By GREG KEIM
THE GOSHEN NEWS
While many of the players for the Wawasee High School football team will be the same this season there’s a new man in charge of the Warrior program.
Former assistant coach Josh Ekovich has taken over the top spot after Tom Wogomon left to take the job at Northridge High School.
“The management side of things is the biggest change,” Ekovich said. “In the past I could focus on the offensive line. Now I’m the one who has to set up practice and make sure everything is running efficiently.”
Twenty players are back from last season’s 7-5 squad that won five straight games before the campaign ended with a 24-10 loss to Concord in a sectional championship contest.
“We have a group of kids that have a lot of confidence,” Ekovich said. “They are not cocky, but they do have a chip on their shoulders.
“A lot of players saw time a year ago due to injuries as well as position changes. That’s really great, because guys will not have that shock of going out there for the first time on Friday night under the lights.”
The Warriors open the season by hosting Whitko on Friday, Aug. 23.
“Whitko is the only thing we are worried about right now,” the coach said when asked about a Sept. 6 contest at Northridge. “The only thing we can do is go game by game.”
Six-one (155) junior Gage Reinhard returns at quarterback. He earned the starting spot last year in Week 3 and ended up throwing for 1,327 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Since Reinhard is a three-sport athlete his time was spread out over the summer, but Ekovich feels he still got in enough work to have improved.
“There are not too many 4A kids that play three sports,” the coach said. “We did some seven-on-seven drills. We went up to New Prairie and Fairfield plus went up against Goshen and Jimtown in early July. Gage gained some confidence.”
Also back is his favorite target from a year ago in 6-3 (175) junior Clayton Cook who snared 40 passes for 782 yards and 11 scores.
“Both Gage and Clayton are bigger and stronger,” Ekovich said. “Both grew about an inch and are 10 to 15 pounds heavier than they were last season. The thing we need from them now is to be more vocal.”
Lost to graduation was last season’s leading rusher Derrick Sorensen.
According to Ekovich to begin the season it will be running back by committee with 5-9 (160) senior Brandin McCulloch, 6-3 (210) senior Braxton O’Haver, 5-8 (155) junior Mylon Betts and 5-10 (225) junior Dominik Sanderson sharing time.
“We have a unique set of backs that each has their own talents,” the coach said. “A lot of which one is in there will depend on the formation we are in.”
Three players that saw significant playing time in the offensive line — 6-1 (195) senior Ryan Crosley, 5-10 (240) senior Ronald Vardaman and 5-10 (205) junior Nate Prescott — return.
“We don’t have guys that are just tackles, guards or centers,” Ekovich said. “Instead we have guys we can rotate around. They are about the same level so it’s a matter of finding the right combination.”
On defense, the linebacker and secondary will be the keys until the line gains more experience.
“The back seven will be our strength,” the coach said. “While the line is the most inexperienced.”
O’Haver is back at middle linebacker and 5-9 (155) junior Nic Wilson at an outside backer.
McCulloch and 5-10 (180) senior Austin Lutz are the leaders in the secondary.
Competing for time in the defensive line are Crosley, Vardaman, Sanderson, 5-10 (245) senior Dusty Akers, 6-0 (180) senior Ethan Brown, 6-4 (200) junior Hunter Jones and 6-2 (190) junior Brock Spangle.
The team elected Crosley, Lutz, O’Haver, Reinhard and Vardaman as captains.
“They are all doing a good job, but O’Haver has emerged as the most vocal,” Ekovich said. “Vardaman has taken some leadership training classes.”
Ekovich teaches a weight training class and he is already seeing the benefits.
“Every kid signed up for the class and we were in great shape coming into camp,” the coach said.
The new coach has made some changes in the practice schedule.
“My philosophy is you should not have to condition if you take breaks,” he said. “It’s more of a Notre Dame thing. You have to be more efficient with the time you have. The tradition of grinding it out during two-a-days is gone. You have to be more creative.”
Dusty Akers, lineman 5-10 245
Devin Beer, wide receiver 5-11 160
xEthan Brown, lineman 6-0 180
xKody Carpenter, lineman 6-4 230
xRyan Crosley, lineman 6-1 195
xJordan Elliott, wide receiver 5-10 175
xAustin Lutz, quarterback 5-10 180
xBrandin McCulloch, RB 5-9 160
xBraxton O’Haver, running 6-3 210
xRonald Vardaman, lineman 5-10 240
xBrett Ward, wide receiver 6-1 180
xMylon Betts, running back 5-8 155
xClayton Cook, wide receiver 6-3 175
xCaleb Dingeldein, receiver 6-0 175
Brandon Fox, lineman 6-0 240
xMaclain Herr, lineman 5-10 190
Hunter Jones, lineman 6-4 200
Nathan Katzer, running back 5-8 165
xCameron Krizman, RB 6-0 180
xKurtis Liston, wide receiver 5-10 155
xNate Prescott, lineman 5-10 205
xGage Reinhard, QB 6-1 155
xAustin Rhodes, receiver 6-1 175
xSam Rookstool, RB 5-9 165
Dominik Sanderson, RB 5-10 225
xBrock Spangle, lineman 6-2 190
Jon Walker, lineman 5-11 200
xNic Wilson, wide receiver 5-9 155
Cameron Adams, lineman 6-1 210
Jeff Bartman, wide receiver 5-8 165
Austin Burkholder, wide receiver 5-9 175
Sam Clark, running back 5-10 150
Joe Griffith, quarterback 5-9 145
William Hart, wide receiver 5-10 160
Andy Holdeman, lineman 6-1 220
Nick LeCount, running back 5-8 165
Ryan Lockhart, lineman 5-11 190
Zac McKee, wide receiver 5-7 145
Kolby Meyers, lineman 5-11 215
Stephon Miller, quarterback 5-9 150
Ben Moore, lineman 5-10 180
Josh Olejniczak, receiver 5-10 145
Austin Pearish, lineman 6-2 215
Stephen Possell, lineman 5-10 185
Michael Semon, wide receiver 5-7 145
Harrison Shortill, lineman 5-11 240
Head coach: Josh Ekovich, first season.
Assistants: Brent Berkeypile, Michael Casey, Chris Cotton, Brent Doty, Tyson Kaase, Dan O’Haver, Jon Reutebuch, Jordan Schmitt, Barry Singrey.
Aug. 23 — Whitko H
Aug. 30 — SB St. Joseph T
Sept. 6 — Northridge T
Sept. 13 — Concord H
Sept. 20 — NorthWood T
Sept. 27 — Plymouth H
Oct. 4 — Warsaw T
Oct. 11 — Elkhart Memorial H
Oct. 18 — Goshen T
Oct. 25 — 4A Sectional begins