The first day of football practice with full pads Friday brought beautiful music to the ears of Hillsboro coach Lance Sawyer.
“We heard pads today,” he said. “It’s the sound of football. We haven’t heard much of that in the last couple of years. You know if you’re going to be good just by the sound, and these kids were hitting today.”
The Trojans look to improve on last season’s 2-7 record, as Sawyer heads into his fourth campaign as head coach. They’ll have to do it with a young squad — there are no seniors on the team, and 11 of 35 players are juniors.
Sawyer’s descriptions of the team included “scrappy,” “more athletic,” and “improved technique,” but one word was noticeably absent — big.
“We’re not big, we’re not big at all,” he said. “We do have more size than I thought. We’ll have two or three kids over 200 pounds, which is good. What they lack in size they make up for in technique and their willingness to hit.”
Sophomores Jaden Priest, Dawson Jost, and Brodie Rathbone, and juniors Thomas Larrabie, Travis King, and Ryan Stepanek are competing for spots on the offensive line, Sawyer said.
“We’re better than I thought,” he said. “They’re more athletic, they’re moving better, and their technique has improved a ton.”
Sophomore Kaden Kleiner came out of the seven-on-seven summer league as the leading quarterback candidate, but freshman Jorge Hanschu has stepped up his game in recent practices, Sawyer said.
Kleiner has the edge in passing, while Hanschu is the better runner, Sawyer said.
“We’ll see which one can do both,” he said. “It will be interesting to see who comes out of that.”
Sawyer said knowledge and experience gained last year have junior running backs Tyson Reimer and Dusten Plenert “playing really well.”
The Trojans have a deep receiving corps, with eight players likely to see game action, led by junior Carson Herbel and juniors Elliot Ollenburger and Jacob Funk.
Tasked on offense with gaining yards, Funk and Reimer will be the first Trojans to try to stop opponents from doing the same. Sawyer said the pair will be staples on the defensive line. Jost, King, and sophomore Weston Etheridge also will be seeing playing time.
Graduation left linebacker spots wide open, Sawyer said. Juniors Braden Vogt and Plenert, sophomore Kaden Ward, and freshmen Brooks Gardner and Hanschu all will figure in the mix.
“They’ll be new, but they’ll be solid,” Sawyer said. “We’re going to let these guys go. We want them to play fast and downhill.”
Sawyer was pleased with what he’s seen so far from his defensive backs.
“I think that might be one of our strengths,” Sawyer said.
While Sawyer was upbeat about the team’s prospects, he said he was looking to the season-opener at Sterling on Sept. 4 to answer some questions.
Sawyer said Sterling has a new coach who likely will throw some different looks at the Trojans.
“I don’t think either team knows what to expect,” he said. “It’ll be a fun one to play.”