By Sean Budlong
The constant change in personnel can cause anxiety for high school football fans. The Schoolcraft Eagles fans have been spoiled over the past few years. A three-year starting quarterback surrounded by a starting line-up that had relatively few changes allowed the Eagles to enjoy back-to-back regular season undefeated seasons.
The 2017 Schoolcraft team has already shown itself to be very different from its predecessors, but it may not instill anxiety in anyone but its opponents. The Eagles back field returns only two players who saw significant time last season – Jack Hunt and Kobe Clark. And Clark played varsity football for only a few games prior to the playoffs. While they may not have as much experience as Coach Terry Haas would like, the players certainly have skill.
Led by senior quarterback Dylan Straley, the Eagles earned a 41-0 victory in their first game against Fennville. Last season, Ricky Clark had two touchdown passes in the first quarter. This Eagles’ team ground out yardage on the ground, dominating the line of scrimmage and the game clock. Hunt and Clark are joined in the backfield by Reilly Puhalski and Riley Piper. Hunt opened the season’s scoring with a 20-yard touchdown run. Straley may not have thrown the ball often, but his feet created a 68-yard touchdown that energized the Eagles fans. Clark scored three consecutive touchdowns (39, 29, 4 yards) in the second quarter. Jakob Huysken finished the scoring with an electrifying 76-yard kickoff return to open the second half.
Schoolcraft has a history of strong line play. This year’s team may actually be one of the largest offensive lines in recent history. Mark Phelps, Spencer White, Marc Shaink, River Fox, and Nick Dage will be tasked with opening holes for the Eagles back field.
Haas expects his defense to get the opposing offense off the field as quickly as possible. The Eagles showed speed, skill, and an aggressive attitude in only allowing Fennville one trip inside the Schoolcraft side of the 50-yard line until the fourth quarter.
The defense has more experience than the offense. Huysken leads the Eagles with a unique blend of speed, strength, and field vision that makes him difficult to stop. Against Fennville, Huysken had seven tackles for loss – often running down a player behind the line of scrimmage on the opposite side from where he lined up.
“We have high expectations for ourselves, and I do for myself as well,” Huysken said. “We are always looking to get better.”
When a team assigns multiple players to stop Huysken, it only opens up lanes for Phelps, Travis Mikel, and Hunt to fly through. Collin Blalock, Shaink, and Fox are able to dominate the interior line on defense just like they do on offense. Against Fennville, Trenton Lomason, a transfer from Vicksburg, was one of the most impactful players – and he didn’t even start the game.
Schoolcraft showed an ability to catch the football – just on the defensive side. Piper ended one Fennville drive with an acrobatic interception along the sidelines. With the Blackhawks deep in their own territory, Shaink forced a bad pass, which was tipped by Blalock and caught one-handed by Fox. Fennville’s final drive was ended by Jakob Sagers’ interception inside the Eagles’ 20-yard line.
The schedule gets tougher as Schoolcraft competes in a new division (Coloma, Kalamazoo United, Delton Kellogg, Constantine, and Watervliet).