Football 2012: Plainville looks for guys to step up
Published on -8/30/2012, 10:32 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
PLAINVILLE -- The Plainville High School football team returns seven starters on each side of the ball from a 10-2 team that was arguably Kansas' biggest surprise last year. The Cardinals lost just four players from a squad that had a seven-win improvement from 2010. All four were two-way starters and all-conference performers, in Shrine Bowl selection Andrew Casey, Jameson Klein, Kyle Becker and Nathan Thyfault.
The Cardinals are expected to contend for the Class 2-1A title, but fourth-year coach Joe Simon knows a deep postseason run with an experienced group is predicated on two key areas: leadership and not having injuries.
"A huge key is that we have got to stay healthy," Simon said. "You never know for sure. Believe me, I am nervous about some of our guys stepping up. You won't know it until that first game comes around what we have got and who is going to step up."
Leadership was a key component on last season's squad, especially with the four seniors. This year, senior running back Trevor Axelson, the team's leading rusher with 1,323 yards, and senior center Bradey Chard are expected to be among the team's leaders.
"Stepping up and trying to lead the team is pretty hard, but I think that me and Bradey are doing a pretty good job of it," Axelson said.
"It's a pretty big deal," Chard said. "You are the head of the team and you show them the way."
Plainville had multiple injuries last season, perhaps the most of any of Class 2-1A's top teams. Senior lineman Andy Malin, sophomore lineman Alex Wahrman and senior running back Harrison Gilliland fought injuries throughout the year.
Malin missed the last half of the season with a knee injury, but still averaged 6.3 tackles per game, most among Cardinal defensive linemen, and earned first team all-MCL honors. Wahrman broke his leg early in the year and Gilliland (883 yards, 13 scores) missed the playoff game against Johnson-Stanton County. The three will start on both sides of the ball.
"Andy and Wahrman coming back is going to be a big help," Chard said.
Gilliland will play linebacker after he recorded 35 stops last season.
That position is inexperienced after Casey and Thyfault graduated.
Casey recorded a team-high 136 tackles, while Thyfault had 107.
No other Cardinal had more than 54.
Malin has suffered injuries throughout his career. Simon said Malin, for the first time since his sophomore year, was able to max out on four lifts in the weight room. As a sophomore, Malin played hurt the whole year. He had a broken wrist and had trouble with his hip. Doctors kept saying Malin had a hip pointer, but they discovered near the end of the year that he actually had a cracked hip.
"He had been limping around the field and trying to play through the pain," Simon said.
This year, Simon said Malin isn't fully healthy, but better than he has been in a long time. Wahrman has put on approximately 20 pounds and will take over Klein's spot on the offensive line.
"He is just an animal when he is on the field and he plays with a lot of intensity," Simon said of Malin. "He just gets after it. He is a strong kid and has got a nose for the football on defense. He made a lot of defensive plays for us."
Axelson is one-third of an excellent backfield that averaged 312 rushing yards a game and rushed for 48 scores. He, Gilliland and senior Dalton Werner (793 rushing yards, 10 scores) should share carries again. Gilliland is known for his power running ability; he and Chard are members of the 1,000-pound weighlifting club.
Werner and Axelson have breakaway speed and were key parts of the Cardinals' Class 2A team title in the spring. Werner won the long jump title and finished third in the 100-meter dash. Axelson, who had golfed in the past, was 10th in the 100 and he and Werner were part of the 400-meter relay team that took third. As well, the 135-pound Axelson remains the team's strongest pound-for-pound player. He can clean 295 pounds and has a combined total of 855 pounds in the three core lifts of clean, bench and squat.
Junior Hadley Gillum steps in for Becker at quarterback. Simon expects Gillum to "execute just as good" as Becker in running the offense. Becker rushed for 472 yards and nine scores and passed for 448 yards with a 7/8 TD/INT ratio.
"I am going to have to help out and lead by example," Gillum said.
It's that strong leadership and staying healthy could lead to another memorable season in Plainville.
"Last year, our seniors just wouldn't let us falter once we hit that adversity and we have got to have the leadership that steps up and makes plays during the game when we need it," Simon said. "I think that we are capable and have got the players to do it. It's just that we have got to put it all together."