But don’t expect a letdown of intensity from the rest of the football team or the coaches as the 2009 season looms.
Coach Marc Lemerand and his staff have been working with the team, getting them ready for another competitive campaign.
Mike Curby will be calling the signals this year, taking over for Mitchell Gabriele, who will be playing on Saturdays this fall with Adrian College. Curby, a 6-foot, 182-pound senior, played in a backup role last year, but has experience as a starter on the JV squad.
He will be working with Ken Keasal, who is taking over the offense after Dan English stepped down last year. The longtime assistant is getting praise from Lemerand and the other coaches. The change should be seamless, the head coach said, because it’s not the adults who matter.
“It’s all about the players,” Lemerand said. “This is Hillsdale High School football, it goes on even after the coaches are gone.
“Ken has stepped in and done an outstanding job.”
The team will benefit from 21 returning seniors who bring a winning attitude into camp.
“It’s the biggest group of seniors we’ve have in awhile,” special teams coach Kurt Putnam said.
“It’s a good core of seniors,” defensive coordinator Jerry Curby said. “We’ll have 10 seniors on defense.
“They are a very hardworking team, they’ve been through the wringer.”
Leading the defense will be end Kirk Putnam, (6-0, 261), middle linebacker Justin Reed (6-1.5, 199) and linebacker Brian Vear (6-4, 197). Reed forced three fumbles in 2008.
Brock Estel also returns, after tallying 10 tackles-for-loss and three sacks last year.
“We want the defense to be as tough as possible,” Lemerand said. “We tell them the offense wins games, but defense wins championships.”
On offense, fans will see a more conservative approach.
Where as Gabriele was more of a risk taker, Mike Curby is more purposeful. And while he won’t have Scott Lantis or Tyler Vandeberghe as a target this year, he will have Drew Byers (5-10, 160), Kurtis Condon (6-3, 201) and Dustin Moyer (5-7, 186).
Curby was 27-of-41 for 396 yards, four TDs and no interceptions in backup duty last season.
Byers is the leading returning wideout, as he caught nine passes for 128 yards and a score last year.
Out of the backfield, Nick Renieche (6-3, 219) and Jorey Scrivens (5-9, 187) will be among the top rushers.
Renieche averaged 9.3 yards per rush and scored four touchdowns on just 29 carries in 2008.
Lemerand’s thoughts on the challenges in the conference look something like this:
Columbia Central: “They will be a good team this year. They were very young last year, all of their players are back.”
Stockbridge: “They should be 2-0 when we face them. Their quarterback Jeff O’Brien is tough.”
Leslie: “They graduated a lot of people, but they played at Ford Field last year.”
He said Parma Western should be better, but after the Panthers fell short after being preseason conference favorites last year, he would not offer an assessment other than they should be pretty good.
As is typical of Lemerand’s style, they won’t worry about anyone until the week before they play the game. Now is the time to work on fundamentals, to teach new plays and get everyone ready for the 9-week sprint to the playoffs.
To get there it will be up to the players. So far, it seems to be working out.
“The kids have worked hard in the offseason,” Lemerand said. “There won’t be much of a drop, we are just switching people.
Among the new people are Sonny McCoy (6-3, 186) at safety, junior Adam Hansen (6-1, 253) at right tackle, sophomore Kraig Putnam ( 6-0, 218) on the offensive line, Renieche and Moyer.
The job ahead will mean more reps and buying into the Hillsdale way, Lemerand said.
“If we do our best, we will be successful,” he said. “The offense is not there yet.”
“We work on what we do, talk about playing hard, give them the tools to go out and play.”