Change of pace : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Change of pace|
|Oswego football team adjusts offense to better utilize strengths |
|by Kristin Sharp|
If the Oswego football program can be described in one word, it's consistent.
Relentless running game.
Solid, well-disciplined defense.
But this fall, fourth-year head coach Dave Keely is ready to see how his team responds to a new challenge.
Oswego graduated nearly its entire offensive unit from a 2009 team that ended with an 8-3 record -identical to the two previous years - and a Class 6A second-round playoff appearance. And with only four returning starters on the defensive side, Oswego's 61-player roster is primarily void of varsity game minutes.
One of the biggest challenges Oswego will face is a new offensive scheme to better utilize returning junior quarterback Ryan West. The 6-foot-3-inch, 190-pound athlete is ready for his second stint under center after amassing 1,161 yards on 76 completions for 16 touchdowns in his varsity debut.
"This year we're spreading out more and I'm supposed to air it out more, so it should be fun," West said.
West is looking forward to a fast-paced offense. His targets this fall include seniors Eric Zweep, Matt Schimek, Eric Lesner and Matt Purcell.
But don't expect Oswego to rely solely on West's arm.
Oswego - consistently - puts together a strong backfield year in and year out. Led by senior running back Brandon Lang, who finished with 360 yards on 57 carries last year, he'll get support from senior running back John Hugunin, who made an impressive offensive debut last fall, finishing with 67 yards on 20 carries.
Sophomore Mickeel Stewart and junior Josh Mapalo, who both put up big numbers for the sophomore team last fall, along with senior Branden Wolf are all expected to contribute on the ground.
"They're working hard," Keely said of his offense. "With the athletes we have, we needed to make some adjustments so we can spread the ball around a bit more. We're still going to be able to run the ball and we'll still be in the I-(formation).
"We have juniors stepping up and a sophomore, Mickeel Stewart. We have about eight kids that we can rotate in and out. We have some talent. It all starts with the offensive line, so if we can get them to do it up front, we'll have time to throw the ball and run the ball. We want to try and stretch people out. We don't have Mike (Greenwood) and Collin (Seibert) like we have the last few years," Keely continued.
Greenwood and Seibert both received All-State honors before graduating last year, leaving a big void in Oswego's offensive line. Senior center Clay Boese provides some veteran leadership with senior Matt Perez, junior Kent Koulback, senior Dan Ferguson and junior Nick Obradovic expected help to solidify that area of play.
"With Clay back, that's a key spot. We'll build around him," Keely said. "They're working hard and developing every day that we're practicing."
Hugunin, the only returning All-Conference starter on the defense this year, will be a backbone again this fall after a team-best 72 tackles as a junior. He also finished with two punt blocks, a field goal block, one fumble recovery and three interceptions from his linebacker position while senior linebacker Scott Sartain is also expected to have a big season in that position.
"Our defensive line is going to be good," Hugunin said. "We have Byron (Hicks) anchoring that. Scott (Sartain) and (Zweep) in the defensive backfield too so we have experience all the way through. We'll be strong throughout."
Hicks, a senior, returns as defensive tackle while junior lineman Mikey Stewart and newcomer Luis Flores, who moved into the district from Morton West, is expected to contribute on the line in his junior season while senior Frankie Santoro and junior Eddie Galindo showed promise in the preseason.
Among the other top defensive prospects is junior defensive back Eric Pacheco, senior corner Will Templin, Zweep at safety and senior defensive back Jordan Thompson, who joins the program after playing his freshman season at Yorkville. Zweep was a leading tackler for Oswego last fall with 27 solos, 17 assists and five tackles for loss.
"I think we'll be solid all the way around," Keely said. "Byron coming back is going to be a mainstay of our defense. We have some depth and some good kids who have all been working hard."
And Oswego's first opportunity to give the newcomers some game experience is Friday night in Morris.
The Panthers will take on their former Southwest Prairie Conference rival at 7:30 p.m. as Morris embarks on its first season in the newly formed Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference.
Week 2 doesn't get any easier for Oswego, hosting Waubonsie Valley in the 2010 home opener on Sept. 3 at 7 p.m. for Senior Night.
In 2009, Oswego won a 6-3 overtime game over Morris, but lost a heartbreaker to Waubonsie Valley, 22-18.
"Morris' sophomore class just dominated last year and they're going to be good even with a new coach. That'll be a very good, competitive game. Our goal is just to compete with them and see where we end up," Keely said. "Waubonsie, last year, that was a barn-burner right down to the last play. Don't necessarily want to see that - we want to be on the other end this year - but we want to compete with them and build a good rivalry."
"Our first two are definitely no cakewalk. We're excited to get on the field," Sartain said.
Oswego will then enter the Southwest Prairie Conference where the Panthers finished in a tie for first place with Minooka one year ago, falling only to the Indians in Week 8 of the 2009 season.
"We hope to finish towards the top of conference. That's always our goal to be competitive every time we step onto the field," Keely said. "I think in our conference, this is going to be a year where there's some parody. If you don't come prepared on Friday night, you're going to have your hands full."
Oswego will host Romeoville to start SPC play on Sept. 10 before traveling across town to visit Oswego East on Sept. 17.
"We're young up front as far as offense, and defense, as far as experience, not there much either. Those first few games we'll have to work to get a lot of reps. We may have seniors out there, but as far as playing time they don't have a lot of minutes," Keely said.
Oswego will play all four Plainfield area schools on consecutive weeks, beginning on Sept. 24 at Plainfield East, which welcomes a new coach in its second varsity season. Mike Romeli moves into the position after working as the Bengals' offensive and defensive coordinator in 2009.
Oswego will host Plainfield North on Oct. 1 before traveling to Plainfield South on Oct. 8 and will play its final regular-season home game on Oct. 15, welcoming Plainfield Central to the field for the Panthers' 2010 Homecoming game. The regular season will end at Minooka on Oct. 22.
"I think it's going to be challenging. It's not an easy conference," Zweep said. "We're bringing out a new offense and trying to change it up a little, but I think we can compete with anybody out there."
And if Oswego can once again reach the six-win mark, the Panthers will be headed to their ninth consecutive first-round playoff game in late October.
"It would be nice to get beyond that (8-3 record), but our goal is to get into the playoffs. We'll do whatever we can to get as many wins as we can, and everything else will fall into place," Keely said. "Our goal is to get into the playoffs, finish at the top of the conference and get as many wins as we can."