The Mechanicsburg IndiansHigh School football team reached historic heights in 2013.
The Indians also ran into one rather tall obstacle — Haviland’s Wayne Trace — during their run to the Division VI state semifinals, the program’s first state appearance.
“Wayne Trace is obviously one heck of a football team. When they come out with 70 players … I’m 6-foot-4 and I think half their players could look me in the eye last year,” fifth-year Mechanicsburg coach Kurt Forrest said of last season’s 57-10 loss in the state semis.
Should the Indians repeat their state run they’ll be better prepared. The depth is as good as Forrest has seen, allowing the Indians to hold increasingly competitive practices. And now the Indians have coveted big-game experience.
“We take the field with 30 kids — as we call them, the ‘Dirty 30’ — we have to develop competition in practice and develop depth. This year is one of the first times we’ve been able to scrimmage each other in practice and split the teams up and be pretty even,” Forrest said. “That was very encouraging to where our depth is headed.”
All-Ohio running back Aeryton Erwin will again carry the offense. On pace to be the school’s all-time leading rusher, the senior workhorse carried the ball 313 times for 2,193 yards and 29 touchdowns last season. All-Ohio offensive tackle Brandon Woodruff (6-4, 335 pounds) and senior tackle Dillon Hurst (6-1, 205) pave the way. Hurst started as a sophomore but missed all of 2013 with an injury.
Sophomore quarterback Kaleb Romero (1,118 yards passing, 13 TDs; 888 yards rushing, 9 TDs) has sure-handed senior receivers returning with Tim Rader and Joe Ziegler.
Many of the names are the same on defense, typical for a program with about 30 players.
The secondary returns significant experience with Ziegler at cornerback and Romero at safety. The linebackers could be key early with the defensive line the biggest question mark. Hurst, who started a inside linebacker as a sophomore before that injury, is joined by outside junior LB David Harvey and inside junior LB Phil Cook.
Mechanicsburg repeats the same schedule from 2013. Games circled on the calendar include Oct. 3 at Triad and Oct. 10 against West Liberty-Salem. Mechanicsburg lost to Ohio Heritage Conference champ Triad 21-18 and swept WL-S, including a 34-28 double-overtime win in the regional final.
“I think our belief in ourselves is ahead of last year. I think our level of physicality is ahead of last year,” Forrest said. “I think a lot of things we have to continue to work on to reach our potential, would be things such as togetherness, a willingness to sacrifice. Those things you develop as the year goes on. I want to see that team chemistry continue to be there. And that comes from directly unselfishness and toughness.”
Coach: Kurt Forrest, 5th season (22-22)
OHSAA designation: Division VI, Region 22
Playoff history: 10-10 in 10 appearances (2013, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2000, 1999)
2013 record: 11-3 overall, 6-1 Ohio Heritage Conference (second)
Schedule (all games 7 p.m.): Aug. 29 — at West Jefferson; Sept. 5 — at Fairbanks; Sept. 12 — Waynesfield Goshen; Sept. 19 — at Southeastern; Sept. 26 — Cedarville; Oct. 3 — at Triad; Oct. 10 — West Liberty-Salem; Oct. 17 — at Catholic Central; Oct. 24 — Northeastern; Oct. 31 — Greeneview.