Tecumseh High School football coach Chris Cory hasn’t been bashful about saying he was pleased with how his team performed while going 2-8 last year. And there were at least a few arched eyebrows when he told parents at the awards gathering how proud he was of his players.
Part of that stems from having so many doing well away from football, including having two valedictorians on the roster and a handful getting college scholarships.
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But he also believes the record doesn’t reflect how close the Arrows were to having a winning season.
“Sometimes it’s hard for people to say we were 2-8 and had a good year,” he said. “But we were in five games where we were down a touchdown, tied or leading by a touchdown in the fourth quarter. We lost all five of them. The difference between 6-4 or 7-3 and 2-8 is just a couple of plays.”
Cory, 45, is in his fourth year as head coach (including an interim season after taking over for the late Kent Massie) following two decades as offensive coordinator.
He’s installed the wing-T, which relies on a heavy ground attack and misdirection. The Arrows ran it when they were making regular trips to the playoffs but had gotten away from it the last few years.
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It also fits Cory’s personality, as well as the culture in the program.
“This is what I’m used to. I’m happy getting three yards a carry. I love it,” he said. “Sometimes the fans don’t love it. But I like to get a first down and run two and a half minutes off the clock. It helps your defense and keeps the other team off the field.”
The Arrows have 57 players, including 35 in the upper three grades.
Senior quarterback Will Sowder will orchestrate the wing-T. He was the first-stringer last year before suffering a sprained knee in the opener. He also started four games as a sophomore.
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The 6-0, 190-pound all-around athlete was a second-team All-Central Buckeye Conference pick as a DB in 2017 after tying for second in the league with five interceptions, although his defensive duties will be reduced this year to keep him fresh.
The Arrows will need another big year from senior running back Gavin Wesson, who was second-team all-league after rushing for 656 yards and five TDs in 120 attempts.
He might have produced even more if he didn’t have to play the last five games with a broken wrist.
The 5-7, 150-pound senior was laser-timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.48 seconds this summer.
“Last year, when we were in that single-back set, we relied on Gavin a lot. When he got hurt, we didn’t have a lot of depth,” Cory said. “The wing-T keeps you a little more balanced where, if one kid gets hurt, you’re not scrambling. We have six guys in the mix who can play Friday night and get some carries.”
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One of those is 6-2, 220-pound senior fullback David Berner, who had 343 yards and four TDs on 71 totes last season. Junior running back Lucas Rodgers (5-6, 160) will be one of the players lining up just behind the tackles and going in motion to keep defenses guessing about who will get the ball.
The offensive line should be a strength with returning starters Calin Jarrell, a 6-2, 245-pound tackle, and Tommy Rowe, a 5-10, 170-pound guard who will be a lead blocker frequently in the wing-T.
The defense can be expected to do its part since first-time all-league linebacker A.J. Betleyoun is back to lead the charge. He had 124 tackles last season, while no one else in the CBC reached triple digits.
“He’s a prototypical high school football player. He’s not going to be bigger than anybody, stronger than anybody or faster than anybody, but he has a way of finding the ball. He knows how to get around blocks. He’s just a tackling machine,” Cory said.
Seniors Quintin Kuruzovich and Hunter Minton gives the Arrows experience at defensive back. They’ll also play split end.
For Cory, switching to the wing-T was an easy call after going a combined 11-19 the last three seasons. Among Tecumseh’s nine playoff teams, only the 2014 squad didn’t run it.
“We didn’t get those playoff banners because we had Division-I college players,” said Cory, noting that the Arrows have only had two during his time on staff. “We got them because we have tough kids who aren’t afraid to hit someone. That’s what we are.”
When he told the players about the new smashmouth mentality, he had their full support.
“There was buy in. The kids aren’t stupid. They were 6, 7, 8 years old when we had these playoff runs. They want to get back there,” he said.