Third-year Hillsboro head coach Lance Sawyer believes a 4-5 season last year sowed seeds for a better one this year.
“We come off a disappointing year last year, and I think we have a group of kids who want to redeem themselves,” Sawyer said.
The Trojans will hang their hats on an experienced offensive line.
“We return almost our entire offensive line from last year,” Sawyer said. “We’ll be smaller, but we’re quick and we’re strong. I’ve been impressed with how they’ve worked this summer on getting everything right. Just the leadership they’ve taken on is outstanding.”
Among those linemen, Graham Pankratz, Jesse Meier, and Cody Craney were named captains by their teammates.
Sawyer is excited about a new addition to the line as well.
“Kentrell Miller is about 6’3” and 275, so that will give us a guy over 200 pounds, and Cody is 205,” he said.
Last season the Trojans were forced out of Sawyer’s preferred offense, relying heavily on the pass. The line will be the key to changing that this season.
“Last year we ended up going about 80 percent passing and 20 percent running, which we didn’t want to,” Sawyer said. “This year we’re going to try to balance it out. We’re going to use our strength, our line, to try to do that.”
The Trojan backfield is filled with question marks, starting at running back.
“Right now Jacob Hanschu is probably the best back we have, and we have a bunch of sophomores vying for the rest,” Sawyer said. “It’s up for grabs.”
Sawyer has more uncertainty at quarterback. He knows who will step in under center, but doesn’t have any history to predict his performance.
“Justus Hillyard will more than likely be our quarterback,” Sawyer said. “This will be his first time playing quarterback ever. This is the third year in a row we’ll have a first-year quarterback.”
Sawyer said when grooming quarterbacks he looks for someone who has immense desire and dedication to hard work. He says he found that with Hillyard.
“The kid has taken it by heart, he’s had a tremendous off-season,” Sawyer said. “Being more of a running threat will help him. I think Justus will be good for us.”
David Dyck and Grant Knoll are leading for playing time at wide receiver, while Jacob Funk, Elliot Ollenburger, and Carson Herbel will compete for playing time.
Speed, not size, will be the Trojans’ defensive strength.
“We’ve got the same kids going from offense to defense, so we’re looking at 11 kids who are quick but not necessarily big,” Sawyer said.
Hillsboro enters the season looking for linebackers.
“We return six starters this year on defense, but we’re going to have to have some key people fill those linebacker spots, so we have more beef in there than last year,” Sawyer said. “Linebacker-wise, we’re lucky to have Jesse Meier back. He was our top tackler last year, and first-team all-league.”
Sawyer has one overriding objective for his defenders.
“Our biggest goal is to tackle this year, and I think we have 11 guys who want to hit this year,” Sawyer said. “You can only see so much without helmets and shoulder pads on. I’m looking forward to seeing what we’ve got.”