Liberty Benton ready to face the season without star quarterback Craft

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Findlay Liberty-Benton Eagles

The 2008 Liberty-Benton Eagles were one of the most dominant teams in recent
memory in Division V. This year’s team will look a lot different. In addition to the large amount
of graduating seniors, superstar QB/DB Aaron Craft, who was Division V offensive
player of the year.




That

Players To Watch: MLB Brett Pasche (6-2, 210, Sr.), LB/WR Eric Stanton
(6-2, 190, Jr.), DB/RB Wade Russell (5-9, 165, Sr.), OL/DE Shaun Linhart (6-3,
190, Sr.), DB/WR Zac Kramer (5-7, 155, Jr.)

The 2008 Liberty-Benton Eagles were one of the most dominant teams in recent
memory in Division V, shutting out 10 opponents and winning their first 14
games by 20 points or more before falling to Youngstown Ursuline in the state
championship game.

“That’s something that as a coach and as a kid and as a community, it’s always
something you kind of want to experience or like to experience, and we’re just
fortunate enough to get to do that in a five-week playoff run,” head coach Tim
Nichols said. “We fell a little
short of what we wanted to do once we made it up to Massillon, but I think it’s
something that hopefully will help benefit our program down the road that we had
a team that did achieve that level and hopefully inspire some kids to try to get
back to that.

“It was just a great experience. It’s why you coach and play, and once you do
it once, you want to do it again.”

The 2008 team had been years in the making as a group of experienced seniors
came together to make years of work pay off.

“I think what came together was that senior group,” Nichols said. “We had 17 of them, and I
think 14 or 15 had played together since they were in sixth grade. I think
anytime you can get a class that’ll stay together and pay their dues and go
through their lumps — five of those kids were first-year starters for us, so
they didn’t give up on the program and bought their time and stepped in and had
great senior years. You just can’t put a price on senior leadership, and we had
that. Things just came together and we stayed injury free, but for the most
part, if you get a group of kids to stay together that long, I think things are
going to happen for you.”

This year’s team will look a lot different. In addition to the large amount
of graduating seniors, superstar QB/DB Aaron Craft, who was Division V offensive
player of the year and would have been a prime candidate for Mr. Football,
decided to hang up his cleats to focus on his upcoming college basketball career
with the Ohio State Buckeyes.

“It’ll be more of a challenge not having him around and we’ll have more spots
to fill,” Nichols said.

Only two starters return for the Eagles on offense and one on defense, but
the formula for the Eagles will remain the same.

“I hope we can continue on and play at a pretty good level,” Nichols said. “There’s going to
be some new names and new faces, but I think once again those seniors provided
what needs to be done in the offseason and preseason. We’re probably not going
to change too many things, so it’s not going to be a scheme standpoint. The kids
are going to have to learn their assignments and just follow the example that’s
been set before them, and hopefully we can continue on and do some good things.”

One area where this year’s team may see a drop-off is in the area of speed,
as the departing seniors leave a void in that area.

“We were very assignment-oriented last year, but we were blessed with overall
team speed, especially on the defensive side of the ball,” Nichols said. “That’s probably the
fastest 11 we ever had out there, and I think the results showed. I’m not sure
we’re going to be able to match the speed that we had, so it just makes it more
important that we have to be in the right areas. They may not have the luxury of
running a lot of things down or things that we could do last year. That’s first
and foremost on the defensive side.

“On the offensive side, we’re going to be a little bigger up front. We’re not
going to maybe be as fast, so we may have to do some things just a little bit
different up front to take advantage of that size difference this year.”

Expected to play a big part in this year’s team will be senior Brett Pasche,
who posted 184 tackles as a junior and could do double-duty at quarterback in
addition to linebacker.

“He’ll play a very important role on both sides,” Nichols said.

Liberty-Benton rolled through their league schedule last season, giving up
only 13 points total and scoring over 40 points in every game but one. But
Nichols doesn’t expect things to come as easy in 2009.

“Our league in my eyes was pretty young,” Nichols said. “There were some teams that were
junior-dominated and some teams that were sophomore and junior-dominated, so I
think Pandora-Gilboa (9-1), Arlington (7-3), McComb (7-3), and Leipsic (6-4), I
think all four of them are going to be better. So it’s going to be a tremendous
accomplishment to win the league. That’s still going to be our goal, and if we
can do that, we’ve beat some pretty some good teams.

“We hear a lot that we play
a Division VI schedule and it doesn’t prepare us for the playoffs, but I’m
hoping that people are starting to understand that there’s some pretty good
football that we play in the league. Our playoff record’s pretty good with
getting in there and winning some games. I think our league’s going to be wide
open for about five, six teams possibly.”

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