Playoffs a goal despite heavy losses
The Red Hill football team has gone 19-3 over the last two seasons while extending its streak of consecutive playoff berths to four.
It's the second time in school history that the Salukis have made the postseason four straight years, with the last such stretch coming in the final four seasons of a 13-year run from 1996-2008 that saw 10 playoff appearances. For Red Hill to get that school-record fifth straight berth, it has to overcome some heavy losses to graduation.
“I hate to use the term 'rebuilding.' We're not rebuilding. We come out here every day and work hard, but we have some inexperience at some positions,” said Salukis coach Billy Gray, who's entering his seventh season in charge. “We have some kids that played a lot of downs the last two seasons, given the (lopsided) scores of our games, but I consider experience to be varsity time, and we don't have a lot of it.”
Replacing Sun-Commercial all-area running back Drew Moore, who's moved on to play football at DePauw (Ind.), is a top priority. Moore is the school's all-time leading rusher, including nearly 2,000 yards a year ago, but he did that with the help of four all-area linemen, who have also graduated, so filling those spots are just as essential.
It takes multiple running backs to fill Moore's shoes. Fortunately for the Salukis, that's what they typically have, and this year is no different. Senior Gavin Volkman returns in the backfield. He was fifth in the area last year with 480 yards and four scores on 66 touches. Other options are senior Josh Henry, junior Drake Allen and sophomore Jared Henry. Allen and the older Henry had over 20 carries a year ago, while the younger Henry put up more yards (144) on fewer carries (14). Senior Jonathon Cavins returns as the lead blocker at fullback, though he also rushed 31 times for 232 yards a year ago.
The offensive line is still fluid, but junior Damon Brown returns to lead the crew, junior Will Stimler steps in at center, and senior Nick Scherer should fill in somewhere as the biggest of the group (6-3, 225). Vying for the other spots are senior Jarret Higgins and juniors Garrett McDermid, Logan Gaiter and Olney transfer Kyle Boughan.
Senior Gannon Gaither returns at quarterback after taking over midseason due to an injury to Drake. Though he's a capable thrower, and there's plenty of inexperience on the line, the game plan hasn't changed for Red Hill.
“If Saluki football can't run the ball, we're in trouble. That's always the game plan,” Gray said. “I told all our backs and linemen, we did lose Drew Moore, but just as important, we lost a lot of linemen, so if you want to carry on the tradition of what we're trying to make happen, you have to step up. I think the kids are up to the challenge and want to continue that winning tradition here.”
Options at receiver and tight end are 6-7 senior Nathan Wirth, junior Damien Plummer and sophomore move-in from Lawrenceville Anthony Jerrell.
Defensively some important pieces return with Volkman at defensive end and Gaither and Cavins at linebacker, but like the offense, the line is a question. Junior Deegan Stremme is the likely nose tackle, while Gray is hopeful Higgins, McDermind, Gaiter and Boughan can all rotate at the tackle spots, saving Brown exclusively for offense. Senior Lucas Weger and sophomore Ethan Volkman are other options.
Allen is the other defensive end, while Josh Henry is a returning linebacker. Filling out the secondary are Jerrell, Plummer and possibly Gaither, who's versatile enough to play just about anywhere on defense. Sophomore newcomer Tukker Moore is also a candidate.
“The number one thing is our line. They don't get a lot of press, and I don't talk about them a lot. But if they can do the job on offense, block big on big, I'm confident that we can call the right plays and that we have the players capable of running behind them,” Gray said.
The team is likely to go for two after touchdowns, like it did last season. Vying for kickoff duties are Josh Henry, Weger and sophomore Andrew Maxfield. Jerrell is the punter, with Gaither and Allen returning punts, and Jared Henry and Jerrell returning kicks.
Gray said defending champion Paris is the frontrunner again in the Little Illini Conference, and he expects Olney to be in the conversation as well, with Marshall not far behind.
While equalling last year's 8-2 record seems unlikely, Gray said he has the team to keep Red Hill's playoff streak alive.
“This is a team that can make the playoffs. I've told them that. To go out and win five games after doing what we've been doing the last few years, I don't think that's too much to ask,” he said. “But we're going to have to have some things go our way. The injury bug is going to have to stay away, with just 35 kids.
“We open with Flora and Robinson. If we're going to have a successful year and crack the playoffs, we have to win those two ball games. We know what comes after that (Olney and Paris), so we need to take care of those two early ones.”
Date |Opponent |Time
Aug. 30 |FLORA |7
Sept. 6 |Robinson |7
Sept. 13 |OLNEY |7
Sept. 20 |Paris |7
Sept. 27 |NEWTON |7
Oct. 5 |OBLONG |1
Oct. 11 |Marshall |7
Oct. 18 |Lawrenceville |7
Oct. 25 |CASEY |7
Home games in CAPS
All times CDT
RED HILL ROSTER
No. |Name |Ht. |Wt. |Yr. |Pos.
2 |Damien Plummer |5-11 |140 |11 |WR-DB
3 |Drayden Pentell |5-7 |100 |9 |WR-DB
9 |Anthony Jerrell |6-2 |180 |10 |WR-DB
10 |Jared Henry |5-10 |145 |10 |RB-LB
11 |Josh Henry |6-0 |190 |12 |RB-LB
12 |Gannon Gaither |5-10 |150 |12 |RB-LB
15 |Dawson Holtz |5-5 |110 |10 |WR-DB
20 |Ben Stimler |6-0 |160 |10 |RB-LB
22 |Tukker Moore |5-9 |165 |10 |WR-DB
23 |Drake Allen |6-2 |170 |11 |QB-RB-DB
24 |Andrew Maxfield |6-3 |155 |10 |QB-DB
30 |Wyatt Cox |5-11 |160 |9 |RB-LB
32 |Wyatt Shoulders |6-2 |230 |12 |RB-DL
34 |Gavin Volkman |6-2 |220 |12 |RB-DL
36 |Gavin Pichan |5-4 |110 |9 |WR-DB
40 |Jack Griesemer |5-9 |125 |9 |WR-DB
42 |Jonathon Cavins |5-10 |150 |12 |RB-LB
43 |Jacob Powden |5-7 |115 |9 |RB-DB
52 |Will Stimler |5-10 |250 |11 |OL-DL
54 |Deegan Stremme |5-11 |190 |11 |OL-DL
55 |Bryce Barker |5-7 |150 |9 |C-LB
62 |Jarret Higgins |5-11 |265 |12 |OL-DL
63 |Kyle Boughan |6-1 |265 |11 |OL-DL
64 |Garrett McDermid |6-0 |260 |11 |OL-DL
65 |Clay Gaiter |5-11 |195 |9 |OL-DL
66 |Logan Gaiter |5-11 |265 |11 |OL-DL
67 |Damon Brown |5-10 |255 |11 |OL-DL
70 |Ethan Volkman |5-11 |200 |RB-LB
72 |Nick Scherer |6-3 |225 |12 |OL-DL
73 |Nick Runkle |5-8 |155 |9 |OL-DL
76 |Lucas Weger |6-1 |240 |12 |OL-DL
78 |Josh Brunson |6-1 |215 |10 |OL-DL
79 |Hunter Osmon |5-11 |280 |10 |OL-DL
82 |Nathan Wirth |6-7 |180 |12 |WR-DL
99 |Casey Jones |6-1 |170 |10 |OL-DL
Coach: Billy Gray
Assistants: Chris Lyles, Jerome Thacker, Ryan James, Stephen Killion, Brian Taylor