Six starters return offensively, defensively for Hillsboro football
For 13 years, Trojan football coach Max Heinrichs stood on the sidelines, waiting for the right time to get back to the game he both lives and loves as a head coach.
Heinrichs had a brief stint on the staff of Tabor coaching great Tim McCarty 10 years earlier, but it just wasn’t quite the same as running his own show.
He finally got his chance to return to the gridiron last year, guiding the Trojans to a 7-4 season, including a bi-district championship.
Hillsboro was soundly defeated in regionals, 48-0, on the brunt end of eight turnovers by 2009’s eventual Class 3A state champion Wichita Collegiate Spartans.
Even before the Trojans’ fate had been sealed, Heinrichs was already looking ahead to 2010, believing this year’s team could be even better than the last.
“We’ve had a great offseason and the kids’ attitudes have been positively outstanding,” Heinrichs said. “I really like our team and I believe we’ll only get better as the season goes along.
“We’re deep at our skilled positions and we’re developing depth on both the offensive and defensive lines. We had several players that moved in over the summer that should really bolster our team in all three aspects of the game.”
Graduation took its toll on the Trojans.
Gone is all-Class 3A honorable mention quarterback Jacob Fish, who ranks near the top of Hillsboro’s all-time leaders in passing yardage and touchdowns.
Also gone is the Trojans’ multi-headed monster receiving corps of Jacob Edwards, Taylor Hagen, and Daniel Dick; and lineman Neal Kaiser.
While losing a vast majority of offense may be enough to cause many coaches to panic, don’t count Heinrichs as one of them.
Six starters return both on offense and defense, and it’s not like Hillsboro’s bankrupt on talent.
Ben Bebermeyer proved he’s capable of providing the Trojans with a big play and consistency as a junior last year, hauling in 48 catches for 914 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The 6-foot, 160-pound Bebermeyer is a threat to make big things happen every time he has the ball, and he’s just as lethal in traffic as he is in the open field as well as a return specialist.
To improve his speed and quickness, Bebermeyer opted for track instead of baseball in the spring.
With the loss of Fish, Bebermeyer’s the only other Trojan who earned all-Class 3A honorable mention by both the Topeka Capital-Journal and the Wichita Eagle.
Heinrichs is loaded virtually everywhere, especially at wide-out.
The Trojans don’t have exceptional height at receiver —newcomer Jesse Allen is Hillsboro’s tallest at 6-1 — a big key to Collegiate capturing the 3A title.
Hillsboro has quickness though, despite the majority of the depth being players who saw limited action for varsity.
Injury forced junior Derek Kelsey to miss all of the 2009 season, but Heinrichs is expecting big things from both he and possibly Tyler Profitt, a sophomore.
The Trojans are even loaded at tight end with senior Dylan Delk a strong candidate to start. Delk grew to 6-3 and 190 pounds, 20 pounds heavier than he previously wrestled in the winter.
Juniors Devin Dick and Aaron Klassen could also challenge for reps.
If there’s any question about the Trojan offense, it could be at quarterback.
Junior Luke Moore appears to be the frontrunner. Moore doesn’t have the height, at 5-10, of Fish, but Moore has great scrambling ability, which will give Hillsboro a needed boost in the backfield.
Moore will have to produce as sophomore Lucas Sinclair is giving chase.
“Luke Moore and Lucas Sinclair both had an outstanding year on our JV team and should create a good competition at the QB position for 2010,” Heinrichs said. “They possess different skill sets.
“We plan to use both, but we will name a starter and use that QB more than the other. How quickly they master their tough assignments will be key.”
The main strength of the Trojan offense passing game last year was they didn’t have to rely on the run as much.
Heinrichs hopes to balance that more this year with more production out of the backfield.
“Our goal is to take what the defense gives us, we’ll run and throw the ball,” he said. “I’d love to say that we’ll be 55 run-pass.”
Chance Reece is the Trojans’ strongest player, tallying 138 carries for 521 yards and six TDs.
Reece is more of a straight-ahead runner than north-south, but Hillsboro has that, too, in tailback Caleb Hilliard.
If tough short-yardage is needed, bruisers Tyrell Thiessen and newcomer Ben Gardner can pick it up.
Thiessen weighs between 225 and 245 pounds, and senior transfer Gardner isn’t hesitant to run over opponents.
Despite being only 185 pounds, Gardner plays much larger, and he possesses great knowledge of the game.
His legendary father, Mike, is the current coach of the Tabor Bluejays, returning in December where he guided Tabor to two consecutive KCAC titles and NAIA playoff appearances.
All four figure to be key in the backfield this year.
The offensive line is one of the largest Hillsboro has seen since its record-breaking season in 2006, possibly averaging more than 230 pounds across the front.
Senior tackle Ethan Frantz — the largest Trojan at 6-4, 250 — made a huge impact last year and will be the likely leader of a developing line.
Frantz has all the tools to be a legitimate recruit — size, strength, footwork, reaction — and he’s quick off the ball.
Not only is Frantz a stalwart on the line, he was also the kicker, going 19-of-24 in 2009 in PAT attempts.
Senior Daniel Kenney should be the other tackle and he’s a load at 6-1, 240.
Junior Brandon Rooker, at 6-1 and 240, could break into the starting lineup full time as he got a few starts last year as a sophomore and proved worthy as a solid backup.
Dylan Jirak is one of the smaller lineman at 6-0, 185.
Other players to figure into the mix are Aaron Slater, senior Eric Scheele, Andrew Meier, Matt Wiebe, David Nelson, and Sam Shope.
Outside of lopsided losses to both Hoisington and Collegiate, 28 points was the most yielded by the Trojan defense a year ago —Hillsboro’s bi-district 35-28 win over Wade Hansen and Sedgwick.
Opposing quarterbacks would be foolhardy to get comfortable, especially with Frantz and Delk on the rush.
The duo wreaked havoc on opponents last year with Frantz returning as the leader in sacks and Delk second.
Frantz’ size alone is overpowering and tough to stop and Delk is quick both to the ball and on the perimeter.
Two other spots are up for grabs along the front in Heinrichs’ 4-3 defense.
Kenney and Rooker may be the first to get looks, but expect Scheele, Thiessen, Slater, Klassen, and Jirak to push for time, too.
Hilliard earned second-team all MCAA honors and along with Reece, Hillsboro is strong at linebacker, too.
Gardner’s physical style of play makes him an ideal choice to round out the unit.
Dick, seniors Tanner Johnson and Cory Abbott, and Moore give depth.
The secondary could be the most inexperienced spot on the Trojan defense with only Bebermeyer returning.
Much like the receivers, Hillsboro’s lack of height could be a factor should it run into a team with a lot of height at wideout.
Kelsey, Dick, Profitt, and Allen are fighting to fill out the corners and safeties.
With the new season, Hillsboro bids farewell to the MCAA, joining the Central Kansas League instead.
The Trojans haven’t faced former MCAA-league rival Halstead in four years.
This year, Hillsboro opened the season against the Dragons and Hesston returns to the schedule as well in the fourth week.
The Swathers are coming off their toughest finish this decade, going 5-4.
First-year head coach Marc Marinelli could serve the league notice as he comes from Class 4A juggernaut Andale.
Hillsboro hasn’t defeated Hesston in years, and the Swathers have enough speed in the I-formation to make a return to the playoffs after a two-year hiatus.
Lyons, Sterling, and Smoky Valley remain, but Class 4A Kingman joins the schedule.
Success has been sparse for the Eagles, who have competed in Class 4A.
Kingman hasn’t finished better than 4-6 the past five years, going a woeful 2-34 since 2005, while losing 18 straight.
The Trojans make their first trip to Kingman in the fifth week.
A fourth-straight trip to the postseason could very well be within Hillsboro’s reach in district play as Marion and SE-Saline lost key players.
The Remington Broncos, of the Heart of America league, complete the district.
Hillsboro closes out the year, hosting Marion.
“I know all the teams will be improved and gunning for us,” Heinrichs said. “We need to stay away from sickness and be injury-free.
“An important thing for us to remember is that some of these teams have competed against bigger schools. It will be interesting.”