considered a state championship contender the following season, but the
St. Henry Redskins are anything but a normal team.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
TB Brent Prenger (5-9, 175, sr.), QB Brad Stahl (6-2, 190, jr.), WR Neil Schwieterman (5-11, 170, jr.), ILB Ethan Bruns (5-11, 185), DE Spencer Niekamp (6-5, 215, sr.), OL Brent Balster (6-4, 250, sr.)
2007 Record: 6-4
Normally a team that missed the playoffs the year before wouldn’t be considered a state championship contender the following season, but the St. Henry Redskins are anything but a normal team.
St. Henry’s success in recent seasons has followed a strange pattern, missing the playoffs in odd-numbered years (2003, 2005, and 2007) while winning state championships in even years (2004, 2006).
Could the Redskins have a chance of keeping the pattern going in 2008? With eight starters back on each side of the ball along with several more players who saw their share of playing time in 2007, a return to form for St. Henry might not be totally out of the question.
“I think we have a strong nucleus back of kids who have played a bunch of different positions,” head coach Jeff Starkey said. “Everywhere on offense and everywhere on defense, we have people back, and they have to take that next step forward and to become a competitive football team in our league week in and week out, which is very tough to do.”
The Redskins will feature plenty of experience on offense, especially at the skill positions. Junior quarterback Brad Stahl passed for 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2007, and he will be joined by senior RB Brent Prenger (900 yards, 13 touchdowns in six games as a starter) and junior wide receiver Neil Schwieterman (800 yards rushing/receiving, 6 touchdowns).
“Every time that I’ve had a returner at quarterback, he’s usually had a pretty strong year,” Starkey said. “When we’ve returned our skill players, we’ve tended to be stronger football teams. Our quarterback started as a sophomore last year and really had some excellent football games as a sophomore. We return a few receivers that played as well, two tight ends that started and our tailback, along with some guys up front, so I think that’s always a great place to start. When your quarterback returns, it’s always an important place to start.”
Starkey feels that Stahl, a first-year starter in 2007 who threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns in his first varsity start, has done a fine job stepping into a position that has a deep tradition.
“There’s big shoes to fill at St. Henry,” Starkey said. “Our last three quarterbacks all won state championships. Brad as a sophomore was very poised. The game comes pretty natural to him.”
Among the defensive players returning will be linebacker Ethan Bruns, who led the Redskins with 97 tackles, and defensive end Spencer Niekamp (62 tackles, 5 sacks).
“Both our inside linebackers return, so those are critical points on your team each year,” Starkey said.
Heavy graduation losses from their 2006 state championship team along with several key injuries resulted in a large amount of players receiving significant playing time in 2007.
“After 2006, we had to replace 21 starters,” Starkey said. “We weren’t necessarily a young team going into the year, but we were really inexperienced and had some sophomores that were in some critical positions. We started the year off strong, but then we were just bitten by the injury bug the rest of the year. We probably played our best football in Week 1 and then never quite the same team the rest of the year. I think all told, about 12 starters missed a combined 42 starts. So I was happy the way we finished. We were a very, very young team at the end of the year due to some injuries and moving some players around. We had some sophomores that probably played three or four different positions due to some injuries. It was definitely a unique year for us.
“When you play so many young kids, they all come back a year older the next year.”
Starkey says that two of the biggest keys to success this season will be staying injury-free and also stretching strong starts into strong finishes.
“I think the young kids that we played were talented kids,” Starkey said. “I think the future looks strong, but every year, you have to get started fast, and you have to finish how you started. One of the keys every year, and we’ve been blessed in more years than not, is just staying injury-free.
“We need to be able to play complete football games. That was something we didn’t do last year. We played well in stretches and didn’t play well in stretches, and maybe that’s because we were young in critical positions, but you can’t afford not to play pretty even throughout the whole game.”
If the Redskins are to return to the playoffs and make a run, they will have to survive a potentially treacherous schedule. In addition to the usual rugged MAC conference slate, Starkey feels the team will face challenges out-of-conference as well.
“It’s going to be the same tough schedule that we’ve always had,” Starkey said. “Actually it changes a little bit; we have Kenton Ridge on the schedule, which is actually a Division III team from the Springfield area. So our schedule just keeps getting more and more difficult.
“Kenton Ridge is a new team on our schedule and is going to be a completely different challenge than we’re used to. Our opener is the one that is a huge game for us every year since we’ve had them on our schedule, and that’s Marion Pleasant. We’ll travel out to Marion Pleasant again on a Saturday. It’s always difficult to play the Spartans, and it’s especially difficult to play them at their place.”
St. Henry and Marion Pleasant will be meeting for the third straight season, continuing a newfound rivalry that features two of the state’s most storied programs.
“I think there’s so much respect from both programs, and I think that’s why it’s been such a great football game to open up with,” Starkey said. “I know we’re two-and-a-half hours away from each other and there’s always the travel, and it’s always at the beginning of the year and you never know what kind of weather you’re going to have at the beginning of the year, but it’s created quite a rivalry. It’s been very intense, very clean and very sportsman-like. We have nothing but respect for Marion Pleasant and the people that they bring, how the coaches coach and how their players play.”
On paper, the Redskins seem to be heading into 2008 with plenty of potential. Does the school and community feel the same?
“I’m not so sure because I’m always the last person to know,” Starkey said with a laugh. “I think everyone’s excited about the young kids that are on our baseball teams, our basketball teams, our football teams. Those young guys are going to have to develop into mature veterans and make the plays that mature veterans are supposed to make. That’s just the way football is.”
8/23 @ PLEASANT (MARION)
8/29 KENTON RIDGE (SPRINGFIELD)
9/5 @ NEW BREMEN
9/19 @ MARION LOCAL (MARIA STEIN)
10/10 @ FORT RECOVERY
10/17 @ ST JOHN'S (DELPHOS)