Offensive continuity was one of Hoxie’s biggest strengths last season with mainstays on the offensive line and a three-year starter at quarterback.
Now, the Indians will have to replace all that experience at once, entering the 2019 season with major voids to fill.
Hoxie lost a trio of standout linemen in Jarrod Dible, Colton Heskett and Taye Washington, as well as quarterback Jared Kennedy.
“Our experience that we did lose was basically across the lines on both sides of the ball, and our quarterback — that’s a pretty big loss as well,” 10th-year Hoxie coach Lance Baar said. “With our linemen, especially on the offensive side of the ball, there hasn’t been any guys that have been clear-cut starters. We have four or five guys competing for two guard spots, essentially, on the offensive side.
“The defensive side is coming along a little bit better. We’re still pretty wide open on the offensive side.”
After winning the Eight-Man Division I title in 2017, the Indians went 9-2 a year ago and reached the state quarterfinals with playoff wins over Hill City (46-36) and Clifton Clyde (22-20). They were knocked out of the playoffs by eventual state champion Central Plains.
Despite the heavy graduation losses, the Indians return standout senior running back/linebacker Wylie Weems, who rushed for 1,211 yards and 16 touchdowns and led the Indians with 111 tackles in 2018. He also intercepted four passes.
“He has three years of experience so that’s huge,” Baar said. “Also to go along with Wylie, Dylan Weimer has been there for us; he had a great year for us last year. He’s also a great leader. And Ben Aumiller, he started all year last year on both sides of the ball.
“Really, those three guys have stepped up and their are three main leaders, along with some other seniors.”
Weimer will take over at quarterback after playing running back last year.
“He’s been doing pretty well for us,” Baar said. "He understands the running aspects pretty well. We’re still working with him as a passer a little bit. He’s the guy right now that’s probably the most ready.”
Baar said sophomore defensive end/fullback Donovan Balluch is expected to play a big role.
The Indians are also expecting big things out of lineman Harlan Obioha, who is listed at 6-foot-8, 305 pounds.
“I think he’s going to be a surprise,” Baar said. “Just because of his size, he’s getting attention, but the athleticism and strength that he’s gained in a year’s time has been pretty amazing to see. I expect really big things out of him, a big jump in his stats and everything.”
Hoxie is aiming for their 10th consecutive winning season under Baar. The Indians open the season at home against Greeley County.
“Day 1, I felt really good about where we were, with our knowledge we gained from the summer and the camps,” Baar said. “I felt really good with their retention of our schemes and everything they remembered. We were able to move pretty quick with the installs and everything.”