Returning its entire offensive line from a season ago probably seems like a good omen for the Ellis High School football team and fourth-year head coach Craig Amrein.
That’s a little deceptive, however.
Sure, the Railers bring back the players from their entire front line from a team that finished 3-6 in 2017.
That doesn’t mean they are going to stay there.
Two Railers who spend all of last season in the trenches will be taking positions in the Railer backfield when they open the season Friday against powerhouse Phillipsburg.
That’s just a sign of their versatility.
“That’s the kicker,” Amrein said, referring to his returning “line.” “Our quarterback was a guard last year, and one lineman is a tailback.”
Zach Eck makes the move to quarterback for Ellis in 2018. He did see time under center in eight games, but only attempted three passes and had six carries. The junior is listed at 6-foot-1, 150 pounds.
Also moving to the back field is Cade Lewis, and he brings a big body that could be hard to bring down. Listed at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Amrein said Lewis is still one of the fastest guys on the team.
“Pretty hard to keep him out of the backfield,” Amrein said.
Also returning is sophomore Konnor Pfeifer, who saw time for the Railers as a freshman. He’s the only returning player who saw any considerable time in a skill position, carrying the ball 69 times for 301 yards and a score.
“We’ll definitely rely on Konnor to do a lot of things at fullback,” Amrein said. “He’s a bigger, stronger kid, so we’ll look to him a lot whether it be lead blocking or carrying the ball.”
The biggest cog back for the Railers, however, is John Groff, who anchors the front line.
“He’s really stepped up his level of play with the intensity he brings,” Amrein said of Groff, who checks in at 6-2, 315 pounds. “He’s always been a really big guy and can stop the run, but he’s more mobile and he’s honestly just a little bit nastier this year.”
The Railers might need nasty right out of the gate with MCL foe and last year’s 3A sub-state runner up, Phillipsburg, in town.
“We’ve got our hands full in Week 1 for sure,” Amrein said. “Our kids just need to compete every single play.”