowns.
Also seeing time at wideout will be senior Trent Niederkohr (5-10, 165) and juniors Austin Williams (6-3, 175) and Tommy Schluter (5-11, 170).
Throwing the ball will be junior Cole Murtiff (5-10, 165) who passed for 1424 yards — good for second in the NCC — and four touchdowns. Murtiff rushed for another 702 and 11 scores.
“Cole’s had one of the best offseasons I’ve ever seen.” Eckert said. “He put on weight and looks good. He’s played well all summer.
“We have a lot of quality players on offense.”
Senior Collin Light (5-11, 200) returns at running back and will be joined by senior Skyler Hill (6-0, 200). They will run behind a veteran offensive line with size.
Fourth-year starter Noah Graves (6-2, 270) anchors the line at left tackle. Seniors dot the trenches with Andy Korner (6-2, 230) at right tackle, Kyle Parker (6-0, 230) and Nate Johns (5-11, 240) at the guards. Junior D.J. Dagher (6-0, 215) is the pup at center.
On defense, Graves and junior Levi Spence (6-0, 200) are at the tackles, while Patrick and Dagher are the ends. Seniors Ollie Faulkner (5-9, 170) and Austin Garrett (6-3, 210), join junior Justin Campbell (6-0, 200) at the linebackers.
Logan Plumley (Sr., 5-11, 170) and Schluter are the safeties, with Williams and Niederkohr stationed at the corners.
Eckert sees last year’s Black Division champion Galion as the favorite, but thinks the return to the eight-team format could be interesting.
“Upper Sandusky, Wynford and Colonel Crawford, along with us, all have a chance to compete,” Eckert said. “You’ll have to show up to play every night.
“You have to take our league serious.”