Football is a game of skill and the 2013 NorthWood High School Panthers consider themselves to be blessed in that area.
A total of 14 letterwinners return from a team that posted a 5-6 record last season.
“A lot of our kids that are back are on the offense,” fifth-year coach Scott Hoover said. “We have good skill players and our overall team speed is much better. This is a fun group to be around and they enjoy being around each other. The kids are hard workers and they really like to compete.”
NorthWood begins the current season by hosting the Jimtown Jimmies on Friday, Aug. 23.
“Jimtown graduated a lot of kids, but they also had a pretty good JV team last year,” Hoover said. “The Jimmies can lose players to graduation and still return experienced players, because their young kids get to play a lot in games where Jimtown is way ahead. Part of that is due to a weaker conference, but it also has to do with the fact the Jimmies are pretty darn good.”
Highlighting the NW returnees is 6-2 (205) senior quarterback Will Kirkwood.
“Will never misses anything we have,” the coach said. “He has the perfect demeanor for a quarterback. Will just roles with the punches. He handles change quickly and has a great head on his shoulders.
“We have great confidence in him. He is surrounded by better players and that always helps.”
The Panthers have some quality running backs in 6-0 (186) senior Luke Edwards, 5-11 (180) junior Travis Bear, 5-9 (160) junior Dominic Miranda and 5-8 (170) sophomore Tanner Cleveland.
“We have a lot of confidence in all the players that are going to touch the ball,” Hoover said. “Tanner was kind of a surprise last season. It’s a lot different going from 8th grade football to playing on Friday nights. He is a really strong kid. He spends a lot of time in the weight room.
“Edwards had some really good games for us. With this group we may have a different leader in rushing yards each week.”
The Panthers also have quality veterans at receivers in 6-2 (150) senior wideout Devon Hunsberger 5-11 (169) wideout Trent Sauceda and 6-0 (190) junior tight end Kirk Eby.
“Eby had a good JV season a year ago and now it is his time to step in and do the job,” Hoover said.
Experience returns up front as 6-0 (280) Griffin Heckaman, 6-2 (195) senior Corbin Johnson, 5-10 (240) senior Jake Snider and 5-11 (215) junior guard Zach BeMiller are back. Six-two (208) senior Tanner White is moving into the offensive line.
“Johnson was all-NLC last season, BeMiller has gotten stronger, Snider is a great player on every down and Heckaman has paid his dues and is now ready for his shot,” the coach said. “White is one of our better defensive lineman and we moving him over to get some playing time on offense.”
Last season, the Panthers dropped their first three games before turning things around with five wins over the last eight contests.
“Our offense got going in the fifth game last season and we are hoping to carry that over to this year,” the coach said.
Less experience returns for the Panthers on the defensive side of the ball.
White has shifted from tackle to end in the line while Edwards and BeMiller are slated to start at tackle.
“We have some depth in the line so we should not have to play a lot of guys both ways,” Hoover said. “But the way things are at a smaller school you want your best athletes on the field as much as possible.”
Bear is a returning starter at linebacker.
Other leading contenders are 5-11 (194) senior Nick Wilmont and 5-11 (160) junior Derek Weldy.
“Wilmont is back out after not playing a year ago,” the coach said. “Weldy was probably one of our better JV players and now he may have his chance to shine.”
Six-foot (170) sophomore Jeremiah Hilty is another linebacker candidate.
The most experience is in the secondary as Sauceda and Miranda return at safeties and 5-11 (162) senior Connor Bunch at a cornerback. Other contenders for time are 5-9 (160) junior Nick Skwarcan and Cleveland.
“A lot of our speed in on defense and we are looking to take advantage of that,” Hoover said.
The coach pointed out one concern.
“We need to stay healthy since we are not very deep,” Hoover said. “We are going to try and develop some of the younger kids early in the season in case we need them later on.”
One player the Panthers will be without is senior Blake Cleveland who will miss the season due to a baseball-related shoulder injury.
“Blake is a great player and we would love to have him, but we are just considering him to be like a senior we lost to graduation,” Hoover said.
xConnor Bunch, running back 5-11 162
Jake Chupp, lineman 6-1 230
xLuke Edwards, running back 6-0 186
xGriffin Heckaman, lineman 6-0 280
Zach Hazel, lineman 6-2 254
Devon Hunsberger, receiver 6-2 150
xCorbin Johnson, lineman 6-2 195
xWill Kirkwood, quarterback 6-2 205
xTrent Sauceda,receiver 5-11 169
xJake Snider, lineman 5-10 240
xTanner White, lineman 6-2 208
Jesse Waterson, lineman 5-11 233
Nick Wilmont, lineman 5-11 194
xTrent Bear, running back 5-11 180
Michael Becker, lineman 6-2 212
xZach BeMiller, lineman 5-11 215
Alex Carder, lineman 5-6 225
Josh Chupp, wide receiver 5-8 140
Kirk Eby, tight end 6-0 190
Chad Hunsberger, receiver 5-8 146
Gage Hochstetler, lineman 5-9 200
Sam Irish, tight end 6-1 186
xScott Kern, lineman 5-10 175
Steven Miller, lineman 5-11 280
xDominic Miranda, RB 5-9 160
Paul Scheets, kicker 5-6 200
xTrent Sellers, quarterback 5-9 150
Nick Skwarcan, RB 5-9 160
Derek Weldy, running back 5-11 160
Tommy Avery, lineman 6-1 275
Trevor Beer, lineman 5-7 180
Zach Chupp, tight end 5-11 150
xTanner Cleveland, RB 5-8 170
Bailey Gessinger, RB 5-6 135
Jeremiah Hilty, running back 6-0 170
Brandon Menzie, lineman 5-7 175
Larry Mersch, lineman 5-5 218
Connor Miller, kicker 5-8 134
Travis Miller, wide receiver 5-6 120
Jesse Odiorne, lineman 5-11 180
Marshall Shafer, RB 5-8 165
Kaiser Schwartz, QB 5-8 156
Asa Skaggs, wide receiver 5-7 137
Alex Tindle, wide receiver 5-10 160
Tyler Thornton, lineman 5-10 157
Tucker White, lineman 5-5 130
Head coach: Scott Hoover, 5th season (26-21 in 4).
Assistants: Mark BeMiller, Nick Davis, Damon Hummel, Rich Moren, Monte Tuttle, Scott Tuttle, Gene Zercher, Trevor Shields.
Aug. 23 — Jimtown H
Aug. 30 — Culver Academy H
Sept. 6 — Concord T
Sept. 13 — Goshen H
Sept. 20 — Wawasee H
Sept. 27 — Northridge T
Oct. 4 — Elkhart Memorial T
Oct. 11 — Warsaw T
Oct. 18 — Plymouth H
Oct. 25 — 4A Sectional begins