Prep preview '13 -- On top of the WAC heading in, Indians have plenty of work to do
By AUSTIN COLBERT
Hays High enters the 2013 season with a bit of a target on its back. The defending Western Athletic Conference champions are coming off a 7-3 season and a second-consecutive trip the to Class 5A state playoffs, a first in program history. It also has Alex Delton, a junior quarterback who will make any defensive coordinator lose sleep. But a new offensive system and questionable defense will make this season anything but a cakewalk for the Indians.
Delton is the guy on offense. Everything will go through the junior quarterback this season in the Indians' new-look attack. Delton threw for 1,194 yards last year with 14 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. The impressive part is that it came on 45 for 77 passing, which equates to 26 yards per pass. And all this on a running offense. Two-time WAC Player of the Year David Cardinal carried the load with 993 yards and 14 touchdowns, but Delton did plenty of damage as well rushing for 637 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Sophomore Marcus Altman will be Delton's backup.
Cardinal is now at Pittsburg State University, meaning Delton will have new company in the backfield. The who isn't necessarily important, but the how, in how will the Indians going to a more spread offense impact their always effective run game?
"We are trying to transition into more of a spread, just based on the personnel that we have. A big key is our two backs that will split time and we will use for different roles," fifth-year coach Ryan Cornelsen said. "If they are clicking on all cylinders, they are both really talented kids."
The two backs are senior Preston Weigel and junior Adam Klaus. Weigel is the leading returning rusher after Delton with 533 yards and four touchdowns a year ago.
Wide receiver will be a much more important position this year than in the past with Hays High's new emphasis on the pass game. The top target will be junior Hayden Kreutzer, who has impressed in camp with his big-play ability.
"He is just a solid player," Cornelsen said of Kreutzer. "Very tough kid. Catches the ball well. He will be a gamer for us."
Opposite Kreutzer will be senior Clayton Riedel, a transfer from Trego Community High School in WaKeeny. Riedel is listed at 6-foot-5, 190 pounds and has potential to be a significant addition for the Indians.
"Big body," Cornelsen said. "Got to look to use his skill level with his big body and try to create some mismatches."
Other targets will be senior Lane Clark, who also plays soccer, and junior tight end Brady Werth, a 6-foot-7, 213-pound all-conference basketball player who is still developing his football skills.
The new offense is even changing the way the offensive line operates. It has some big weapons returning in junior guard Craig Dreiling, junior tackle Brandon Hardwick and senior tackle Kenny Rounkles. The other two spots, including center where they are replacing all-conference Cade Sharp, is up for grabs.
"The offensive line is going to have to hold a block longer out of the gun compared to out of the I-formation," Cornelsen said. "It's going to be a work in progress. To come out and think we are going to be a great offense week one, you are kind of fooling yourself. It's going to have to be something we work through week to week."
The defense wasn't exactly a strength last season, giving up 28 or more points in six of its 10 games. The low came in the Class 5A state playoffs against eventual champion Wichita Bishop Carroll, a 52-27 second-half runaway by the Eagles.
Nobody in maroon and gold is promising a magical turnaround, but the unit should be much improved over its 2012 counterpart, if inexperienced.
"There are a lot of new faces, a lot of young faces," Cornelsen said of the defense. "We have a long ways to go with the secondary and the defense."
The strength should be in the front seven of the 4-3 defense, led by Rounkles and senior Ty Whittington at defensive end. Junior Cristobal Guzman will pair with Dreiling in the middle of the D-line.
The linebackers are bringing a decent amount of experience in as well. Hardwick will be the feature of the defense, with junior Ethan Deterding and a combination of sophomore Connor Rule and senior Seth Junk filling the final spot.
The secondary is where it really gets interesting. The raw talent is there, but none of the players have any experience at their position. Weigel started at linebacker a season ago, making him the most experienced of the group, but he will play safety this season, something he hasn't done before. Kreutzer and sophomore Isaiah Blackmon will also step in at safety.
Cornerback will be a revolving door among Riedel, Klaus and senior Kord Albers.
"We do like to stunt and blitz, it's just right now we don't have a lot of it installed," Cornelsen said. "Right now we have to teach them to play fundamentally sound defensive football."
The defense is especially intent on having a better start than last season. Hays High lost to Junction City in its opener a year ago -- the same team it opens with this season -- in a 44-43 overtime thriller.
The defense really feels that it was the reason for the loss.
"We were not very good defensively last year at the start. Again, it was a whole new group from the year before," Cornelsen said. "Now that we are changing our defense, it has got to play well early to give us a chance."
Hays High has a secret weapon at kicker in Lane Clark. The soccer player, who also plays wide receiver, has what Cornelsen says is a "Division I" leg. He showed it off at the team's Maroon and Gold Kickoff Classic last week when he booted a 50-yarder through the uprights, to most impressive even without a rush.
Clark is likely to punt as well, though senior Kiowa Higdon could step in when needed.
The return game has options, but until someone steps up in game action, it could be a revolving door as far as punt and kick returners.
"We feel like we have a couple of guys that can do it, we just don't have a lot of guys," Cornelsen said. "We are going to feel out who that's going to be and hopefully we come up with somebody that is sound and hopefully can make a play."
With all the changes taking place this season, winning results are far from guaranteed. The offense is talented, but learning a new system. The defense is hoping to improve from a sub-par year without having any experience in the secondary.
But if it all comes together, there is potential for something special this season.
"Right now you are kind of in panic mode because you are not where you want, but we are running so much more offense than what we've typically done," Cornelsen said. "We feel like it gives up the best chance to be successful. We still have a lot of our old stuff in. You'll see a lot of that as well. But I think if we can get where we can execute it, it gives us a better chance that what we were doing the last four years."