Prep preview '13 -- Things looking up in Montgomery's second year
By AUSTIN COLBERT
John Montgomery's first season leading the Thomas More Prep-Marian High School football team wasn't exactly ideal. He was trying to install a new offense with a wide receiver playing quarterback, and it seemed as if every one of his starters was hurt at some point in the season.
The result was a 2-7 record, down from 5-4 in 2011 under Jon Borer when Montgomery was a TMP assistant.
But early in Year 2, Montgomery and TMP seem to be coming together. The new offense is more ingrained in the minds of the players, mostly everyone is healthy, and there is competition at nearly every position.
Not to mention the outside expectations aren't exactly distracting.
"People aren't expecting a lot out of TMP so it's a great opportunity to make a great season out of it and sneak up on some people," TMP junior quarterback Max Megaffin said. "There is a lot of potential."
The schedule has its usual rough spots, including La Crosse, Phillipsburg and defending 3A state champion Scott City. But if TMP can live up to its own expectations, getting out of a district that includes Russell and Hoisington isn't impossible.
The battle to replace Shane Zimmerman at quarterback has raged all offseason and was still undecided at the conclusion of the team's Blue and White Scrimmage last week. Megaffin and sophomore Jared Vitztum are similar in the way they play, giving Montgomery the chance to plug either in at any point without changing the way the offense operates. Zimmerman, a wide receiver turned quarterback, wasn't the true quarterback Megaffin and Vitztum are. The Monarchs run a pro-style offense, which is an ideal fit for either one.
Montgomery wants to run the football, and will have plenty of options in the backfield, led by junior Nick Schmidt. Sophomore T.J. Flax and junior Sam Dreiling could also see plenty of action, with senior fullback Jared Gabel leading the way.
"Nick has some unique tools," Montgomery said. "He has a great burst. He is the second-fastest kid on the team. He doesn't mind lowering his shoulder and delivering a boom."
The Monarchs will incorporate many two tight end sets, and replacing Anthony Walters, who is now at Ottawa University, will be key. Junior Cameron Fouts will likely be that guy after playing on the offensive line the last two seasons. And don't think he will be used just as a blocker -- he is the third-fastest player on the team and has a nice 6-foot, 180-pound frame that Montgomery hopes he can still grow into.
"When you look at the 3A level, he's not tremendously undersized. Next year I expect him to be somewhere around 200 pounds," Montgomery said. "He's a tool or weapon that we can utilize in the pass game and can really help us out."
Seniors Ryan Mayorga and Jeffrey Richmeier will be the main targets at wide receiver. Mayorga is a big body at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds. Richmeier is one of the smaller guys on the field, but has the speed and elusiveness that makes him very dangerous.
The strength of the entire offense could end up being the offensive line. Fouts is able to move to tight end in large part because of the depth up front, which returns four of its top five starters, with the fifth player being experienced junior Parker Cox.
Senior Adam Schibi will be the anchor at left tackle with senior Aaron Moore, the team's largest player, at right tackle. Cox and senior Nick Schumacher will play the guard positions, and junior Dan O'Connor will play center.
"We've got more size on the offensive line than we've had at least in the last four years, and it's probably longer than that. We have one offensive lineman under 200 pounds," Montgomery said. "That's a huge deal for us, coming into the second year in an offensive system."
A good as the offensive line could be for TMP this season, the expectations are equally as high on the defensive side. Schibi, Schumacher, O'Connor, Moore and Cox will all see plenty of action up front, with sophomore Justin Pfeifer adding another boost off the bench.
"I expect our defensive line to be a real anchor of the defense," Montgomery said. "I think their understanding of the scheme is better than it has been in the past as far as what's expected of them and how they need to read and react. Their technique is a lot crisper that what we've had."
The coaching staff hopes this will free up a linebacker unit that could make a lot of noise. Fouts is making the move from defensive end to linebacker this season, and will be joined by Gabel and senior Michael Schulte in the middle of the field.
Missing in the middle is graduate Luke Brull, who was also the team's leading rusher last season.
"It's a little easier than most people would go through," Fouts said of his transition from defensive line to linebacker. "Our coverage will be a lot better and if we can keep the injuries down our front seven will compete a lot better with those bigger schools like Scott City."
Much like at wide receiver, the secondary has many players fighting for only a few positions. Schmidt and Mayorga are the leaders to start at safety, with a plethora of guys competing for two cornerback positions.
Richmeier is a front-runner, but seniors Grant Romme, Skyler Urban and Taylor Wasinger will all likely see time in the back of the defense. Sophomores Jared Schumacher and Peyton Hoffman have also impressed and could both see the field this season.
The Monarchs found a lot of success by going to the soccer field for their kicker two seasons ago with Drew O'Brien, who is now kicking at Fort Hays State University. TMP is hoping for similar results out of Korean Jack You, a junior, who is playing football for the first time this season.
"He has a pretty powerful leg behind him," Montgomery said. "He hasn't spent a whole lot of time kicking a football, but when he connects with it, it flies. I'm excited for him."
The return game is an open competition, but Richmeier and Schmidt should end up seeing most of the return duties.
"Jeffrey Richmeier is a shifty, shifty kid," Montgomery said.
"He's got some good acceleration. He's got a low center of gravity. Nick Schmidt, too. With his explosiveness, if he finds a crease he can really stretch the field."