By Jef Rietsma
The biggest question facing the 2014 Schoolcraft varsity football team is how well will it overcome the rigors of a small team playing a merciless schedule. The answer will likely be known three weeks into the season, as the Eagles kick off their schedule against a trio of 2013 playoff teams.
Despite a solid core of returning players to make up a strong senior class, the Eagles are down in numbers this season, coach Terry Haas said. As a result, most players will see action on both the offensive and defensive sides of the line. A healthy team could help the Eagles finish the season above .500 for the sixth consecutive year. An injury-plagued team, on the other hand, could spell a long season.
“We had a team of 35 last year and I don’t think we have even 25 this year, so if one of our key guys goes down with an injury, our whole season could go down the drain… we’re that thin,” said Haas, starting his tenth year as head coach. “We had a really good freshman class last year and the freshmen played over the sophomores which might have discouraged a few from coming out for varsity this year.”
Small team aside, another glaring matter facing Schoolcraft and its Kalamazoo Valley Athletic Association counterparts is the reduction of the league from 10 teams to six. The league, in fact, is in its swan song, as it will disband after the 2014-15 academic year.
Gone from last year are Battle Creek Pennfield, Olivet, Galesburg-Augusta, and Vermontville Maple Valley. Comstock has stepped in, but the shakeup means the Eagles will play three non-league games: New Lothrop, Hopkins and Reed City. All three non-conference teams advanced to the playoffs and won at least one game in the post-season.
Haas, who has been with the Schoolcraft football program 32 years, said he is sad to see the league come to a close. “People are a little surprised it happened so fast, I think,” he said. “This will be our seventh year in the league and when we were 10 teams, everyone felt pretty comfortable and we knew we wouldn’t have to look for games.
“After three teams pulled out, Hackett and Kalamazoo Christian combined their squads and I don’t know what Galesburg is doing, we’re playing all over the state this year,” Haas added. “Our non-conference schedule is a tough one.”
Haas said a bright spot is his senior class, which has good experience and some solid leaders with five returning starters. That core is led by Chadd Marks, defensive and offensive line; Josh Martin, offensive line; Caleb Piper, an all-conference player form last year who will be on the offensive line; Pete Schultz, linebacker; and Josh Zemek, defensive back and running back. Other notable team seniors are Wyatt Bosma at wide receiver and Tyler Bush, a jack-of-all-trades who will play linebacker on defense, and offensive line and wide receiver on offense.
“We’ve got three guys like Tyler who are going to play more than two positions because we’re so low on numbers this year,” Haas said. More seniors on the squad are Connor Jagielski, offensive and defensive lines; Devon Kehoe, wide receiver and defensive back; Ryan Landis, running back and defensive back; Colin McDonald, wide receiver and defensive back; Kyler Rhoda, offensive and defensive line; and Sam Rice, running back and defensive back/linebacker.
“Sam’s another one who’s going to play a lot of different positions for us,” Haas said. “We talk as a group about the team… every decision we make is based on the team, and some of the guys might not get to play the positions they want to play because we might have more players at one position than another, so we’re going to do what’s best for the team.”
At quarterback are Zac Sharp, a junior, and Ricky Clark, a sophomore. Both will also play on defense.
Looking at the season and league, Haas said he doesn’t look ahead to estimate his team’s final record. He and coaches of the league, however, agree that Constantine is the team to beat in the league.
“I figured they would be. Constantine has most of their backfield back and most of their linemen back,” Haas said. “Meanwhile, we’re replacing 19 seniors and 17 starters, so, it’s going to take us a bit to jell.”
Regarding the non-league schedule, Haas noted that New Lothrop hasn’t lost a regular-season game since 2008, and Reed City hasn’t lost a regular-season game since 2010.
With Parchment, Constantine and New Lothrop on deck the first three games of the season, he said the Eagles could find themselves 0-3 real easily. “Our first three games are really tough—they’re all playoff teams and they all won their first playoff game,” Haas said. “Obviously getting off to a good start against Parchment (in week 1) is key for us.”