Whether Tecumseh High School’s win-savvy football squad reloads for another season of smash-mouth, playoff-brand football isn’t in question.
What folks in New Carlisle wonder is by how much.
Expectations run high, after all, in a town where winning is considered routine.
“We look at any challenge as an opportunity,” said ninth-year head coach Kent Massie, 59-30, whose 2012 Arrows lost to Dresden Tri-Valley, 47-29, in the Division II, Region 7 quarterfinals. “We tell the kids to respect (those lofty public presumptions) and we know we have to work even harder to earn (them).
“(A winning tradition) is special. Not every program has it. These kids don’t want to be the group that stops the playoff streak.”
Massie’s Central Buckeye Conference, Kenton Trail Division champions finished 8-3 overall and 5-0 in league play last fall, advancing to the D-II playoffs for a fifth straight time and sixth in the past seven seasons.
The veteran’s resume features more playoff appearances (six) and a higher winning percentage (66.3) than any other coach in Tecumseh football history, and includes three hard-nosed, CBC titles.
“The key has been building quality relationships with our staff and with the kids,” Massie said. “The thing is, my coaching staff is the best around. My assistant coaches have been with me for a long time — since I started. They do a tremendous job.
“Once you build that relationship (of mutual respect and trust), kids buy into what you’re doing and you’re going to be successful. It’s not about X’s and O’s. It’s about having guys you can count on, getting kids coached-up, and putting them in positions where they’re going to be successful.”
Heading Tecumseh’s ‘A-list’ returning starters is CBC Offensive Player of the Year Christian Evans, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior fullback and outside linebacker who rushed for 1,352 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2012, including an 80-yard scamper against Dresden.
The standout is receiving looks from several Mid-American Conference schools, including Toledo, Miami (Ohio), Bowling Green and Ohio U. A bigger, stronger version of last year’s model, Evans has added 15 pounds, benches 330, and runs a 4.5 40-yard dash.
“That kid has a motor that doesn’t stop. He goes hard every single play,” Massie said. “He definitely has the skills to be a D-I player. The kid can flat-out play.”
Also back is fourth-year varsity kicker Jeff Helt, a 5-10, 202 standout who enters the season just two PATs shy of Carson Williams’ career record (115), and Jake Eier, a 5-8, 140 senior running back who broke free for a 99-yard TD kickoff return against Tri-Valley.
Helt already holds Tecumseh’s single-season PAT mark (51 of 51 set last year).
“He’s been to a lot of kicking camps and is also being looked at by D-I schools,” Massie said. “What’s different this year is he’ll be playing on the offensive and defensive line for the first time. We’re counting on him to be a starter on both sides of the ball. He’ll have to come in and kick when he’s tired, but we know he can do it.”
Like Evans, senior guard/linebacker Jake Nicewaner (5-11, 195, 110 career tackles) is an All-CBC pick and heads an experienced core that includes junior linebacker/tight end Camren Moore (6-2, 215, 66 tackles) and senior offensive/defensive tackle Kyle VanDyne (6-4, 263).
Senior guard/linebacker Justin Pennington, a 5-9, 195 returning captain, figured prominently in Massie’s plans before a heartbreaking ACL tear ended his season.
“He was a kid who was not coming off the field,” Massie said. “He was going to do it all — special teams, the works. He’s still with us, but he’ll have to adjust to a different position in terms of leadership. He’ll be on our sidelines leading us as a player-coach.”
Lost to graduation is quarterback Tony Evans, who threw for 925 yards and 7 TDs. Junior Dakota Pritt (6-3/160) and sophomore Malik Quisenberry (5-11, 155) are primed to step in.
“I’m going to use both of them. They’re both great athletes and they’ll play in the secondary and on special teams,” Massie said. “They both run and throw, have speed, and can make guys miss. Pritt throws a little better and Malik runs a little better. …Competition brings out the best in everybody.”
Top newcomers are offensive/defensive tackle Kyle Ott (6-2, 272), senior running back/outside linebacker Tyler Rowe (5-11, 180), and junior running back/defensive back Conner Henry (6-0, 165).
Other key contributors are juniors Tyler Pruit (5-10, 170, RB/OLB), Kyle Terrel (6-0, 145, SE/DB) and Seth Martin (6-4, 240, OT/DE, and seniors Dillon Bloomer (5-11, 215, C) and Tre Borgman (6-3, 205, TE/DE).
“Tre’s a first-year guy. I’ve been working on him since eighth grade to come out for the team,” Massie said. “He’s a basketball and baseball player who’s working at tight end and defensive end and he’s really come along.”
Massie, whose Arrows open Friday at Fairborn, expects Tippecanoe, Bellefontaine and Shawnee to compete for a league title. The Arrows ended the Braves’ two-year CBC-champion run with a 24-13 victory last season.