BY ANDY ROWER | MIRROR SPORTS — After graduating 14 varsity contributors – including eight All-Northern Lakes League selections – from last year’s third-place team, Maumee’s 2018 football team won’t be young, but it will be inexperienced.
“We didn’t just lose seniors,” said Maumee football coach Marc Gibson. “We lost a lot of three- and four-year starters. So, it’s not just seniors who played a year or two – it’s about the experience that they took with them.
“We’re still going to have a fair amount of seniors playing for us out there, it’s just that because of the talent of the senior class in front of them they just haven’t had the opportunity to play a lot on Friday nights. We’ve got to have some kids step up.”
The Panthers do return nine letter winners this year, with another six seeing limited varsity action in 2017.
Among them is junior quarterback Zach Marvin, who completed 18 passes for 254 yards and ran for another 20 as a sophomore. He will line up over center this year instead of in the shotgun.
“Zach is just going to get better and better,” Gibson said. “I love his intensity. He has a competitive spirit. Zach expects a lot of himself. He’s intelligent and he has a tremendous work ethic.
“Here’s a kid who goes from football to hockey to baseball, and then when he goes in the weight room he works just as hard or harder than most anybody on the team.
“He gets after it. He wants to get better. He wants to improve and he does anything and everything he can do to improve. I just love that about him.”
While senior Alec Herbster recovers from a preseason injury after totaling 182 rushing yards and 19 receiving yards last year, Maumee will utilize four other players in a modified fullback position.
Juniors Alex Drown and Lee Hessel (12 rushing yards) are the only other returners of the five, with the remaining two being senior Justin Key and sophomore Noah Fowls.
Instead of a true tailback, the Panthers will make use of a trio of wingbacks in their play action offense.
Of the three, senior Blake Adams has the most varsity experience, but that largely came as a quarterback, where he passed for 179 yards and three touchdowns as a junior.
“Blake has some very good speed,” Gibson said. “He’s bigger and stronger than he’s ever been and I think he’s going to have a nice year for us.”
Caden Brookshire had limited exposure as a running back last year and junior Jaelin McCoy will join the pair in the backfield.
“When Caden got a chance later in the year we saw something in him that was pretty special,” Gibson said. “He has a unique running style. He’s very slithery.
“Obviously, when you have a Devon Cleghorn (NLL’s leading rusher) he can be your guy,” Gibson said. “This year, it’s probably going to be more of a running back by committee. We might have four or five guys get a fairly equal number of carries.”
Senior Matt Butler returns to his receiver position after catching three passes for 21 yards as a junior, and senior Jared Jensen and junior Tyler Welter will also play as receivers.
“Jared did not play last year, but he has done a very nice job for us,” Gibson said. “He’s been a good addition for us.
“Tyler has had a very, very good offseason and has done some surprising things and shown a lot of consistency.”
Senior Justen Behnfeldt and junior Garrett White will serves as tight ends.
“Justen got a little time last year spelling Ryan Haas and Garrett has been a great addition. He’s about 6-8 or 6-9 and is 250 pounds and was able to squat 405 pounds in a parallel squat. His hands have improved tremendously from when we started camp and I think he’s going to be a threat for us.”
Maumee’s offensive line returns two lettermen in senior Izaiah Robinson (290 pounds) and junior Michael Helminski (250).
Helminski has been moved from guard to center and Robinson will play at tackle.
“Michael finished out our last five-game run last year,” Gibson said. “That was an accomplishment for a sophomore on a senior-dominated team up front.
“Izaiah is a two-way guy right now, but he brings it and he knows how to play the game at a high level.”
After seeing limited time on defense last year, senior Dillion Wilson (230) will play at one of the guard positions and senior Zach Whitman (190) will play at the other.
Seniors Re’Shawn Smith (300) and class president Zheng Zhuang (230) will join Izaiah Robinson as tackles.
“We like the guys we have, but we’re not asking them to be earth movers up front,” Gibson said. “We’re trying to use our speed to our advantage this year.”
Senior soccer player Kyle Robinson will handle kickoff (46.9 yards per kickoff last year) and field goal duties again this season and Adams will look to build on the second-team NLL honors he earned last year as a punter.
“We feel pretty good about our punters and kickers right now,” Gibson said.
Adams, Brookshire, Butler and McCoy will be relied on as the Panthers return men.
A third-team all-leaguer as a junior, Izaiah Robinson (22 tackles) will center the defensive line at nose tackle and will be flanked by Helminski and White, with Hessel playing as a defensive end. Smith will also see time as a nose tackle.
Drown and sophomore Michael Pacer will play just behind the line as inside linebackers and Adams, Behnfeldt (five tackles) and Jensen will be Maumee’s outside linebackers. Key will also see time as a linebacker.
“Michael is about 5-11 and 230 pounds,” Gibson said. “He’s a big, strong kid that’s only going to get better as he gets more experience.”
Drown joined Behnfeldt in seeing limited time as a defender last year.
Maumee’s secondary will include Brookshire (four tackles), McCoy and junior Blake Schneider as cornerbacks and Butler (16 tackles), Marvin and junior Zach Warnke as safeties.
Marvin, Schneider and Warnke combined for six tackles in limited defensive play in 2017.
“We just have to play it out and see what we’ve got, but right now we’re learning,” Gibson said. “When you’re out there on Friday, you’re facing the best that the other team has to offer. That’s what our kids have to understand.
“If they make it, they are the best we have to offer. And we have to trust them that they can perform against another team’s best, and that’s what we’re trying to figure out right now.”
The Panthers will open the season at Bowsher at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, August 24.
“I believe the kids we have on the upper level are hungry,” Gibson said. “I think some of them realize that this is it and if they want to make the best of it – they’ve got one shot. I think they really, really want to be successful. They all seem to want it.
“As I’ve told them, whatever they want from this season and whatever success we have – it’s in their hands.”