This will be the third season Max Heinrichs will patrol the sidelines as Hillsboro High School head football coach. He hopes the continuity with this season’s returning letter-winners will aid the Trojans in obtaining a third consecutive postseason berth.
As the architect of the Trojans hybrid run and pass spread offense, Heinrichs may add new wrinkles to the playbook — motion being one example — as his players’ comfort grows.
“We’re going to do what you give us,” Heinrichs said. “If we can run, we’ll run the ball all day.”
Echoing his boast from last season, Heinrichs said he has a dizzying array of athletic skill position players to plug into his offense. The depth for the Trojans starts at quarterback.
Heinrichs said most seasons he would be happy to have one worthy signal-caller to operate the Trojan attack; this season there are three quarterbacks Heinrichs would trust with the offense: senior Luke Moore, junior Lucas Sinclair, and sophomore Christian Ratzlaff.
The coach said there will be competition for the job through the first weeks of practice, but he expects Moore will best his younger competition.
Moore was the starter for the Trojans last year. Despite a slow start, Moore threw for 10 touchdown passes. Moore is gifted with a strong arm and mobility; he will be a threat to run or pass on every down.
However, Moore’s greatest attributes lie in his intangibles. When he took the helm for the Trojans last season, Moore had to earn the respect of seniors on the team, Heinrichs said.
Surviving with the job the entire season, Moore is poised to be a leader. After conditioning drills the first day of practice Aug. 15, Moore got his drink first so he could high five all the Trojan players to encourage them on their way back to the field. Small examples like that show Heinrichs that Moore will lead vocally and by example.
“There’s no doubt he’ll lead this team and there’s no doubt they’ll follow,” Heinrichs said.
Starting at wide receiver and tight end, Moore should have a bevy of options for the Trojans passing game.
While the Trojans lose consummate playmaker Ben Bebermeyer to graduation, seniors Aaron Klassen and Derek Kelsey, juniors Shaq Thiessen and Tyler Proffitt, and sophomore Evan Ollenberger should fill that void.
Senior Devin Dick and junior Josh Wiebe will return at tight end. Dick, Wiebe, and Klassen should provide Moore with the short and intermediate routes that are crucial to the success of any spread offense.
Even though the Trojans will look to complete many slants, screens, and hitches, Heinrichs said the Trojans started to attack deep as last season progressed. Possessing the ability to separate from defensive backs deep down field are Thiessen and Ollenberger.
Thiessen especially possesses sprinter speed and elite jumping ability — he finished third at state in the long jump. At 6 feet tall, he is a large high-school level target.
“We’ve got real talent out there,” Heinrichs said of all his wide outs.
Giving Moore time to look deep will be a big and experienced offensive line. Seniors Brandon Rooker and Aaron Slater, and juniors Dylan Jirak and Nathan Unruh return. Senior David Nelson and junior Carter Pankratz will be competing for the final spot on the offensive line.
Heinrichs said Jirak was the Trojans best lineman before he sustained an injury last season. Rooker was selected as a Central Kansas League first-team unanimous pick at offensive line last season.
All of the Trojan lineman weigh more than 200 pounds.
“You can see why we believe this could be one of our strengths this year,” Heinrichs said. “We’ve got some big kids.”
Shockingly, the Trojans heaviest player will not play offensive or defensive line this season. For the Trojan offense, 265-pound junior Tyrell Thiessen will play fullback.
Heinrichs said fullback is the position that is the most versatile in his offense. Fullbacks may be lined up as tight ends or in the backfield. Tyrell Thiessen will run the ball and catch passes.
“We’ll put him out there and throw him balls; he has great hands,” Heinrichs said. “(Fullback) is the position I would want to play if I was in this offense.”
Tyrell Thiessen heads a strong group of running backs, which includes juniors Mitchell Day, Tanner Jones, and Tyler Proffitt, and sophomores Scott Brazil and Jesse Brown. Running back is the position with the most contentious competition to resolve before the season starts, Heinrichs said. Heinrichs plans to use multiple running backs during the season with each runner providing a different set of skills.
While Tyrell Thiessen will contribute on offense, ultimately his greatest talents lie on the other side of the ball.
At 265 pounds, Tyrell Thiessen could have easily been designated as a defensive lineman but the junior will line up as a middle linebacker for the Trojans.
In comparison, Tyrell Thiessen is as big as National Football League outside linebacker LaMar Woodley, a pass-rushing force for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tyrell Thiessen is larger than future hall-of-fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
“He is a big and mobile player,” Heinrichs said. “He has to get more of a mental edge, but he’s going to turn into a dandy.”
Heinrichs said college programs are already observing Tyrell Thiessen as a possible addition in two years.
Tyrell Thiessen heads a line-backing unit that should be the Trojans’ strength. Dick is a returning starter as an outside linebacker. Moore will also play outside linebacker.
With only 36 players on the team, Heinrichs will have to employ many players on both sides of the ball. This will be the first season he will use his likely starting quarterback on defense.
“We never let that happen in the past,” Heinrichs said. “We can trust him. He’s a kid we want on the field.”
Heinrichs real injury worry is on the line. Rooker, Jirak, Slater, and Unruh will rotate and play on both the offensive and defensive lines. It is a grueling proposition with lineman sustaining collisions throughout an entire game. Klassen and Wiebe are returning at defensive end.
Shaq Thiessen, Proffitt, Brown, Day, Brazil, Sinclair, and Kelsey are candidates to play in Hillsboro’s secondary.
“At DB, we’re very athletic everywhere,” Heinrichs said.
Heinrichs expects his talented team to finish better than last year’s record of 5-5 in Hillsboro’s second year in the CKL. The head coach said the Trojans lost several close games, including a 2-point loss to 4A Hesston and another single digit loss to 3A Halstead. With the league divided between 4A and 3A teams, Hillsboro finished tied for third last season.
The team faces a tough test immediately heading to Halstead Sept. 2. The Trojans also face Sterling Sept. 16 and Smoky Valley Oct. 7 on the road.
“Sterling is going to be good,” Heinrichs said.
The Trojans also go on the road for the annual matchup with Marion Oct. 27.
“I really like the team,” Heinrichs said. “I feel like they want to get better with every rep.”