Peck found success on the football field in each of the past two seasons by focusing on the present and not being distracted by games in the future.
This year, the Pirates have the same mindset, although it’s the past and those two incredibly successful seasons they’re attempting not to focus on.
“They feel that we’re the same team we were,” Peck coach Rob McDaniel said. “Their attitude coming in is the same, and they’re expecting to win. They have no doubt, this isn’t rebuilding at all. They’re coming in to win. They feel that we’re good enough, and that’s really been driving us for all summer.
“There hasn’t been a downfall, and not one person has mentioned any of the kids that we lost. We’re looking forward as a group. The leaders we have this year, they’ve had great examples in the past, and that’s been the attitude: it’s what’s happening now that’s important. They’re not looking back.”
It’s hard not to look back, as the last two years were the most successful in Peck history, led by a talented Class of 2015 that included Cody and Kyle Abrego, Caleb Dudley, Joey Pries and more.
They’re gone, and with them go most all of Peck’s offensive production. But the guys who paved the way up front are back, and that gives McDaniel some confidence that his team can continue to move the ball.
“We’ve got athletes and we’ve got some speed – we’re not anywhere near as quick as we were, but we’re not bad,” he said. “So I think we’re going to do fine. Our line is back, which is our strength. It was kind of our strength last year, and we had that speed behind it. This year, we don’t have that speed behind it, but I think we’ll be as good or better line wise.”
The line is anchored by Noah Cubitt, the 6-foot-4, 320-pound center who was the starter on each of the last two Peck teams. On either side of him are guards John Weller (5-8, 200) and Will Sharrard (5-11, 270).
It’s a good place to be strong when the backfield is talented, but inexperienced, as McDaniel believes they are.
“They already know what to do,” Peck senior quarterback Nathan Rosenthal said of his offensive linemen. “So it’s going to be easier for me. I can trust them more.”
Rosenthal saw time a year ago, but at defensive back. He was the third-string quarterback, so he knows the position, and he also brings some athleticism and toughness to it. On the first day of pads, he was in the final three of the team’s bull-in-the-ring drill.
He’ll be joined in the backfield by Hunter Welsh and David Weller. Welsh is also a returning contributor in the defensive backfield, and Weller is the team’s leading returning rusher.
“We really have zero experience in the backfield,” McDaniel said. “So it’s going to be interesting.”
Jacob Holman and Brandon Boyd, who both stand at 6-1, 170, will give Rosenthal big, athletic targets on the outside.
Defensively, McDaniel said on Aug. 14 that outside of Rosenthal and Welsh in the defensive backfield, he was unsure about who would be starting.
“Right now, we don’t have anybody slotted for ay spot,” he said. “Usually, even at this point, we’re pretty comfortable – we have an idea of who’s going where – and we’re pretty open this year. That’s the part that scares me the most. I’m used to being a little more comfortable than this.”
But the players believe, and McDaniel believes in them.
“They’re excited,” he said. “I think they see the potential we have. The kids that were backups last year probably could have started on most teams that we played. Now they’re going to get their chance. We’ve got some nice-sized athletes, and they’ve been in the weight room. This might be the strongest team I’ve had physically.”
COACH: Rob McDaniel (fifth season, 32-12)
2014 RECORD: 11-1
CONFERENCE: North Central Thumb 8-Man League
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2014 (Lost in 8-man state semifinal)
RETURNING STARTERS: QB/CB Nathan Rosenthal, RB/CB Hunter Welsh, OL/DL John Weller, OL/DL Noah Cubitt, OL/DL Will Sharrard
KEY LOSSES: RB/CB Cody Abrego, TE/DL Kyle Abrego, RB/LB Joey Pries, RB/CB Caleb Dudley, QB Tommy Gallagher, TE/DL Jacob Adams, OL/DL Taylor Pitts, Nick Reese
KEY NEWCOMERS: TE/DL Dylan Dankenbring, RB/DL Chris Buermann, OL/DL Gary Desjardins, RB/CB Bowen Vargo, FB/LB Lucas Davis, QB/CB Garrett Overstreet
Aug. 28: Vs. Marion
Sept. 3: Vs. Morrice
Sept. 11: At Kinde-North Huron
Sept. 18: At Carsonville-Port Sanilac
Sept. 25: At Dryden
Oct. 2: Vs. Big Rapids Crossroads Academy
Oct. 10: Vs. Kingston
Oct. 16: Vs. Deckerville
Oct. 24: Vs. Covert
BOLD: Denotes conference game
Def. Big Rapids Crossroads, 48-0
Def. Kinde North Huron, 48-0
Def. Caseville, 53-0
Def. Dryden, 53-6
Def. Morrice, 22-6
Def. Kingston, 50-18
Def. Carsonville-Port Sanilac, 59-0
Def. Deckerville, 30-28
Def. St. Helen Charleton Heston, 67-14
Def. Webberville, 68-8
Def. Morrice, 56-8
Lost to Lawrence, 66-40