Camden-Frontier football fans are hoping a new head coach, a more spread-out offense and 11 returning seniors will be the answer to their recent gridiron woes.
With five wins the past two seasons combined and almost a decade gone by since the school’s last playoff berth (2000) outside expectations are low for Scott Campbell’s first season at the helm, but some success-starved Redskins have made it their goal to make it back to the postseason, and Campbell isn’t about to put that past his boys.
“They approached me and wanted to know what was going on and they want to win, they want a chance. They make it easy because they are all completely ready to learn,” he said. “There hasn’t been a single instance where I’ve had to get on somebody — the change has been real easy for me and they’ve picked everything up real fast.”
He officially replaced former head coach, and WCSR personality, Andy Brown, in April and he said the transition has been nearly seamless.
On offense Campbell is somewhat of a contemporary, as he envisions stretching the field out as much as possible, as often as possible.
“Offensively we are going to spread it out a little bit, run the shotgun. I don’t know if it’s to surprise the defense, but it’s to use our athletes,” he said. “We have quicker kids who need open space instead of real big guys and Kurtis (Tyler) has a big arm so it makes it easy for me to throw it around a little bit.”
Seniors like Tyler are the reason Campbell thinks his squad can put some points on the board.
“He’s a big, strong kid and he’s very intelligent on the field, and he listens,” the former Hillsdale College wide receivers coach said. “I kind of asked him what he would like to do when I got there and he said ‘I’d like to go four wide’ and I said I don’t know about spreading it out quite that much, but he was all for it and he’s learned everything quick.”
Senior wideout Wade Clevenger will be one of Tyler’s main targets and Campbell said “he’s going to be isolated on the back side most of the time — we’ll try to utilize him.”
Fellow seniors Brady Nusbaum and Will Salmela will also provide threats in the passing game, both deep and across the middle.
In the backfield senior Jake Jividen and Dan Nye will both see a lot of action, as Campbell utilizes a two-back set. He said both backs will be on the field most of the game and they will run to whatever side the opposing defense is playing off on.
Jimmy Walker, Rob Noble and freshman William Ogle could also see some carries in 2009.
While Campbell seems pleased with the number of playmakers he’s going to have at his disposal, the offensive line is going to have to replace a trio of stalwarts, in Zac Tryon, Jasper Miller and Billy Parker.
Returning to the line is junior Michael Curry and senior Andy Slusher.
Sophomore Bryan Dunn is slated to start at one tackle spot and seniors Matt Mann and Jasen Sleesman will hold down the guard positions.
Dunn weighs in at 225 pounds and Slusher is 235 pounds, while the rest of the line weighs right around 200, which makes Campbell think he can do a lot of different things with his guys up front.
The numbers say Campbell is inheriting a team that was shut out four times and scored double digits on just four occasions last year, but he thinks he has enough versatile weapons to make things interesting in the SCAA.
“Anytime you can spread teams out and put pressure on them it comes down to having enough athletes. Right now I feel like we could as long as we stay healthy,” he said. “I’m not saying I’ve for sure got the athletes, but so far it looks like it and I like our chances. I could be wrong, but I think we can spread teams out and create some open lanes to move the ball.”
Defensively, Campbell has implemented a basic 4-4 scheme that he hopes will take advantage of their speed and length in the linebacking corps.
Four seniors, Tyler, Sleesman, Mann and Jividen, will comprise that unit and his secondary will sometimes act as a second set of outside linebackers against run-heavy teams.
The defensive line will have to replace the same guys as the offensive line. Slusher, Curry and Dunn will start and senior Casey Vincent will also see the field regularly.
Even with plenty of hope and a bright outlook on the season ahead, Campbell is a realist. He said there are some definite concerns that have a chance to make things go from merry to somewhat bleak.
“I mean we’re a small school, if we get a couple of kids hurt we could really struggle,” he said. “If we stay healthy we could be alright. I’m not concerned with the offense and defense, the kids are picking things up well. It will just come down to depth and how the kids react to when they get down.”
Campbell also has the challenge of teaching his kids how to handle the ups-and-downs that come with being a team fighting to climb to the next tier. He said he has used some of his past experiences to help illustrate the fine line between winning and losing to the squad.
“You can’t ever give up. I was down before — coaching here at the college is a good example. We were up at Northern (Michigan in 2007) and it was back and forth the whole game,” he said. “We were the better team by far but we would come back and then get down, we’d score, then they’d break a run…finally we kicked a field goal to win the game, but it was ridiculous. You’ve just got to keep fighting until the end.”
He said he’s watched enough film from last season to understand the players might be a little fragile and in need of a confidence boost.
“You can see they definitely have some talent (on film) , but there were times where they started letting down,” he said. “I don’t know how the other coaches went about things…but I could tell things started shifting on them when they got down early. They gave up a lot late in games…but five wins in two years, that might be the mentality.”
The Redskins will have little time to develop an early season mojo though, as they take on Reading in week one, a state semifinals qualifier in 2008, and a team that whipped Camden-Frontier 47-6 last year.
On top of that, teams like Climax-Scotts, Battle Creek St. Phil and Bellevue will likely prove to be stern tests for a hungry bunch.
“I think if the kids want to stick to their goal of making the playoffs we’ve got to start off at least 2-2. If we lose to Reading and Climax-Scotts and beat Litchfield and Tekonsha we will be on track with where we need to be,” Campbell said. “If we somehow lose that Litchfield game or that Tekonsha game things could change. The kids could think it’s another lost year and start quitting — but I don’t see that coming out of them right now.”