Game of the Week: Redmen, back in 2-1A, have inexperienced club
Published on -8/30/2012, 10:50 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
Smith Center High School football coach Roger Barta possibly has his most inexperienced team in a 34-year career that has produced 317 career victories. The Redmen return three players: seniors Kyler Atwood, Payton Buckmaster and junior Kody Molzahn that have starting experience. Atwood is the lone player with accolades after he earned all-MCL honorable mention honors with 480 rushing yards, eight scores and 38 tackles.
"He is really an outstanding football player we think," Barta said. "He is a really smart young man and he is athletic and he is big, strong and fast. He has really had a good camp. For us, he is like a man among kids. We are expecting great things out of him. Hope he has a good year."
Atwood was the team's second-leading rusher in 2011, including an 18-carry, 89-yard performance in a 58-20 victory against Norton. The two rivals meet up Friday in Norton. This marks the first time Smith Center and Norton will match up in Week 1 since 2007.
"He is a strong runner, very physical," Norton coach Lucas Melvin said. "He is going to be tough to stop."
Even with the inexperience, Barta believes the Redmen can post another strong season. Smith Center has dropped back down to Class 2-1A where the Redmen went 79-1 and set a state record with 79 straight victories. Smith Center's streak ended in the 2009 Class 2-1A state championship game.
"They have stepped up pretty well," Barta said. "We are going to be kind of young and inexperienced. They have really practiced really well. I am anxious to play to see where they are at and see what we need to do."
"They just need to step up and do their thing," he added. "It's their turn, so they look forward to growing up and taking the place of those who graduated."
Smith Center will receive two strong tests early with road games at Norton and Beloit to open the fall. Smith Center and Norton, longtime rivals, have traditionally played close games. Beloit, a Class 3A power, was the last non-conference team to beat the Redmen, in Week 8 of the 2002 season. Smith Center also plays Phillipsburg in Week 4.
"I didn't make the schedule," Barta said with a laugh. "Our first four games are really good, I think. ... Certainly Norton has the most kids in the league going to school and I think that they have the most football players. They are very well-coached and they have got some great athletes. So it's going to be a real challenge for us and we know that, but we enjoy playing and it's always been good competition between the two teams."
Smith Center will start mostly juniors and seniors with a couple sophomores expected to see time. Barta said the Redmen had "eight or nine" seniors to start the year, but three players are out for the year with knee injuries. That includes senior running back/defensive back Trevor Overmiller, who had knee injuries in the past, and junior lineman Robert Strine, the team's biggest player at more than 230 pounds. Strine was running at practice and stepped on some ground that wasn't level and tore his meniscus. The other two injuries happened when they were running the ball, and made a cut against no contact.
Buckmaster, Molzahn and Atwood are expected to be among the top players. Buckmaster will play quarterback. He threw just two passes last fall, both incomplete, and rushed six times for 25 yards. Barta expects the team to share carries after Shrine Bowler Truitt Kuhlmann rushed for 2,009 yards and 34 scores last season.
Molzahn will start in the backfield. He collected 10 carries for 103 yards and a score.
"Really good athlete and a really sharp kid," Barta said of Buckmaster. "He seems to be executing pretty well in practice. We give everybody a chance and he is a great quarterback and Kody Molzahn is also a pretty good quarterback, but Kody Molzahn is also going to be our starting running back. He is very talented. He has got some speed. We want to utilize both of those kids' talent. We found a place for them to play."
No current Redmen, though, has enjoyed more past success than Atwood. Barta believes the senior can enjoy a big season in 2012.
"He has got a lot of experience," Barta said. "He has started for two years. This will be his third, so he is ready. He is an experienced young man."