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Prep preview '13 -- Preseason tragedies take toll in Plainville

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

PLAINVILLE --About 5:25 a.m. on Aug. 20, Plainville High School junior Acetin Benedick crossed the K-18 highway's center line and had a car crash about three miles west of Plainville. Cardinal assistant coach Justin Casey, a member of the Plainville volunteer fire department, was one of the first responders on the scene. A few hours later, the Plainville football team, unaware of how bad the accident was, had its morning football practice for the second day of fall camp. After practice, several players believed Benedick was going to be OK. However, the coaching staff knew better. Benedick was eventually airlifted to Wesley Hospital in Wichita and died a few hours later.

That night, Plainville gathered for its normal, second practice of the day.

"I think the kids realize that this is a game and there is a lot more important things in life than football," fifth-year Cardinal coach Joe Simon said.

Simon sat the team down and had a long talk. Plainville has dealt with several deaths and car wrecks in the last several years.

"He is definitely going to be missed and is missed and I am sure these guys are going to do some different things to remember him throughout the season," Simon said. "But I think, overall, we have handled it pretty well."

Later in camp, Nick Wilkerson's mother's house burned down. Last Saturday, the Wild West Saloon and Grill held a benefit dinner and 25 percent of the sales went to the Wilkerson family. As well, other businesses in town and the football team assisted.

"Definitely a shock," Simon said. "It's like, 'When is this going to end?' It was one bad thing after another. But again the kids came together. We have helped do some different things here in town and helped Nick out any way we can. I know a lot of kids have donated stuff and helped Nick out. He is part of our football family, and we will do anything we can for him."

Personnel-wise, Plainville has 12 seniors, but no returning player that rushed for more than 109 yards last season from a 5-4 team that fell short of preseason expectations.

The Cardinals were the lone Class 2-1A team ranked in the 2012 preseason that didn't make the playoffs. Then, Plainville graduated seven four-year starters. Freshman Hayden Friend likely will start at defensive back, a position group that is inexperienced.

This fall, Plainville is experienced on the lines and with senior quarterback Hadley Gillum, senior lineman Austin Wahrman and junior lineman Alex Wahrman.

"It was pretty tough," senior lineman John Arnold said. "I kind of think we might be a little bit better this year. After that year, we just started working harder and harder to get better."

Gillum completed 32 of 64 passes for 558 yards with a 6/7 TD/INT ratio and rushed 49 times for 109 yards and two TDs. Gillum had a big rise in basketball last winter and earned HDN Boys' Basketball Player of the Year honors. He spent the summer on the basketball circuit and has travelled throughout the Midwest. Gillum will move from defensive back to defensive end to take advantage of his size and jumping ability.

"It seems like he just gains more and more confidence as the season goes on, and I think basketball has helped his confidence and football," Simon said.

"He played a lot of basketball. You can tell that he is in a lot better shape this year and he is moving a lot better."

Gillum is expected to run a lot more this season. In addition, Plainville will have seniors Cody Werner and Trevor Desaire at halfback, players that combined for 12 carries and 58 yards in 2012 and senior Adam Gehring at fullback, who collected 10 rushes for 102 yards. Simon said Werner "has really transformed himself" into a physical player through weight room work. Desaire has also had a strong offseason and is expected to take over for Trevor Axelson, who posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Up front, Arnold and the Wahrmans combined for seven tackles for loss and will anchor the interior lines. Last season, the Cardinals had trouble defensively against top-tier opponents. Plainville allowed 411 total yards and 48 points against Phillipsburg, 497 rushing yards against La Crosse and 402 rushing yards versus Smith Center.

"I think that would be the strength," Arnold said of the line. "We might not get all the glory, but we have got to stop everything."