There was a lot of “new” surrounding the McPherson High football team as I viewed the second of Monday’s two-a-day practices to kick off the season — including a new head coach.
Well, Jace Pavlovich is not exactly new — he was the Bullpups’ defensive coordinator during the nine straight playoff years under head coach Tom Young — but he’s now in charge and it will be interesting to see the subtle changes he implements in the program.
Don’t worry, Pavlovich probably won’t change much — after all, if it’s not broken don’t fix it. But I did sense a bit of a faster tempo.
“We are happy with Day 1,” Pavlovich said. “Our kids were able to retain most of the basic schemes that we installed this summer. We have great senior leadership with some talented younger kids to follow them. I am looking forward to getting to a scrimmage-setting with them on Saturday morning (8 a.m. at McPherson Stadium).”
There certainly will be much more teaching during the preseason. You need a program to tell who the players are, as last year’s 7-3 team that toppled the likes of Buhler and Hays and won the AVCTL Division III title was senior-laden.
For the first time seemingly forever, there’s no Kyler Kinnamon on the field. He is the most productive quarterback in school history as he set the single-season rushing record his junior year (1,662 yards) and finished with 3,165 career rushing yards. Add in 4,354 passing yards and his total offense of 7,519 yards is a mark that probably will never be broken.
What separated Kinnamon from most quarterbacks was that his speed and elusiveness made him a threat to score from anywhere on the field. He was among the fastest players in the state, and got stronger and stronger as his career evolved.
The Bullpups have had an embarrassment of riches at quarterback in the last decade, starting with Tucker Hawkinson, followed by Kolin Walk, Joel Piper and the school’s all-time leading passer Tyler Matthews. Kinnamon was a rare three-year starter and now he hands off the controls to Casen Hoover.
Hoover’s 2014 season was short-circuited by a broken leg as he was injured in an early JV game. So essentially it’s like his sophomore year all over again.
I was impressed with his grasp of the offense on Monday. He throws the ball reasonably well and gives the Bullpups continued speed at quarterback. Keeping him healthy is paramount as sophomore Drew Labertew is basically the only other varsity quarterback in camp.
The Bullpups had a solid 1-2 combo at running back last year in Ty Hart and Nathan Nutter, with Collin Baldwin as the lead blocker and all were seniors. Pavlovich is auditioning a number of candidates and it could very well be running back by committee. Noah Jirgens is the most experienced, but keep an eye on two sophomores, Tyson Stites and Austen Hunt.
Spenser Wine, who like Hoover played only a couple of games before his season ended with a shoulder injury, should be one of the better receivers around. He’s big, strong and fast with good hands and don’t be surprised if the Bullpups throw to him about a half-dozen times a game on the bubble screen. Again, there are some potentially outstanding players here, they just need experience. Tight end will be in good hands, as Luke Stucky and Kaleb Jost should be well above the norm.
The offensive line could be a strength. This has the makings of being one of the biggest I’ve seen in all my years of covering the Bullpups as it could average in the 240 or 250 range. I’d like to see them develop a bit of a nasty attitude because they certainly have the size and strength to dominate. Look for Derek Hall, Jake Nikkel, Jared Ruth, Ty Goss and Nolan Milleson to open up some holes.
The Bullpup defense was gutted by graduation. You just don’t replace the likes of Hart, Nutter, Baldwin, Cody Starkel, Levi Vu and Cole Hanken overnight. They all had good speed and toughness. It will be interesting to see how it plays out, but look for Stucky, Klayton Goering, Casey Cheek and Jack Reifschneider to be leaders.
It’s difficult to project how this season will play out, though health will have a lot to do with it. Opening with Class 5A power Salina South and defending Class 4A Division II champion Andale is a gauntlet, but the next four games appear to be highly winnable before entering 4A D-I’s best district. Buhler and Abilene are thought to be Top 5 teams, while Hays is like the Bullpups in that it must replace a host of seniors.
Hopefully this team will uphold the tradition and push the playoff streak into double digits.