Southeastern senior receiver Hayden Toops feels a buzz permeating through the program with the arrival of coach Payton Printz. There are 33 players on the team, up from 24 last year. And the Trojans believe the playoffs are within reach after a string of losing seasons and a 3-7 mark in 2016.
Coaching changes will do that, of course, and Printz has a track record of success. But the spike in energy is coming mostly from the spread offense he’s installing.
The Trojans have traditionally been a running team but will line up with four or five receivers at a time and fling the ball all over the field. Toops had just eight receptions last season, but Printz has told him to plan on reaching that amount every game.
“That makes me feel great. I just get to go out and perform,” Toops said. “I can influence the game more than I did last year. I used to play quarterback, and I’m used to controlling the game. Getting the ball in my hands will be a lot more fun for me.”
The spread offense won’t work without a reliable quarterback and plenty of playmakers, but Printz is confident the Trojans have what they need.
Hunter Davis is in his second year as the starting QB, and his size alone gives him an undeniable presence in the pocket. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior is the second-biggest player on the team.
“He looks like an offensive tackle taking snaps, and he’s got a cannon,” Printz said. “Right now, we’re trying to work with him on touch with our screens, and it’s hard for him. He’s really been handing the ball off with that triple-option they ran in the past. He’s enjoying this. What quarterback wouldn’t?”
MORE FOOTBALL PREVIEWS
Printz said Toops and junior receiver Charlie Bertemes are as good as any skill players he coached at Triad, where he won two league titles and made five playoff trips in 15 years with three postseason victories.
Senior Tyler King has switched from soccer to football and will start at running back. Junior Owen Flannery has been impressive despite being in his first year on the team, and junior Max DeLong likely will be another starter at wideout.
“We want to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers in space,” Printz said. “We’re constantly harping to our quarterback to throw to green grass. Let the receivers catch the ball and do what they do best.”
The offensive line is small by traditional standards, but that’s not an issue to Printz.
“We’ve got athletic kids up front,” he said. “We’ve got four linemen who were skill position players — tight ends, receivers and running backs. I did that at Triad. I put skill kids on the line so we’d have athletic kids there.
“In the spread, the kids just have to get in the way. You don’t have to have devastating blocks. Even in the run game, just get in the way and create some havoc.”
That approach works for two-way lineman Mitch Hennigan, a 5-11, 170-pound senior. He’s nimble and likes not having to hold blocks for long stretches.
It’s just one more way Printz’s style has revitalized the Trojans, who have gone 22-48 the last seven years.
“There’s a new attitude,” Hennigan said. “Last year, it was like, yeah, all right, it’s good if we win. Now it’s like, we’re GOING to win. We PRACTICE to win. It’s a lot more positive.”
The defense will switch to a 3-5-3 formation. Sophomore Hayden McKee will anchor the unit from inside linebacker. “The kid’s a hitter and has a nose for the football,” said Printz, who also has high hopes for his other inside linebacker, Chris Thomas, a transfer from Springfield High School.
Chris Kitchen, the only holdover from last year’s staff, will be the defensive coordinator. Former Southeastern player and coach A.J. Woods has returned to his alma mater after being Graham’s coach. He’s the offensive coordinator.
Printz felt he needed a change after his long stint at Triad and was an assistant last year at Minster, which was the Division-VII state runner-up.
He was ready to run his own program again after last season, but he initially was reluctant to take the Southeastern job.
A talk with his mentor, former SE coach Hal Perry, was critical in changing his mind.
“His big thing was, ‘Listen, man, there’s great kids everywhere, and Southeastern is no different. You come in there with your style of play and the way you coach kids and I think you can do it.’ His influence was really important,” Printz said.
The Trojans are glad he listened.
“There’s a big confidence boost — not that there was any nonconfidence last year. The coaches backed us up 100 percent. But it’s just the winning record behind his name,” Toops said.
“We want to make the playoffs. That hasn’t been done here since 2009. I remember sitting in the stands when I was 9 years old for that game. I think with our schedule we can do it.”
Head shots (left to right), Payton Printz, Mitch Hennigan and Hayden Toops
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